RMA reforms have echoes of Muldoon

The Resource Management Reform Bill represents the next steps in the National Government’s agenda to centralise control and take away decision-making rights from local communities, Labour’s Environment Spokesperson Grant Robertson said.

“Labour wants our resource management law to be as effective and efficient as possible, and some change to the RMA is warranted. But the Resource Management Reform Bill contains a number of changes that reduce the ability of local communities to have a say or make decisions about their resources.

“Communities’ rights cannot be undermined by an efficiency drive. As a result Labour will be opposing the First Reading of the Bill. “

“The Bill has all the look and feel of a Muldoonist approach, where the National government knows what local communities need better than they do themselves. Just like the local government changes, the ECAN debacle and other changes, it’s the Beehive down, rather than the grassroots up from this government.”

“In the legislation it will be Ministers who set an ‘investment threshold’ that decides whether a resource consent goes through proper consideration or is referred directly to the Environment Court. The Minister will also be able to make so-called minor changes to national policy statements without going through the proper processes.

“Particularly concerning is the Government’s attempt to overturn the Environment Court decision on the ability of local communities to protect groups or types of trees. The Bill will make it harder to protect trees and easier to fell them. It proposes that individual trees will have to be identified in Council plans if they are to be protected. This is a bureaucratic nightmare. It also begs the question as to why decision making-about trees is being taken away from local communities, as opposed to other natural resources.”

“The Bill also facilitates the fast tracking of the Auckland Unitary Plan. Labour has approved of this in principle, but we are alarmed to see that the Bill puts in the hands of Ministers the appointment of the panel that will oversee that process. Once again the Government is dictating to local communities.

“There are also clauses in the Bill that tip the balance of the RMA away from sustainable development.  In evaluating the impacts of their plans Councils will now be asked to prioritise economic development considerations. This may result in less consideration of environmental impacts. There is a balance inherent in the RMA and the Government appears to be undoing that piece by piece.

“The Government has made clear that even more significant changes to the RMA will be introduced next year. These are likely to change the purpose and matters of national importance in the Act. If this first Bill is anything to go by then New Zealanders should be very concerned about the direction the Government is taking, away from local decision making and undoing the delicate balance within the RMA,” Grant Robertson said.