Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Proposal to soften RMA protections

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

A Government appointed advisory group has recommended a significant rewrite of the Resource Management Act, removing references to the protection of coastal areas, wetlands, lakes and rivers and indigenous flora and fauna.

Environment Minister Amy Adams released the report from a technical advisory group established following the Canterbury earthquakes with the primary task of looking at natural hazard issues relevant to the Act arising from the quakes.

"After the Canterbury earthquakes, it became clear that consents for subdivisions had been granted without any consideration of the risk of liquefaction," Ms Adams said in a statement.

However, the group's report addresses much wider issues and recommends significant changes to section 6 of the Act.

As it stands, that section instructs local authorities to recognise and provide for the protection or preservation of the natural character of the coastal environment, wetlands, lakes and rivers when considering RMA applications.

They must also provide for the protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes and areas of significant indigenous vegetation or wildlife. Protection must also be provided for historic heritage and protected customary rights while public access to and along the coastal marine area, lakes and rivers must be maintained.

However the group's recommendation proposes removing the words "protection" and "preservation" from the section entirely.

Ms Adams said as it stood, the RMA prioritised preserving natural character, landscape, flora and fauna, public access, cultural values and heritage over managing natural hazards.

The report represented the independent views of those on the advisory group, "and the Government will consider the recommendations as part of our wider reforms of the resource management system".

Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage said the proposed changes were "a major assault'' on the Act and on sustainable management.

The proposal to drop the requirement for decision makers to provide for the preservation and protection of landscapes indigenous vegetation and habitats as matters of national importance ignored Environment Court case law built up over the last 20 years.

"Changing these fundamental parts of the RMA will cause unnecessary litigation and tilt the playing field heavily towards development.''

Ms Sage said some of the proposed changes around natural hazards may be sensible, but Ms Adams was using natural hazard issues "as a Trojan horse to weaken the Act's fundamentals around protecting the coast, outstanding landscapes and indigenous biodiversity''.

- NZ Herald

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