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Is The Resource Management Act Working?


Is The Resource Management Act Working?

Whether or not the politically contentious Resource Management Act (RMA) is actually improving management of New Zealand’s environment is to be studied as part of a $3.7 million research project led by the International Global Change Institute (IGCI), a financially self-supporting unit within Waikato University.

“This research will be crucial to helping central and local Government decide on the best way ahead in terms of managing the environment,” says the IGCI’s director Neil Ericksen, who’s heading the research team.

The project, when combined with earlier IGCI research involving the RMA, is an international first when it comes to evaluating the effects of such legislation.

It gets underway in October and is being funded over six years by a grant from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST).

In the first three years, the project will specifically evaluate the environmental outcomes stemming from RMA plans prepared and implemented by a selection of district councils. This will include a sub-contract with KCSM Consultancy Solutions which will develop and apply a kaupapa Mâori for evaluating environmental outcomes for iwi and hapû from council planning.

“We’ll be taking a hard look at whether these plans are actually leading to better results for the environment and at what cost to key stakeholders,” says Neil Ericksen. “Earlier FRST-funded research we have done on a limited number of councils indicates that the quality of their district plans was only fair to poor and the implementation of their plans wasn’t that flash either.”

He says there was, generally speaking, often a mismatch between the environmentally friendly policies and methods put into the plans by councils and the way things were done by council staff when processing resource consents for developments that affect, for example, urban amenity and storm water disposal. “There was a difference between image and reality,” says Neil.

He says poor governance and limited capacity in central, regional and local government agencies has been largely responsible for the poor plans and implementation processes under the RMA.

An important dimension to the latest research (in years four to six) will be using it and past research to see what lessons can be applied to councils needing to draw up long-term council community plans for sustainable development, as required under the new Local Government Act (LGA).

Also, a practice development framework is being developed that draws on outputs from all phases of the research to ensure best methods and practices are available to those working under the RMA and LGA.

The project involves the collaboration of 12 part-time researchers at IGCI, Auckland and Lincoln universities, as well as one US university and three private sector consultancies. It will be carried out with support from various central and local government agencies, as well as several iwi, the NZ Council for Sustainable Development and the Employers and Manufacturers Associations.

The overall FRST-funded programme, which started in mid-1995, is called Planning Under Co-operative Mandates. It has yielded two reports to Government that include results and recommendations. The reports and other papers are available on www.waikato.ac.nz/igci/pucm.

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