The Resource Management Act is steadily becoming more unfair and biased, writes Federated Farmers senior policy advisor, Angela Johnston.
On the face of it, the Resource Management Act (RMA) and its application is a wide-ranging, all encompassing, citizen-friendly piece of legislation.
When it was released in 2001, the then Environment Minister Simon Upton made a video for councillors about their role.
There is one particular quote from Upton that stands out:
"Keeping things simple and focused is the best way you can protect against this Act becoming a lawyer's paradise".
That's an irony, I'm sure, that is not lost on anybody who has been involved in an RMA process, given how this imperfect system is steadily becoming more unfair and biased.
If you have deep pockets, can afford specialist RMA legal representation, and a tenacity to see things through to the bitter end, you may get the outcome you want.
Read more from Federated Farmers here.
Although it's not always easy to pick a winner.
I'm reasonably sure that after 12 Environment Court decisions and more than 10 years of costs, stress and delays, no parties in the Mackenzie District Council's Plan Change 13 saga felt like winners.
In August 2017, Stuff reported that this stoush had cost Mackenzie ratepayers more than $1.2 million.
Mackenzie District has a small ratepayer base and huge infrastructure issues largely due to tourism, which has them repeatedly looking to central government to help cover costs, aka taxpayers' money.
While this is perhaps an extreme example, it is sadly not a one-off.
Stage One of the Queenstown Lakes District Council's District Plan review had over 100 Environment Court appeals lodged, and over 1,125 s274 notices to join those appeals.
Over a year will be spent on mediation and hearings, and we are still to see out Stages 2, 3 and 4.
You may think "this doesn't affect me", however if you're a ratepayer that's your money being spent on council staff, expertise, evidence and travel time; and that's all money not being used for roading, water and the other services councils provide.
Non-local groups and Non-Government Organisations can also undermine the spending ability of your rates money.
The West Coast Regional Council's Regional Policy Statement Environment Court mediation is about to begin.
Forest & Bird submitted and further submitted during the consultation, as anyone has the right to do.
However, they did not attend the hearing or submit evidence, so by then appealing the decision they are making a mockery of a local process, and wasting council resources, aka ratepayer money.
Not to mention the resources of those parties who duly followed the appropriate process.
Is your Forest and Bird subscription and/or donation actually going to the protect the penguins campaign or is it funding their lawyers and/or experts in a RMA process elsewhere in the country?
Inundating the RMA process with "cut and paste" submissions also achieves nothing, but more resource wastage.
This approach was well utilised by Fish & Game in the Lindis Integrated Water Management Process in Otago.
As part of that process, Fish & Game encouraged their supporters nationwide to lodge pro-forma templates, based on the organisation's views, and swamped the case with anti-farming messages.
Another example of the broken system is that even if a party has not submitted on a consultation, it is possible to join an appeal if it can be shown to the court that the party has an interest greater than the public in general.
At Feds what we've seen with a number of plan reviews across the country is that so much time, resources and money is spent on fighting cases, that often the workability or practicality is lost when it comes to final plan wording.
But by then, all the consultants, lawyers and planners have climbed back onto their planes and jetted away, and local councils, farmers and communities are left with trying to implement plans which are often quite unworkable.
The RMA system should be about finding local solutions for local people.
The RMA is/was an environmental statute, and this original intent was voiced by Upton in that video to councillors:
"You have to develop a meaning for sustainable management for your area"
The RMA has grown into an unpredictable behemoth, which supports an ever-growing support system of lawyers, planners, experts and the like.
Sadly, it shows no signs of being reined back in line with its founding principles, that being for local councils to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources, enabling people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing.