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Third Reading, Resource Management Amendment Bill

Marian Hobbs Speech: Third Reading, Resource Management Amendment Bill (No2)

Mr Speaker, I move that the Resource Management Amendment Bill No2 be now read a third time.

It pleases me greatly to see this Bill reach the point of becoming legislation. For those who work in resource management the changes introduced here are long overdue. Most are simple, constructive changes that build upon the extensive experience of those working with the Act. Collectively these changes will result in a significant improvement in the way the Act works.

Mr Speaker, most commentators readily accept that it is not the principles of the Resource Management Act that are flawed. Concerns are instead about uncertainty and overly restrictive process requirements. The provisions introduced here will help to overcome these problems – they will deliver increased certainty, as in the clarifying of when the provisions of proposed plans will take effect.

Changes to the provisions for national environmental standards in particular signify an important change in the Government’s approach to resource management. For too long local government has struggled on its own to develop simple, effective and consistent environmental controls. The new provisions make it easier for central government to become involved in this process. Using these tools, we will now be more able to work closely with local government to achieve improved environmental outcomes. And in the last weeks we have been working closely with regional councils to draw up an agreed priority list as to which National Environmental Standards to proceed with. Importantly, the provisions will not override the role of local government, but do allow for central government to offer more help where that is appropriate.

The limited notification provisions are designed to reduce compliance costs and improve the processing of resource consents with minor effects on the environment. On this issue I have received most mail. I read in this month's Orchardist magazine a good summary of how the limited notification provisions might apply to fruit growers:

"If a grower needs consent to put a minor extension on a building, to get approval permission is needed from all those likely to be affected, such as the neighbours. Under the present system, if all the neighbours give their permission, the consent is not likely to be publicly notified. But if one neighbour objects to the grower's proposal the council would have no choice but to fully notify the consent… With limited notification, while the grower would still need to get approval for expanding the business, submissions/objections wouldn't need to be invited from people other than those directly affected, such as the neighbours. This will reduce the costs to applications, as full notification including advertising in a newspaper can be an expensive task"

This Government recognises that alongside amendments to the legislation, significant gains can also be made by working with those parties involved to improve practice. The Ministry for the Environment is working with local government, business, and the community to improve resource management decision-making, and with the Department for Courts to improve facilities and support for the Environment Court.

The Environment Court has reduced its backlog and will continue with that reduction. As a consequence the threat of going to the Environment Court will be removed as a weapon of blackmail.
The Ministry for the Environment is working with representatives from a wide range of groups including the NZ Contractors Federation, Business New Zealand and Local Government New Zealand to ensure better consistency in resource consent processing, council charging and hearing processes. Amendments to the law are only one way to improve the Act and we must not neglect support for the Environment Court and work with councils.

Mr Speaker, getting the Resource Management Amendment Bill No2 to this point has been no small challenge. I would like to extend my thanks to the Local Government and Environment Committee and to the Chair in particular for their significant efforts on the Bill in both its forms. And particularly when they saw some of their decisions in the first bill overturned as a result of the Business Compliance Cost Panels recommendations. Yes, getting this Bill to the third reading has involved refinements, for example the removal of three terms introduced by the select committee in the definition of “historic heritage”.

I listened to the concerns raised courteously by my colleague, Larry Baldock. I went back to the two ministries concerned and some of the members of the select committee who inserted the words in the definition of historic heritage in the RM Amendment No 1. I judged on Wednesday that the essence of ensuring that historic heritage was elevated to a matter of national importance, as asked for in a letter from the Minister for Arts, Culture and heritage, was not weakened by the removal of these words, which would have taken the courts some time to define.

Section 6 as introduced in 1991 read as follows:

6. Matters of national importance - In achieving the purpose of this Act, all persons exercising functions and powers under it, in relation to managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources, shall recognise and provide for the following matters of national importance:

(a) The preservation of the natural character of the coastal environment (including the coastal marine area), wetlands, and lakes and rivers and their margins, and the protection of them from inappropriate subdivision, use and development:

(b) The protection of outstanding natural feasures and landscapes from inappropriate subdivision, use and development:

(c) The protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna:

(d) The maintenance and enhancement of public access to and along the coastal marine area, lakes and rivers:

(e) The relationship of Maori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, waahi tapu, and other taonga. These words have been in the Act since its introduction in 1991. I cannot recall any one having asked me to take these words out.

This bill has added 6

(f) to matters of national importance: The protection of historic heritage from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development. It was the definition of historic heritage that caused problems for Mr Baldock. He wanted the removal of spiritual/cultural landscapes/ and ancestral landscapes from the definition. I judged that these words added were not necessary to expedite the issue raised by the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage. For example a sacred site can be covered by cultural/ historic or sites of significance to Maori, including waahi tapu.

Therefore the government supported Mr Baldock's reasonable amendment. The Government remains committed to achieving a healthy environment for all New Zealanders, now and in the future.

We will continue to work alongside those implementing the Act to achieve improved environmental outcomes. And if members thought this was the end of amendments to the RMA, I can report probably two more sets of amendments are being developed this year.

Mr Speaker, I commend the Bill to the House.

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