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Comprehensive package of RMA improvements

15 September, 2004

Leadership central to comprehensive package of RMA improvements

The Government has announced a comprehensive package of measures designed to improve the working of the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Associate Environment Minister David Benson-Pope says the most striking feature of the proposed changes is the greater role for central government to support local decision-making.

Key initiatives include greater central direction and consistency through national policy statements and national standards, and greater support for local government. Councils, when considering large or complex projects such as important infrastructure initiatives, will be able to seek additional resources from Government or even ask the Environment Minister to 'call in' the project, where an independent board may be established to consider the case.

"We are committed to protecting and preserving the unique aspects of New Zealand's natural environment," said Mr Benson-Pope. "That means striking the right balance between our desire for a clean, healthy environment and our expectations for growth and opportunity.

"The RMA has always recognised that these important decisions are best made in the communities which might be affected by any initiative. This package of improvements is about practical solutions and improved processes to make the law work better.

"By providing leadership and partnership with the community, business and local government we will get better environmental results."

The package includes: Greater use of national policy statements and national environmental standards to give national direction and consistency across local government. The development process for policy statements and scope of standards will be improved.

The Ministry for the Environment taking a stronger leadership role to help local government develop knowledge and practice.

Strengthening the resource consent hearing process for the 3000 applications that are dealt with each year by commissioners and councillors, rather than by council staff. This includes: Introducing training and accreditation of decision-makers Giving the hearing panels powers to inquire into evidence and manage the hearing Ensuring that the evidence is sufficiently tested to avoid duplication of processes in any appeal Requiring the Environment Court to have regard to the local consent authority's decision and to focus only on matters in contention, rather than starting the whole process over again.

Providing the applicant or council with the ability to ask central government to become involved in the very small number of complex or cross-boundary cases, where local decision-making may not provide the best results: This could result in national assistance being provided to the council or national representation in the decision-making Central government may also become involved in consent processes through all-of-government submissions "Call-in" powers for the Minister of Environment will be enhanced

"This set of measures, together with recent improvements in the Environment Court, will make a real difference," said Mr Benson-Pope. "Stakeholders and practitioners told us that the RMA was an important environmental safeguard and the package we are proposing is therefore about creating workable improvements to its operation."

Some of the proposed measures will require legislative amendments. A Bill will be introduced later this year.

"The select committee process will provide a further opportunity for those interested to comment on the proposed measures and make a submission," said Mr Benson-Pope.

ENDS

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