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LIM Tagging - the Tip of the Iceberg

LIM Tagging - the Tip of the Iceberg for Landowners and Ratepayers

Press release 13.5.05

Panmure Community Action Group [PCAG]

Soil Contamination Action Movement [SCAM]

RAM - Residents Action Movement

Three above-named community groups are deeply alarmed by a recent report from the Sustainability Council that the Ministry for the Environment is proposing changes to the Resource Management Act that will have the effect of forcing ratepayers to pay for cleanup of soil contamination resulting from past horticultural use that they neither knew about nor were responsible for.

In some case this could even mean total cleanup costs falling on completely innocent landowners.

The proposals come despite the advice given to Cabinet by the same ministry in 1999 that “strict liability on the landowner is inequitable and contrary to natural justice if the current owner has to bear liability for effects they did not cause and which they could not reasonably have been expected to know about.”

Also, according to the Sustainability Council, in 1995 the ministry “proposed new law that would have made polluters liable retrospectively and would have exempted from liability property owners who were not aware of contamination when they purchased.”

Significantly, it was also recognised by the Ministry for the Environment that the Government itself bears a large degree of responsibility for soil contamination on sites previously (and in many cases, still) used for horticultural purposes, through the use of chemicals required and, at times, promoted by government agencies.

Our three groups are now increasingly concerned that a decade of bureaucratic dithering and inaction on this serious issue has resulted in nothing better than a veiled proposal to callously dump the problem onto innocent and unsuspecting current landowners and ratepayers.

This suspicion is borne out by the proposed amendment to the Resource Management Act to push responsibility onto regional councils who are likely simply to transfer the costs of the problem onto ratepayers and even directly on to property owners past and present.

In fact, last year the Auckland City Council signalled its intention to do just this, when it attempted to tag LIM reports with information about possible soil contamination resulting from past horticultural use while simultaneously making soil testing and cleanup costs the direct responsibility of the landowner.

And recently, the Auckland Regional Council signalled to our groups in a written response to our concerns, a similar intention to apply the principle of caveat emptor, or buyer beware, on innocent landowners who properties were found to be contaminated, whether the owners were responsible for the contamination or not.

It is now apparent that all of this is a direct consequence of successive governments’ unwillingness to deal with a problem they have been aware of for decades. And we call on Parliament to roundly reject the MfE’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act and for the government to fully accept its own responsibilities in the historical issue of horticultural soil contamination in New Zealand.

ENDS

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