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Local democracy just got screwed

Written By: - Date published: 7:01 am, March 15th, 2016 - 31 comments
Categories: activism, democracy under attack, law, local government - Tags: , , , ,

A few weeks ago I posted about the Christchurch City District Plan review process, and the campaign to save Christchurch’s Notable trees.

So far the notable trees campaign has had to spend over $20,000 just to be heard in the discussions that are deciding the fate of over 2000 heritage and notable trees in the “garden city”.

The process that is driving the hearings process is the Brain Child of that champion of local democracy, Nick Smith.

And now he is finally getting the chance to stick it to all those people he thought were rude to him the last time he was minister against local government.

Submissions have just closed on the Resource Management Amendment Bill 2015, and the planning process this bill describes is scarily familiar to those of us who have been involved in the Christchurch District Plan review hearings

If the bill goes through in its current form then you can all expect vital decisions about local planning issues to be made in a hearings process that is run like a court, where you have to pay for lawyers and experts to be heard.

Another wonderful provision in this bill is the ability to just “strike out” any submissions that a hearing panel believes are “vexatious”. That will surely enhance local democracy!

http://www.mfe.govt.nz/rma/rma-reforms-and-amendments/about-resource-legislation-amendment-bill-2015

Submissions on this bill closed at 5pm on Monday and I hope that there are some real heavy hitters lining up to fight this. Because if the changes go through as written, then the whole country gets to experience what we have been going through for the last six months.

I won’t be fighting it. I and other people fighting the planning changes in Christchurch have nothing left to fight with. No money, no time, no energy.

The Christchurch hearings process drags on as an open ended process, and every time the hearings panel moves a date, or allows the council to introduce another piece of evidence, the price of democracy goes up a few more thousand dollars for submitter groups.

If this bill goes through, then community groups all over the country are going to become intimately acquainted with just how badly they have been shafted by Mr Smith and his accomplices.

So – I have picked my battle, and I along with some others are fighting it. I really hope that there is going to be strong opposition to the RMA Amendment Bill. It needs to be fought. But others are going to have to take the lead here.

The fight for the trees of Christchurch continues. If you are in a position to support those who are fighting it, then they do still need your help. You can still donate via the Give A Little page at:

https://givealittle.co.nz/fundraiser/chchnotabletrees

— Andrew Robins

31 comments on “Local democracy just got screwed ”

  1. Ad 1

    Good on you for giving it your all.

    I am personally afraid for my Titirangi forest. If developers try it here, we’ll meet them and resist, tree by tree.

    • Andrew 1.1

      Hi AD

      Tree by tree resistance is part of what needs to happen, for sure. But ultimately you need to beat them in the hearing room if you want to have more than a temporary impact.

      In Chch plenty of local groups have tried to speak up, but the only people who have had any success are the ones who have been able to pay for a lawyer.

      There are lots of technical reasons for this. But the main issue is that by taking control of the hearings away from the council and giving it to a panel that lacks the resources of the council, submitters now have to do all the work that the council used to do – otherwise the panel cannot operate.

      I know this probably sounds confusing, but believe me, it is a perfect shit storm if you are trying to keep up with it as a private individual

    • Andrew 1.2

      Hi AD,

      Tree by tree campaigns are part of what needs to happen – but these are really ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

      What Nick Smith is doing is quietly stacking the deck against any sort of local participation or representation in key decisions impacting the way our communities are put together and function.

      Cheers

      Andrew

      • Ad 1.2.1

        National’s legislative majority is solid on this one. Knock yourself out at Select Committee but it’s good to go.

        From now on, it’s sand in the petrol tanks.

        • Andrew 1.2.1.1

          I know. I guess that’s one reason why I didn’t submit. This has every appearance of a done deal.

  2. Sacha 2

    Parliament’s environment watchdog shares your concerns about the effect of Smith’s proposals on how resources will be managed: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/298939/commissioner-proposed-rma-changes-too-broad

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    And still no “Attack on Democracy” headlines from the MSM despite the fact that our government is slowly whittling away our democracy.

    • Jenny Kirk 3.1

      Yeah DTB – I get the impression most people don’t understand the RMA and also to them local govt is boring ….. so the govt can whittle away to its heart’s content and it will all be gone before the media and sheeples wake up !

      • TC 3.1.1

        MSM arent asleep they are an active part of this destruction and transfer of wealth into private hands.

        • Andrew 3.1.1.1

          And of course Dr Nick Smith, of Smiths Cranes, will not benefit in any way from these changed rules.

