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Local rights trampled in "Think Big" Bill

2 December 2004

Local rights trampled in "Think Big" Bill

Giant transmission lines, motorways, large dams and coal-burning power stations are likely to be fast-tracked if the RMA Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament today is passed, the Green Party warns.

Green Co-Leader and Environment Spokesperson Jeanette Fitzsimons said new processes in the Bill gave the Minister for the Environment unprecedented powers to bypass public concerns in "the national interest".

"Under this Bill 'national interest' is whatever the minister says it is," Ms Fitzsimons said. "This is a return to the Birch/Muldoon 'Think Big' era."

"Applicants for big projects can now ask the minister to 'call in' the project and appoint her own committee to deal with it," Ms Fitzsimons said.

"It is then taken out of the hands of the local council and there is no appeal to the Environment Court. This is even worse than National's proposals for direct referral to the Environment Court. SOEs like Transpower and Crown entities like Transit will rush to use these new provisions."

Mrs Fitzsimons said the Bill also allows the minister to use national environmental standards, initially provided for as a tool for environmental protection, to force councils to allow activities such as transmission lines with no conditions and no resource consents.

"This is pure double-speak. And when combined with curbs on the rights of the public to oppose a project, it gives far too much power and too little accountability to the minister."

"Non-expert members of the public with shallow pockets will find the new processes at council hearings and the Environment Court even more daunting than ever. Unless they get all their information in at the beginning they will not be allowed to present it.

"Groups like the Cape Kidnappers Protection Society who, this week, won a decision to protect the iconic headland from a luxury resort development, will face a much tougher and more expensive battle."

Mrs Fitzsimons said there was now little difference between National and Labour on the RMA.

"Many of these bad ideas were in Simon Upton's 1999 Bill and were thoroughly considered and rejected by the select committee in 2000 and 2003. Now the Minister is allowing officials to try them on again.

"These changes are bad for democracy and bad for the environment. The Greens urge members of the public to make submissions on this Bill and tell the Government loud and clear in election year, that they value their rights and care about their environment."

ENDS

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