Marion Hobbs Resource Management Law Speech
MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
HON MARIAN HOBBS
RESOURCE MANAGEMENT LAW ASSOCIATION
SOUTHERN CROSS HOTEL
11 FEBRUARY 2000
Thank you for the invitation to attend your luncheon meeting.
I am pleased to give one of my first talks as Environment Minister to the Resource Management Law Association. The Association plays an invaluable, and perhaps unique, role in bringing together all the resource management disciplines (planning, law, surveying, landscape architects etc) under one umbrella. This concept has my full support.
The flyer for this meeting announced that I would be discussing the Resource Management Amendment Bill, the programme for the Ministry for the Environment, and the Environment Court.
A discussion is exactly what I am after. I will not be making announcements. Rather I thought I'd make a few general comments after less than three months in the job. I will keep my talk brief as I am keen to hear your views as practitioners. You will appreciate that despite a lot of reading and talking to a range of people I am not an overnight expert in all the environmental issues facing New Zealand, nor the intricacies of the Resource Management Act. But rest assured, I still have an open mind.
Resource Management Amendment Bill
The Government is very supportive of the Resource Management Act. No doubt the Act can be fine tuned and the costs of compliance hopefully reduced. However, the Government has reservations with aspects of the Amendment Bill the previous Government introduced.
The Bill is before the Local Government and Environment Select Committee. The Committee is chaired by Greens Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons and its members include David Benson-Pope from Dunedin. I understand the Committee has received almost 400 submissions.
The Labour Party has talked of "splitting" the Bill. No decisions have been made on this yet. Because the Bill is before the Select Committee the Government can not simply split clauses off the Bill. However, the Committee has asked me for the Government's views on parts of the Bill it might not want to proceed with. I expect decisions will be made over the next few weeks on this. I expect the Committee will then start hearing submissions and report back to Parliament perhaps around May.
I doubt the Government's views will surprise many people here. We want local authorities to retain control of the resource consent process. This means we have concerns over proposals to require contestable processing of consents, to require councils to appoint commissioners to make decisions, and for applications to be heard directly by the Environment Court.
I am interested in your views on which parts of the Bill should or should not proceed. I might say though, that a lot of the provisions are finely balanced between different views and need very careful consideration. Such consideration is very much the role of a select committee.
Issues and Priorities (for the Ministry for the Environment)
In terms of issues and priorities there are six areas I'd like to raise today where I am keen to make progress. These will be priority areas for the Ministry for the Environment. I am keen to hear your views on them.
The first is national guidance. There is a need for national policy statements and national environmental standards, as well as guidelines from the Ministry for the Environment, to help provide guidance and consistency to local government, business and the community. Biodiversity and historic heritage appear to be front runners for national policy statements. But the demands for such national policy statements is growing.
The second is barriers to public participation. We need to research the facts, and to examine what role helping to fund expert advisors or legal aid for Environmental Court hearings could play in assisting effective participation. I also want to encourage mediated and less adversarial settlements at all levels in the system.
The third is an emphasis on environmental outcomes. There has been a lot of focus in the last few years on process - delays, costs, etc. Clearly processes need to be efficient. But, the key focus must be environmental outcomes. That is why we have the Resource Management Act. We need to be sure we are heading (in the right direction) towards sustainable management of resources and that the rules and controls we have in place are necessary. This means monitoring of the environment, compliance with consents, and performance of plans is critical. Recently I attended the launch of the Wellington Regional Council's: Measuring Up. I found its matching up of decisions with effects on the environment was an excellent assesment.
In terms of issues, biodiversity is a key area. The Biodiversity Strategy has been completed and will be released shortly. Of even greater interest to this audience will be the Report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on the effects of private land management on indigenous biodiversity.
That report will also be released within the next few weeks. It is the first part of an important process that will see the government, after consultation, put in place the first comprehensive and integrated strategy to deal with the private land/biodiversity issues. It seeks to address the difficult issues associated with property rights - and responsibilities. An integral part of this strategy is likely to be the first National Policy Statement under the Act. But it will also address the broader non-Resource Management Act matters such as pest management, central government incentives and indigenous forest policy.
It is a matter that I fully expect to receive widespread, and I hope considered, debate and I welcome contributions from you all.
Fifthly, the urban environment requires greater attention at a national level. We can not leave the market to solve problems of loss of heritage buildings, over-dependence on private cars and inadequate public transport, provision of infrastructure and urban sprawl. A strong partnership between local and central government is essential.
Last but not least, waste is a key area. Landfill proposals and calls for waste minimization have been in the headlines recently. We need to significantly reduce the waste stream, ensure all waste management is based on full cost recovery and to have all existing landfills upgraded or closed. Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
And of course there is the Environment Court. I know there are concerns with the increasing backlog of cases before the Court. I know these delays impose real costs on business, local government and the community.
I am advised that part of the problem is the large number of references or appeals on proposed plans before the Court, although many of these are settled without the need for a full hearing. I also advised that the Court has already taken a number of steps to try and address the problem, including case management, regular callovers of cases and greater use of the lay commissioners.
I am not convinced that further resources and more judges is necessarily the answer. As I mentioned earlier, it may be more use of mediation and less adversarial settlements should be part of the solution. But again, I welcome your views.