Minister to be given referral power

By Kevin Taylor

A new power for the Environment Minister to refer projects of national significance to the Environment Court has been plugged into a bill changing the Resource Management Act.

The bill was reported back to Parliament yesterday extensively rewritten by the local government and environment select committee. The Government wants the bill passed before the election, and will get United Future’s support.

National’s environment spokesman Nick Smith yesterday accused the Government of a "massive u-turn" by including the new referral power in a menu of options for the minister to "call-in" major projects for non-local decision-making.

" ... This important change was proposed in a bill by National in 1999 but dismissed by Labour as evil and dangerous. Labour’s last-minute adoption of direct referral is an admission that it has been wrong for five years. It must now accept responsibility for delays this error has caused in the building of power stations and roading."

Associate Environment Minister David Benson-Pope said Dr Smith was confused with the new ministerial referral power recommended by the select committee. It was one of the options given to the environment minister to call-in projects of national significance.

He said National’s "silly idea" of direct referral would have meant applicants could bypass local decision-making and elevate cases directly to the Environment Court, irrespective of their merits.

Dr Smith said another u-turn, the removal of the proposal to axe full hearings before the Environment Court, was equally extraordinary.

The bill originally proposed that the court only hear legal argument on projects, not rehear the application itself as it does now. That proposal has been deleted.

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