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Environ. Minister Speech To Auckland Growth Forum


MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
HON MARIAN HOBBS
SPEECH NOTES

AUCKLAND REGIONAL GROWTH FORUM, AUCKLAND REGIONAL COUNCIL
8 MARCH 2000
2.30pm

First up, I would like to thank the Forum for the invitation to attend today.

Sir Barry, thank you for your words of welcome. When I met your chair, Phil Warren, at a meeting with Local Government New Zealand in early February, I indicated that I was keen to visit Auckland to discuss the key issues facing the region. First, I would like to congratulate the Growth Forum on developing the regional growth strategy, A Vision for Managing Growth in the Auckland Region. In particular, I would like to acknowledge your chair, Phil Warren, for the leadership he has shown in seeking to establish this Forum. You have achieved much over the last three years. Indeed given the success of this Auckland approach I would be keen to see whether it could be useful in other parts of the country.

As Minister for the Environment I very much welcome this opportunity to start a dialogue with you, both about how we can work together, and also, how I can work with my ministerial colleagues on Auckland issues.

You will appreciate that I have had only three months in the job and that I’ve had a few other things on my mind. I am not an overnight expert in all the environmental issues facing New Zealand, Auckland urban issues, or the intricacies of the Resource Management Act. Today, rather than making any announcements, I would like to make a few general comments of my initial thoughts on the legislative framework, on climate change, my concerns about the urban environment and what these mean for Auckland. As I am keen to hear your views, I will keep my comments brief.

Resource Management Amendment Bill

The Government is very supportive of the Resource Management Act. No doubt the Act can be fine tuned and the cost of compliance hopefully reduced. However, the Government has reservations with some 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, including Ann Hartley. I understand the Committee has received almost 400 submissions.

The Labour Party has talked of “splitting” the Bill. 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 the Government 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 or 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 lots 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 understand that some of you have concerns about the proposals in the Bill to change regional and territorial council functions, and the implications of this for integrated management. I am advised that the potential change to the definition of environment to omit reference to social and economic matters was driven by concerns about how those matters are used by trade competitors. However, I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water. I see linkages between the environment and the social and economic climate within which environmental concerns are considered.

I am interested in your views on which parts of the Bill should or should not proceed, and hope that you will present your views to the Select Committee.

Climate Change

Climate change is a crucial issue. We have announced our intention to show political leadership in this area, for example, by early ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Quite frankly, New Zealand's record in addressing CO2 emissions is bad. Last year in Bonn at the Fifth Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change – COP5 for short –we received a "fossil of the day award". The reason? In 1994 we claimed our net emissions would be about half 1990 levels by 2000, whereas it was becoming clear that we would miss that target by an extremely long margin.
So, 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.

Urban Sustainability

A key priority of mine is the urban environment. Our society is very much an urban society. I consider that the urban environment requires greater attention at a national level. We cannot leave the market to solve problems of over-dependence on private cars and inadequate public transport, poor provision of infrastructure, urban sprawl, or loss of heritage buildings. A strong partnership between local and central government is essential.

What does this mean for Auckland?

I would like to discuss with you what this means for Auckland and how central and local government can work together to address Auckland issues.

But first I would like to acknowledge the very real challenges that Auckland faces and the progress you have made to date. . You have nearly 30% of New Zealand’s population, and are increasing by almost 25,000 people each year, or a new Dunedin every four years. As your growth strategy notes, by the year 2050 the population could be two million people. Clearly a “business as usual” approach by either central government or by Auckland councils is not going to solve the problems you face. Progress is needed to ensure that the environmental issues facing the Auckland region do not become larger and more intractable. To move forward an integrated approach is required.

The Government is committed to working in partnership with local and regional government in New Zealand. Yesterday, along with the Prime Minister Helen Clark and the Minister of Local Government, Sandra Lee, I attended the Local Government Forum. This and the appointment of Judith Tizard as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Auckland issues is a key indication of the importance of Auckland in the Government’s agenda. As well as working with Judith, I am also working with the Minister of Transport, Mark Gosche to understand the issues so that we can identify where and how we can work together and in partnership with you.

I stress the word partnership. I am not looking to reinvent the wheel, but rather to add value and support, cost effective and appropriate approaches to dealing with growth issues. I would appreciate your thoughts on how I can achieve this.

I would like to make clear that I support strategic thinking and strategic approaches to the management of growth. It seems to me that Auckland through its growth strategy is seeking to ensure that Auckland continues to be a great place to live. The growth strategy, combined with your Regional Land Transport Strategy, and the Passenger Transport Action Plan seek to deal with the issues that you face.

I accept that it has taken a lot of effort to get to this point. Now, taking action to deliver on these strategies will be even more of a challenge. It will require effective monitoring to see whether what is happening on the ground matches up or whether change is needed. It will require effective agreements between councils on growth issues. The relationship that you have built across the region over the last few years will stand you in good stead when dealing with the inevitable issues and barriers that arise along the way.

I have indicated that I consider the urban environment requires greater attention at national level. The Ministry for the Environment is currently developing a small set of national indicators on urban amenity values. I am keen for the Ministry to look at what is happening on the ground, and what we can learn from that. I would welcome the involvement of Auckland councils in such an exercise. I would also like to acknowledge that air pollution from cars is a real problem in the Auckland region, and that I am working with the Minister of Transport on this.

There is much to be done. The previous government put some effort into publicly criticising local government and legislating to try and improve performance. Aspects of the Resource Management Amendment Bill are an example of this. The new Government is keen to operate in partnership with local government and to have a more effective working relationship. I would value hearing from you what you see as being the key issues facing you, and how I and the Government can work with Auckland to move forward. To help focus our discussion I would like to ask a few questions.

First, as I am coming in part way through the process, it would be helpful if you could tell me what you see as being your key challenges and why you got to the solutions that you did.

Second, how can I as Minister for the Environment add value? I realise you may raise broader issues. I am happy to listen, and to report back to my ministerial colleagues.

Third, given the range of other things on your plates what priority are you giving to the implementation of the growth strategy?

Fourth, how well are your communities on board with what you have all signed up to? I would like to give you an example from my own electorate in Wellington where work has been done for some years now on what to do at the Waterfront. When the Wellington City Council publicly notified variation 17 to the district plan, community concern broke loose. One of the problems the council faced was that, until a lobby "Waterfront Watch" focussed attention, most citizens were unware of the issue. You'll recall one public meeting was called off because the venue couldn't cope with the crowd. And then, days later, there was a somewhat fiery meeting in a packed Wellington Town Hall.

Fifth, in recent years the Auckland water and power crises have brought home to business the importance of issues to do with infrastructure. I am told the Forum is working with infrastructure providers. How much has the broader business community recognised the issues associated with growth? Are they on side?

Finally, yesterday and today I’ve seen first hand Aucklanders’ love affair with their cars, and the impact this has not only on your air quality but also for climate change. How are we going to get the attitudinal changes that move people from their cars and onto public transport?

Thank you for listening.

I look forward to the discussions.

Again, I would like to congratulate the Forum on your work to date. I look forward to working with you in the future.

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