National is utterly predictable. Bash beneficiaries, weaken employee protection, attack the trade unions, and trash the environment represents for it business as usual.
Yesterday it announced its proposal for further changes to the Resource Management Act. Most of the changes are technical and it will be difficult to get ordinary Kiwis upset with what is proposed. But the changes are at best misguided and will do nothing to maintain existing environmental protection.
When you read the press release the proposes do not appear so bad. The one plan idea is something that Auckland is doing already. And who can disagree with increased accountability?
The headline grabbing proposal will be increasing the supply of useable land so that there is a decade’s worth available for projected growth. National sees a political imperative in appearing to be doing something about housing affordability.
The Minister will be given greater power to intervene. The party that championed Nanny State is more than happy to give itself increased power as long as it is the party in control.
The Summary of Reform Proposals also released yesterday contains worrying detail.
Sections 6 and 7 of the RMA are to be consolidated into one section. This is a retrograde step. Section 6 currently states that the protection of various environmental features are matters of national significance. Section 7 sets out other things that need to be considered. Consolidating them will weaken the protective imperatives in the Act.
The proposed new wording for the section has a number of damaging changes. The new section would remove the need to protect outstanding natural features and landscapes unless they are specifically identified. The protection of historic heritage from inappropriate subdivision and development is watered down. The ethic of stewardship for the environment is removed. The maintenance and enhancement of amenity values will no longer be a consideration. And the maintenance and enhancement of the quality of the environment disappears as a principle.
A new principles is added. If passed the effective functioning of the built environment, including the availability of land to support changes in population and urban development demand, will be a major consideration when making decisions under the RMA.
When you compare the existing wording of sections 6 and 7 to what is proposed you can see that it is intended that the environmental protection provided by the RMA will be weakened.
Labour’s Maryan Street has criticised the reform proposals.
By saying that these reforms will open up land for affordable housing is the most deceitful part of John Key’s approach. The government has lots of levers it should have pulled over the last five years to address our critical affordable housing shortage. Now when the noise around it has become too loud for the National Party to ignore any longer, they try to pretend that the RMA has been the problem.
The real danger is that the RMA is being turned into an Economic Development Act and environmental protections are being sacrificed in the process.
Green MP Eugene Sage has said of the proposed changes:
The changes to the Act’s purpose and principles are based on ideology rather than any evidence or substantive analysis of the need for change. As the Ministry for the Environment’s on the Minister’s February 2013 discussion document says, “ Submitters were concerned there was an absence of reliable evidence – beyond anecdotes and case studies- on which statements were made. Such concerns were evident irrespective of the submitters’ position regarding the intent of the Discussion Document.”
Environmental Defence Society head Gary Taylor has pilloried the proposed changes.
The proposed changes to Part 2 of the RMA will lower environmental standards across New Zealand.
They replace environmental bottom-lines with an un-prioritised menu of conflicting environmental and development matters. That changes the thrust of the Act so that environmental values can be traded off against economic ones.
At last week’s EDS Conference we learned that many of our environmental assets, such as biodiversity and freshwater, are already in decline. These changes will only make things worse.
The Minister for the Environment has repeatedly stated that these changes will not erode environmental protections. However, she has not provided any evidence to back up these statements and we have received legal advice from a number of sources that suggest the opposite.
The Discussion Paper that she has largely relied on has been widely pilloried for its lack of a problem definition and reliance on unsubstantiated anecdote. It has been derided amongst the resource management professions for its lack of intellectual rigour.
The changes are clearly designed to allow the Government to say that it is doing something about affordable housing. There are affordability problems in Christchurch and Auckland. Christchurch’s problems relate to the fact it has suffered two devastating earthquakes rather than restrictions in the RMA. Auckland’s problems relate in no small part to the hollowing out of the provinces that is occurring. If only this Government would do something about regional development then the attraction of Auckland may lessen.
So how is the RMA working? Well environmentally things are going backward. The proposed changes will mean that we go backward quicker.