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RMA Bill blunted, still bad news for environment

20 June 2005
RMA Bill blunted, but still bad news for environment, locals

Many of the worst features of a Bill that aims to undermine the RMA have been removed by the Select Committee, but the Greens still oppose it because local communities are still going to be severely disempowered.

The Local Government and Environment Select Committee, chaired by Jeanette Fitzsimons, has substantially rewritten the Government's Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill.

"I am delighted that the Select Committee's recommendations have removed from this Bill many of the most worrying attacks on the RMA," said Ms Fitzsimons, the Greens' Environment Spokesperson.

"Draconian Ministerial powers have been curbed, punitive action against submitters has been softened and the 'promotion of infrastructure' as a key function of regional councils has gone. The Committee members all recognised that the move to truncate the Environment Court's processes and prevent it from hearing evidence already before councils was unworkable, so its mandate to hear all the facts will now remain intact.

"But it is clear that the intention of this Bill is to take away local people's say over the impact upon their areas of big controversial projects like power lines, dams, motorways and telecommunications towers. The Committee has removed many of the clauses that would facilitate this agenda, but not all of them. The remaining changes will still allow such developments to be forced on to communities against their will.

"For instance, the Greens are very concerned by the proposal that National Environmental Standards will now set maximum levels of environmental protection, thereby forbidding councils from setting higher local standards. When the RMA was first written, environmental standards were about ensuring a minimum level of protection everywhere. We fear they are about to change from a tool to protect the environment, to a sledgehammer to drive through industrial developments.

"We also oppose the new process for creating National Policy Statements, which will see them being drafted by a departmental official and allowing for only written submissions, not public debate or hearings. This will lead to quick, dirty and political National Policy Statements, without the cross-party buy-in intended in the original Act. They are likely to be changed by each in-coming government and create constant uncertainty in the planning process, which will be forever playing catch-up.

"There is no longer any appeal from decisions made under Ministerial call-in. Councils will have draconian powers to strike out submitters, meaning they have no right of appeal against decisions, for such things as not turning up to pre-hearing meetings or for submitting material the council thinks has no merit. We fear this will be used by some councils to turn away objections to projects they favour," said Ms Fitzsimons.

The Committee's report is at:

www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/Content/SelectCommitteeReports/237bar2.pdf

ENDS


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