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Government knew all along Aqua likely to fail

Media statement Wednesday, March 31st, 2004

Government knew all along Aqua likely to fail

The axing of the Aqua project is largely a problem of the Government's own making, and it has known it could easily fail for well over a year, the Employers & Manufacturers Association (Northern) claims.

"Over a year ago Meridien chief Keith Turner carefully explained to us and others the likely consequences if Government persevered with the Resource Management (Waitaki catchment) Amendment Bill," said Alasdair Thompson, EMA's chief executive.

"By attempting to change the rules of the already difficult RMA for the Aqua project, the government put the skids under it.

"At the time Turner said the uncertainty created by the new RMA Amendment Bill would torpedo Aqua by opening the flood gates to all and sundry wanting to re-litigate Meridien's existing water rights as well as those it was seeking.

"Previously, and on numerous occasions EMA has advised the government on the areas of the RMA that need to be changed.

"Within the last 12 months several government ministers have told us they agree with much of what we had to say directly to them.

"But their action on it was a big fat zero.

"EMA has proposed the RMA needs the following issues addressed:

* Though 95% of 49,000 resource consent applications were heard over a two year period (2000- 2002) within statutory timeframes, they were typically preceded by up to two years of consultation and followed by three years of further delays in the hearing of appeals.

* Why so many consents are needed in the first place is at the heart of the RMA's problems.

* Comparable times of less than one year achieve similar levels of environmental quality in Australia.

* The Act can be changed without undermining the high level of public participation in its processes.

"EMA supports a reduction in the number of RMA hearings without reducing the quality of the environmental outcomes.

"Defined Standards of environmental quality should be speedily adopted for national and local projects. The Ministry for the Environment has been working on a wide range of these new national Standards for noise, bio-solids, drinking water, storm water, air, septic tanks, contaminated sites, landfill waste and so on. But where are they?

"Where consents require an understanding of specialised technical information, councils should be able to ensure independent expert evidence comes to bear, and that appropriate and workable conditions are set.

"The Environment Court should not re-examine evidence in full de novo hearings. Instead it should simply examine the evidence presented at the first hearings and determine whether the appropriate decision had been reached.

"The failure of Aqua has demonstrated we desperately need a better managed and procedurally less restrictive RMA processes. Whether these are private or public, direct access to the Environment Court for the hearing of objections should be allowed. Alternatively, the use of independent commissioners should allow appeals on specific aspects only of council decisions.

"To facilitate the process of identifying and consulting with Maori, councils should be required to prepare a register to determine which local Maori groups should be consulted.

"Finally, the Crown has often been at loggerheads with itself. Much of what growth-oriented Government advisors might want to say is lost."

ENDS

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