Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

RMA plans draw heated response

Nearly 14,000 submissions over changes which include greater role in consent decisions for government.

At present, the environmental priorities in the RMA include ensuring public access to rivers. Photo / File
At present, the environmental priorities in the RMA include ensuring public access to rivers. Photo / File

Environment Minister Amy Adams has defended proposals for major reform of the Resource Management Act after criticisms from both sides of the political spectrum.

The minister said that the changes outlined in a discussion document were substantial and she was not surprised they had provoked strong views from submitters such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and the Environmental Defence Society.

"I'm being criticised for going too hard by some groups and not hard enough by others," she told the Herald.

"What we are proposing is a significant set of changes and it certainly isn't any surprise to me that there's a range of views and some strongly held views."

Submissions closed on Tuesday for the proposals, which aimed to make the consent process less costly and time-consuming and give Government a greater role in consent decisions.

The Ministry for the Environment received close to 14,000 submissions.

Ms Adams said it was too early to tell whether the Government would make changes when drafting the legislation, which was expected to pass into law before the end of the year.

Environmental consultant and former National Party candidate Guy Salmon, who helped draft the 22-year-old act, said he was surprised at how radical the proposals were.

"I am reasonably optimistic that the Government will take some notice of the concerns that are being expressed both within the National Party and more widely," he said.

Mr Salmon felt that the proposals went against the principles of National's environmental arm: "It is regrettable that the current proposals seem to me to represent a departure from the whole Bluegreens philosophy."

Parliamentary Commissioner Jan Wright said in her submission that the changes tipped the balance too far in favour of economic development, which she felt was already provided for in the legislation.

At present, the list of environmental priorities in the RMA were described as "matters of national importance" and included protecting natural landscape from subdivision and ensuring public access to rivers.

Government proposed redefining this list as "principles" and expanding it to include adding two new categories - "efficient provision of infrastructure" and "effective functioning of the built environment", including the provision of land for urban expansion.

Ms Adams said the RMA was planning legislation, not just environmental legislation and the new principles would not outweigh the environmental principles but sit alongside them.

She said large-scale consents such as dams or mines gained the most attention because of their potential impact on the environment, but the vast majority of consents related to adding a culvert to a driveway or putting up a retaining wall.

"That's where most of the day-to-day operations of the RMA is focused, and it needs to work well for that as well as environmental protection," she said.


Proposals

• Councils to develop a single planning document for resource consents, with an agreed list of definitions.
• 10-day time limit for straightforward consents.
• New powers for Government ministers to take over individual consent decisions.
• Greater consideration to economic development in approving consents.
• Greater consideration of risks posed by natural hazards in approving consents.

- NZ Herald

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