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National Will Take Away Your Right To Have A Say

30 September 2001

Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons today said the National Party's proposals for the Resource Management Act will not remove the current abuses of the Act, but will seriously reduce the opportunities for people to have a say in the development of their communities.

Ms Fitzsimons said National MP Nick Smith was grandstanding on the legitimate concerns of those who have faced delays and excessive costs for political advantage.

National is due to release its new policy on the RMA on Monday.

"National's proposals for the RMA will tip the scales against the David's struggling against the plans of the Goliaths without improving the process at all," she said.

The Local Government and Environment select committee, which Ms Fitzsimons chairs, heard 400 submissions on the amendment bill introduced by Simon Upton.

"There was overwhelming agreement that the problem with the RMA lies not with the Act itself but with uneven and bureaucratic implementation by councils who had received no guidance or training by the National government when the Act was first passed," she said.

"Nick Smith argues that to deal with that inconsistency there should be national environmental standards. That is what the bill our committee considered provides for. This bill also streamlines the process to develop national policy statements which would improve consistency across councils.

"The only reason it is not law yet is because developers have lobbied Government to hold it up."

Ms Fitzsimons said the most significant, and dangerous, change National wants to make is to limit involvement in the process to those 'directly affected' - in other words immediate neighbours.

"Under this proposal concerned locals, interest groups or local environment groups would no longer be able to object to a development which cleared native forest, drained a wetland, or sought to build a high-rise building that encroached on a natural skyline or beach unless the objector lived next door.

"Citizens would lose all say in the shape of their communities."

Ms Fitzsimons said most of the rest of National's plan for the RMA amount to little more than empty rhetoric.

"National wants a mediation process - it already exists and is used by the Environment Court. By all means make better use of it - but you don't need to change the Act to ensure that," she said.

"National believe the court must have the power to award costs against parties who abuse the process - they do now, and the select committee hasn't changed that.

"All we have done is remove the power of the court to require objectors to put up thousands of dollars at the start as security for costs, because developers are threatening objectors with this and scaring them off their legitimate right to be involved.

"National wants applications to be heard by Commissioners rather than elected councils. Yet we were told this would increase costs - commissioners are expensive - without saving any time. It also takes the power away from democratically elected members and there is nothing to stop councils using commissioners now if they have a conflict of interest or are short of time. In fact they often do," she said.

Ms Fitzsimons said National has, however, come up with one good idea - iwi should have the opportunity to register with councils the areas of land where they wish to be consulted and a name and phone number to consult.

"This was a proposal I put to the select committee when we were discussing iwi consultation and it would have removed the problem the Whitianga Waterways faced. However this could not be done in the current bill as the public had not been consulted about it," she said.

"The purpose of the Resource Management Act is to allow people to go about their business of economic and social development provided that it is environmentally sustainable and does not damage other values held by the community," said Ms Fitzsimons.

"There will always be disagreements about the shape of future development. A participatory process is needed to resolve them.

The Bill as reported back by the select committee contains numerous changes to make the Act work better but stops short of taking away the right of the community to take part in the process," she said.

"Unfortunately this is exactly what National now wants to do."

Ends

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