Business Council welcomes RMA reform progress
3 December 2004
Business Council welcomes RMA reform progress but says the present shape of the reform package is far from perfect
The further reforms to resource laws tabled in Parliament this week are a welcome further step towards addressing the process uncertainties and delays for infrastructure projects under the RMA, says Mr Peter Neilson, Chief Executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development. Mr Neilson was commenting on the introduction earlier this week of the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill.
Mr Neilson said that much of what is wrong with the RMA is process inefficiencies: “It does not serve anyone well for major projects to stall for several years before outcomes are known, or for the rollout of new communication technologies to be encumbered with unnecessary regulatory costs”.
In this regard, the Business Council is encouraged by the intention to introduce national environmental standards for national telecommunications, electricity or other networks. “These offer real promise of cutting through the plethora of inconsistent local rules for low impact utilities throughout more than 70 district plans across the country” said Mr Neilson. “This offers significant benefits not only for business but for communities and consumers alike, although this is dependent on effective industry input” he said.
Mr Neilson noted, however, that the reform still does not hit the mark in a number of areas. “The present shape of the reform package is far from perfect and the Business Council has concerns about some aspects”.
For example, the reform fails to adequately address conflict of interest issues in council-level hearings. “Major network utilities do not have the choice of taking their business elsewhere if consent authorities in a particular area are underperforming. Although the reforms include initiatives for training and accreditation of decision-makers, these measures do not go far enough. To deal with underperformers, what is also needed is as-of-right access to independent commissioners. We know that some councils perform very well but the legislation needs to find a way to bring the poor performers up to standard”, he said.
Also of concern to the Council are the proposals to change Environment Court appeals. “In terms of the priorities to achieve real process improvements under the RMA, the Business Council questions why any change to Environment Court appeal processes is warranted.
Statistics show only a small minority of cases ever result in appeals, and far fewer go to hearing”, he said. The reforms, however, will leave appeals uncertain as to how they will be processed until the Court rules on the “safety” of the first instance hearing. “This opens up new risks of litigation and argument. Rather than improving process, it risks making appeals much more costly and litigious”, he said.
A further concern to the Business Council is that the Bill does not go far enough in giving investment certainty, at the consent renewal, to major infrastructure. “Given the challenges we face in addressing power shortfalls in coming years, this is an aspect that will need to be carefully considered during the Select Committee processes” he said. “Overall, though, the tabling of the reforms represents a very pleasing step towards achieving real process gains under the RMA, particularly for major infrastructure”.