          Nothing to see here…

          Move on….

    • miravox 3.2

      +1

  4. Jenny Kirk 4

    Best wishes for a positive outcome on your struggle, Andrew Robins. I totally agree with you …. and have alerted as many people as possible to the likely horrendous outcomes of these RMA changes. EDS have put in a terrific submission – and I hear the Maori Party do not like some aspects of it – so hopefully the arguments against the RMA changes which affect local govt decisions will be dropped. Can only wait and hope for that to happen, now.

    • Andrew 4.1

      Hi Jenny,

      That is encouraging. I am glad that the EDS have got involved. I guess part of me is a little bit resentful that they did not choose to participate in the process in Christchurch – because we could have really used their help (which they chose not to give), but it is good that they are coming to the party now.

      Community groups down here have been almost completely shut out during the hearings. The only reason we got traction on the trees was that we realised very early on how badly the deck was stacked against us, and we made the decision to spend a whole lot of money we did not have.

      Other groups tried to go it alone, and they have achieved precisely nothing in hearings or mediation. It is not that they did not have valuable input to offer, but they weren’t able to play the “our expert is better than your expert” game, and pay for legal cross examination – so they were just ignored.

      User pays democracy. Coming to a city near you if Nick Smith gets his way.

    • Andrew 5.1

      Hi Anthony,

      I am glad that the Greens are paying attention at a national level.

      I am a Green Party member, and I am ashamed to say that they were asleep at the wheel in Christchurch.

      It was very difficult to get ANY response from them on the trees.

      We were successful with our fourth attempt.

      Cheers

      Andrew

  5. greywarshark 6

    Another outcome that was feared if Labour didn’t win the last election. They obliged by not trying hard enough.

    If they were such failures at uni they would get their student assistance from the government dropped. The government are in reality at a sort of university, confronting new problems, learning what measures can be used to counter them, for what budget leading to certain outcomes. There are lots of variables. It is time that those of us who have minds that aren’t clouded by being dunked in the waters, wines or whiskies of self-satisfaction give a big Fail to the present Party-party asap.

    And fight for something done now, each hour that goes by sows seeds of future sadness from some big or small permanent loss.

    • Sabine 6.1

      No the populace obliged by not going to vote. 1 million people could not be arsed to vote. For any of the parties, not national, not labour, not greens, not nothing could not be fucked to get up and fucking vote for the best of their country.

      And if during the next election cycle the same 1 million voters can’t be fucked taking care of their country the same result is to be expected.

      Parties and their policies are one thing, but at some stage some of responsibility goes to people. And if they can’t be fucked to vote they get what they get. Sad innit? That one third of our country men and women don’t care or are so over it that they can’t even vote for the best of their children.

      • Andrew 6.1.1

        I am with you on that Sabine. It is incredibly frustrating. But I don’t know what to do, other than to keep on trying

      • ropata 6.1.2

        Dirty politics & disinformation are typical tactics the right uses to disenfranchise and disempower an entire class of society and discourage them from voting.

        The political process has every appearance of being rigged and shitting on average Kiwis. Politicians are consistently rated as the least trustworthy profession.

        We need to recall the spirit of Kate Sheppard & encourage our neighbours that Voting Changes Things!

  6. millsy 7

    Making money > environment.

  7. saveNZ 8

    +100 Andrew. I totally know what you are going through. The experience of the process and the whole council to environment court process is totally flawed for a democratic outcome at present and the government are even trying to push through draconian reforms for it to be far worse.

    Very poor planning decisions are being made in NZ, from needlessly destroying trees, to putting up inappropriate buildings, to inappropriate designs of businesses that will be a future liability (such as Pike River, transport etc).

    The whole point of the resource consent is being manipulated away from the intended purposed to make sure designs are safe, appealing and appropriate for the community and site it is being proposed for.

    The environment court is not run in any sort of democratic way at present. Paid experts present ‘evidence’ but often it is false or misleading to a small panel. Even if evidence is found to be false or misleading then there is no way to discipline the ‘experts’. Therefore the whole process is a house of cards. Planners and experts are being paid handsomely to put through bills that will create millions for the applicants. Neighbours, communities, rare animals, environmental quality or trees are irrelevant to the process which is about putting the applicant their financial interests and development at all costs first. The council, ‘experts,’ barristers, planners and applicants are all making millions from the flawed process. There are even cases coming to light of applicants intimidating other ‘experts’ into not giving evidence so that they can manipulate the process and even if found out, no consequences are given.

