We’ve got an expert guest post coming on National’s newly announced RMA changes. I’ve got a few brief(ish), non-expert thoughts first (which, hopefully won’t be totally contradicted by the expert making me look dumb)
1. It’s good to see that National has dropped its initial proposal of changing the definition of ‘environment’ in the RMA to ignore its amenity and aesthetic values, only counting resources. As discussed here, the proposed change would have created a carte blanche for developers without regard to the need for the rest of us enjoy our beautiful country and well-planned towns. National says it was advised by the Technical Advisory Group it appointed that narrowing the definition like they wanted to would have serious ‘unintended’ consequences. Good on them for listening to the experts if that’s what happened. The cynic in me suggests they realised that there would be a major political backlash if they tried it. Still, a good outcome either way. Unless, the change turns up in the phase 2 amendments later this year.
2. Resource management is really complicated. It just is, there are so many actors, so many resources, so many competing interests to try to balance, all the while, hopefully, not screwing the environment we depend upon. All over the world, resource management legislation is really complex and controversial. By the nature of the beast, consent for major projects tends to be time-consuming. In fact, the RMA, introduced by National in 1991 to replace more than 50 pieces of legislation then on the books, is regarded as world-leading. Relative to the rest of the world, the RMA does the job quickly and cheaply. Now, that’s no argument not to try to do better (and there have been endless incremental improvements since 1991). But it does show that it is childish to believe that there is a fix that will make resource management simple and quick. While the changes National has proposed seem good for the most part to this non-expert, they will not, cannot, cut the Gordian knot of resource management.
3. The devil is in the detail. It’s great to try to make the resource management process simpler, cheaper, quicker, and better but writing the legislation to do that isn’t easy. If it were, National and Labour’s previous attempts to do so over the past 17 years would have been more successful. National will have to be very careful that its amendments don’t have unintended consequence or simply create new angles for unwarranted obstruction of worthwhile projects. And, if it is careful, it may find it has to be less ambitious.
4. It’s good to see they’re only going to rush the first reading through under urgency. Resource management legislation is too complex and important to be slammed through Parliament without the public getting the chance to have input through the select committee process.