Hobbs Speech To RMA Law Association
MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
HON MARIAN HOBBS
RESOURCE MANAGEMENT LAW ASSOCIATION
LEVEL 24 MOBIL ON THE PARK
17 FEBRUARY 2000
Thank you for the invitation to attend your 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.
You will appreciate that after less than three months in the job, that
I am not an overnight expert in all the environmental issues facing New Zealand, nor the intricacies of the Resource Management Act. I have been meeting a wide range of people who have an equally wide range of views on environmental issues. Rather than making any announcements today, I'd like to make a few general comments on my initial thoughts. I will keep my talk brief as I am keen to hear your views as practitioners. I followed a similar format with the Resource Management Law Association meeting in Dunedin last Friday and it seemed to work well.
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. Several of the members have been local authority councillors. 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.
We have concerns with other aspects of the Bill. 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. . I am interested in your views on which parts of the Bill should or should not proceed
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 assessment.
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.
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 only 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.
Relationship with Local Government
The previous Government put some effort into publicly criticizing local government and legislating to try and improve performance. Aspects of the Resource Management Amendment Bill are an example of this. This Government is keen to operate in partnership with local government and to have a more effective working relationship.
This is particularly relevant with respect to the Resource Management Act where local government is effectively implementing the Act on behalf of central government. Central Government's responsibility is to assist local government and ensure any difficulties with the Act are addressed. This includes ensuring local government has the tools available to deal innovatively with environmental problems.
Auckland growth issues need to be tackled in partnership by both tiers of government. Similarly, the Quality Plan Project is a joint initiative between the Ministry for the Environment, Local Government New Zealand and professional bodies including the Resource Management Law Association.
The project aims to promote sharing of ideas between the parties involved, including through a website, and co-ordinated research into problem areas.