We have received information that National’s plan to change the definition of ‘environment’ under the RMA in their 100-day legislation roll out will consist of removing the legal protection of a range of important parts of NZ’s environment, such as eco-systems, amenity values (e.g. the look and appearance of a landscape or townscape) and the human factors that affect the environment (e.g. constructing a building within a sensitive landscape, or a factory making too much noise near houses).
The RMA currently defines the environment as:
(a)Ecosystems and their constituent parts, including people and communities; and
(b)All natural and physical resources; and
(c)Amenity values; and
(d)The social, economic, aesthetic, and cultural conditions which affect the matters stated in paragraphs (a) to (c) of this definition or which are affected by those matters
National is set to reduce the definition of environment to only “natural and physical resources”.
Think about what that means. It means that when deciding whether to give resource consent to a project, authorities will no longer be allowed to consider whether ecosystems will be destroyed or damaged. That could be a death sentence for endangered species. Nor will authorities to allowed to consider the value of the existing environment in anything other than monetary terms. The beauty of our land, the right of Kiwis to enjoy our country in its natural state will not be protected – only dollars and cents will be at issue.
If a developer wants to pave over a rare wetland, destroying the ecosystem, there will be nothing in the RMA under National to stop them. If a developer wants to build housing by your favourite beach or mine in your favourite landscape, there will be no requirement in law for them to ensure they minimise the damage to the natural beauty of the place and your right to enjoy it. Townscapes will be threatened too – developers will not need to consider making their new buildings or industrial activities fit with the surrounding neighbourhood.
This change will also make a large part of RMA case law useless and most Council policies would become redundant, which will severally slow down the RMA process – something that National are saying they want to speed up!
National is already attempting to soften us up for the introduction of this legislation by claiming reforming the RMA will bring down house prices by allowing more new housing to be built. That’s rubbish. It was speculation, not under-supply, that caused house prices to rise so fast. The RMA does not impose significant monetary or time costs on housing. These changes will not speed up house construction, they will just be a license for the few unscrupulous developers to make a quick buck with the rest of us bearing the cost.