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Environment Minister Speech To Planning Institute


7 March 2000

Thank you for inviting me today. This is my first visit to Auckland in my role as Environment Minister and I am pleased that the occasion should be to attend this Planning Institute meeting.

As planners, responsible for developing and implementing environmental policy over the last decade your job has not been easy. I can appreciate that it has been challenging adopting the wider integrated view of planning and urban growth under the Resource Management Act. Even more challenging, communicating the changes in thinking to a community used to working under the more traditional view of planning.

The job is unlikely to get easier with the real challenges of Auckland that lie ahead. Particulary the challenges of:

 How to address the urban growth issues of greater Auckland in an integrated way
 How we can best work together to get effective sustainable results
 How to communicate with the public the real environmental trade-offs of growth and infrastructure options, especially as these relate to transport
 How to implement sustainable urban growth at the local level

I am aware that my predecessor used this venue as a platform to make statements on key issues. Today, I will not be doing the same. You will appreciate that after only three months in the job, that I am not an overnight expert in all the environmental issues facing Auckland and New Zealand, nor the intricacies of the Resource Management Act. As the relative novice I have been concentrating on briefing myself on these and other environmental issues, by meeting with and listening to the divergent views of various individuals and groups.

Instead of making announcements, I’d like to make a few general comments on my initial thoughts on the legislative framework, priorities for the government and what this all means in Auckland. As I am keen to hear your views as practitioners, I will keep my comments brief.

Resource Management Amendment Bill

The Government is very supportive of the Resource Management Act. Now that the Act has been around for nearly 10 years, we recognise the need to review its effectiveness and whether the costs of compliance can be 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. The Committee will then start hearing submissions and report back to Parliament perhaps around June.

I doubt this 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

In terms of issues and priorities there are seven 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. We recognise there is a need to balance the benefits of national direction with ensuring that councils have sufficient flexibility to make decisions appropriate to their communities. There are some issues where the relatively small size of New Zealand or scale of the potential environmental problems is such, that a consistent approach is needed. Biodiversity and historic heritage have been identified as the most immediate areas where national guidance is required policy statements, but the demands for national policy statements is growing.

Where do you think environmental outcomes might more effectively be achieved this way?

The second is barriers to public participation. We need to research the facts, look at effective local examples where participation has worked and identify where the processes and systems do not assist effective participation. I want to encourage mediated and less adversarial approaches to environmental policy development and implementation.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

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. Both central and local government have a role in addressing this. At the national level it will mean ensuring that the national indicators we monitor are, and continue to be relevant. For councils monitoring compliance with consents, and performance of plans is critical. It also means working on how we, and that’s you and I, communicate with stakeholders and the public about the environment, the long term consequences of our actions and the trade-offs that are being made.

For Auckland the matching of council decisions on urban development with the effects on the environment is essential if the sustainable growth consistent with the urban growth strategy is to be effectively implemented.

In terms of environmental 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 this Thursday. 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, waste is a key area. Landfill proposals and calls for waste minimization have been in the headlines recently. We need to reduce significantly the waste stream, and ensure all waste management is based on full cost recovery. Many existing landfills need to be upgraded or closed.

Climate change is another crucial issue. We have announced our intention to show political leadership in this area; for example, by early ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. It will require effort from every sector to lower New Zealand’s emissions –particularly those that show the strongest growth in emissions, such as transport. This is obviously an issue for Auckland as it works to manage traffic congestion. Increasing the provision of public transport is part of the answer – in fact a variety of price and non-price measures will be needed. Information and education, along with partnerships, will be crucial in addressing the major risks to New Zealand of climate change.

Last but for many of you most importantly the urban environment requires greater attention at a national level. We can no longer 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. Nor can we make decisions on issues such as transportation, institutional structures, infrastructure and urban amenity in isolation from each other. A strong partnership between local and central government is essential.

Auckland Issues

What does this mean for Auckland and how central and local government need to address the issues.

The Government is committed to working in partnership with local and regional government to address the unique issues that face Auckland. The appointment of Judith Tizard with specific responsibly for advising on Auckland issues is the first step in this process. I am currently working with my colleagues Judith Tizard and Mark Gosche to understand the issues so that we can identify where and how we can work together and in partnership with local government.

I stress the word partnership. I am not looking to reinvent the wheel, but rather to add value and support cost effective implementation of the existing intiatives from the growth forum and the regional land transport committee. We are looking to see where the wheel spokes may be missing because of lack of tools to deal innovatively with the problems, where the wheel may lack momentum because the engine has run out of steam or because the wheel exists but the rest of the vehicle has yet to be designed. As practitioners in the region, I would welcome your thoughts on this.

Once I have a more comprehensive picture I can work better with you and my Ministerial colleagues to identify solutions for moving forward. At this early stage, we are clear that to move forward an integrated approach is essential. We are also clear that urgency is required to ensure that the environmental issues of the region do not become larger and more intractable.

Thank you


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