    Even though the current process gets through over 99% of applications no matter how fake or flawed the Nats and Nick Smith want to make sure they can get 100% through and starve the democratic process further.

    Pike river, ports of Auckland, Titirangi trees, The CTV building and many more examples of flawed environmental processes that have either killed people or bizarre rulings have been made which actually do not even make sense under the current rules but are being manipulated by the process so far away from being fair that to even call the process democratic, is a joke.

    An example of how flawed this is even from an economic point of view is how the white elephant conference centre in Christchurch has already cost 15 million dollars without having been built. Rate payer money is being wasted on lawyers (2.5 million) and consultants (2.5million). The developers are getting more money from the delays as the government have made it so political they are prepared to spend any amount of ratepayers money to get it off the ground, even if the design, position and funds are inappropriate for what the people of Christchurch need.

    “The government is already pouring at least $284m into something that no-one asked for and many have questioned whether we need. While there have been delays, we still haven’t seen a business case for the project. We don’t know how it’s going to operate. Instead of ploughing good money into a giant hole the size of two city blocks, it makes sense to wait. But these asshole developers know a sweet deal when they see one, and feel like they might as well try their luck at the Taxpayer ATM. For a bunch of people convinced that the free market will fix the central city, they aren’t too proud to repeatedly milk the public teat for money. These winklepickered parasites need to jump in their Maseratis and take a long drive on a long road out of this town. We will survive without them. There are plenty of good people who can rebuild this city without repeatedly blackmailing the place they’re claiming to save.”

    https://rebuildingchristchurch.wordpress.com/tag/convention-centre/

    In addition ‘convention centres’ are well known as worldwide corporate welfare recipients

    “Another way to think about convention subsidies is the way most economists would — in terms of the opportunity cost. This year, the center authority is spending about $95 million from dedicated tax revenue to subsidize convention business (operating losses at the convention center, marketing expenses, capital improvements and debt service). The city, however, could have used the proceeds from those taxes for other purposes, such as reducing income or property tax rates or giving more services to residents. Because of those forgone opportunities, it is Washington’s taxpayers who are really paying for the convention subsidies.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/steven-pearlstein-debunking-the-conventional-wisdom-about-conventions/2014/06/27/77cac02e-fd5f-11e3-932c-0a55b81f48ce_story.html

    Dimpost had a good post on convention centres.
    https://dimpost.wordpress.com/2015/02/11/win-by-not-playing/

  8. Loco Burro 9

    saveNZ – “The CTV building”

    What the hell did the RMA or flawed environmental processes have to do with the collapse of the CTV building?

  9. saveNZ 10

    The “experts” made mistakes in the of the CTV engineering 20 years ago which meant it should never have been issued a building permit.

    Although this was known it was hard to challenge once the initial ‘expert’ had passed the design.

    Inspite of 115 deaths and 29 deaths in Pike river were preventable no one was ever found guilty of manslaughter.

    My point is, that relying on ‘experts’ to do RMA and flawed processes that actually try to stop people from giving evidence and incentivising ‘experts’ to give evidence without them being criminally liable for it, is wrong.

    NZ needs to learn from mistakes. They deregulated the building industry with disastrous results. Now essentially they have deregulated the RMA and it is taking away from the point of the RMA, which is to have safe and well designed proposals that benefit society.

    Not green lighting developers and barristers running the process to make as much money as possible, with zero consequences if any one dies or their proposal has adverse effects on the public or environment that they did not disclose.

  10. saveNZ 11

    When you dismantle all the check and balances in a society, things start going really wrong.

    Democracy is very effective way to run things. When you remove it, you can have very unintended consequences.

    People should have a right to challenge without consequences and without cost, a bad decision. Not be shut out of the process or made to feel inferior because someone else is considered ‘better’ or more ‘informed’.

    Probably someone living close by has as much right and more care to comment than someone who does not live there and is paid to attend and give paid views on the issues.

    • Andrew Neill Robins 11.1

      Hi Savenz

      Agreed. With the issue of the prosed changes to the rules around Christchurchs heritage and notable trees, it was very easy to spot the very basic flaws in the councils position. The quality of the work done on this plan was very poor.

      Despite this, it has cost (so far) over 20k to challenge these obviously flawed arguments. There is even now broad agreement on major changes that need to be made – and yet we still have to keep on spending – all for having the temerity to dare to participate (effectively) in the only forum we had.

      The rest of the country is going to get to experience this soon.

      It is bloody awful

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