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Proposed RMA Reforms Seem The Real Deal

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6 March 2013

Proposed RMA Reforms Seem The Real Deal

After analysing the discussion document released late last week on the Resource Management Act (RMA), Federated Farmers congratulates the Government for undertaking a comprehensive examination of how the RMA is working.

“To be honest it has taken us a few days to get our heads around this 83-page discussion document,” says Ian Mackenzie, Federated Farmers Environment spokesperson.

“Federated Farmers actually supports the purpose of the RMA and requirements to protect our most important natural assets.

”Yet if we want real jobs delivering living wages then policy reforms like this are needed. Reform also needs broad political support and that is probably the most important thing we need to communicate; the need for RMA reform to survive changes of government.

“Aside from missing provisions for compensation we will raise in our submission, it is closely aligned to Federated Farmers 2008 reform package; Let’s Make it work – Why the Resource Management Act must change.

“Federated Farmers has for a long time tried to get the balance right between what the public wants to protect and what that means to someone who wants to use their land.

“The RMA in our view currently leans too far towards protection. Our members will welcome the proposed inclusion of “the benefits of the efficient use and development of natural and physical resources,” in a revised section 6.

“A newly drafted section 7, focussing on the efficiency of council process, could require councils to consider “an appropriate balance between public and private interests in the use of land”. Every council should ask itself that same question every time a decision is made.

“We also welcome the proposed dropping of “the maintenance and enhancement of amenity values”.

“Given one person’s romantic landscape is another’s working landscape, amenity has been used as an excuse to slap controls on rural development. This also impacts urban growth, land prices and eventually first home buyers; a big issue we need to talk about as a country.

“I must also put on record my concern at how quickly naysayers came out to decry what is a discussion document.

“Federated Farmers looks forward to making the farmer’s voice heard. We will be especially keen to learn just how many submitters downloaded the discussion document too.

”From our reading of the document, it is not about gutting the RMA in favour of development; but rightfully redressing the balance between protection and resource use,” Mr Mackenzie concluded.

Federated Farmers Position on Improving our Resource Management system

The proposed reform is closely aligned to Federated Farmers 2008 reform package; Let’s Make it work – Why the Resource Management Act must change.

Given this is a discussion document to engage public debate, Federated Farmers strongly supports a national conversation on modernising the RMA to fulfil its purpose of sustainable resource management. From the outset we do support an organic process of combining resource management plans between districts and within regional councils.

We strongly support proposed changes to sections 6 and 7 in the RMA:
The final shape of these sections will be determined by how this discussion document process sets what our national priorities are and if the Government has the balance right in its proposals
The inclusion in section 6 of “the benefits of the efficient use and development of natural and physical resources” should enable a more considered balance of protection versus resource and land use when making resource management decisions
This also applies to the decision to remove amenity values and to include a new section 7 requiring councils to achieve “an appropriate balance between public and private interests in the use of land”. In our view, this will help to address the proliferation of landscape protection many councils increasingly place on working rural landscapes.

Consistent planning, decision making, common definitions and technical guidance:
While Federated Farmers strongly supports this, it needs to be tempered by striking the right balance between consistency and maintaining local, catchment or regional decision making on resource management priorities
The discussion document sets out suggestions on how this balance will be struck
While stronger powers for the Minister to direct the content of plans or plan changes is signalled, this is a major conversation we must have to ensure that if a matter is critically important, then in what circumstances is strong national guidance appropriate
Federated Farmers wants to see safeguards to ensure that during this process, local views are strongly heard and that the new section 7 helps to strike the right balance between private and public interest as key factors in decision making.

Non-statutory set of priorities to guide the development of National Policy Statements and National Environmental Standards:
This should allow for a less ad hoc approach to the development of national guidance on priority issues for the country through much stronger intent and implementation accompanying promulgation of national policy instruments under the RMA.

Addressing the number of resource consents for minor issues:
The proposed 10-day time frame for processing, limiting the conditions that can be put on consents, excluding the notification of some consents and providing an exemption for some minor activities should help to speed up process. To date, simplifying and streamlining has been focussed on major consent proposals when some of the more widespread frustrations are pitched at the level of “a deck extension”.
The public needs assurance that people are doing things in a way that meets acceptable standards or that the effects of an activity are indeed minor. Federated Farmers wants to ensure that this public confidence is retained while reducing unnecessary administration, processing and compliance costs for both resource users and councils (ratepayers and taxpayers)
Resource users want certainty that they can do those things in an efficient, cost effective way and the proposals in the discussion document go some way to achieving that balance.

Front end community planning also gets a tick from Federated Farmers:
If multiple stakeholders are going to put a large effort into collaborative plan making and everyone can agree on those plans, then our members want some confidence that agreement will not be undermined by aggrieved parties using Environment Court hearings down the track to get their way
Equally, if there is disagreement or a flaw in that process by a council, then the Court should retain a role to hear the views of parties involved and make a decision or provide for a mediated outcome where they cannot reach agreement
The discussion document focusses on how this will be achieved by councils working together but we need to ensure that this partnership based approach to plan formation is extended to councils working with their communities before a plan is put through a formal consultation phase
There is a lot to work through on exactly how this process would work but if we are to commit to a collaborative approach to planning, then we need to work out how we can do that most efficiently while removing the overly adversarial approach we currently have towards resource management.

ENDS

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