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National Party Resource Management Policy, Q & A

National Party Resource Management Policy

National is committed to substantial reform of the Resource Management Act. These reforms are critical to addressing New Zealand’s roading and electricity infrastructure crisis. They are also important in attracting investment in industries like forestry and reducing compliance costs for farms, small business and homeowners. National’s objective is to reduce the costs, delays and uncertainties of the Act while maintaining high environmental standards.

National supports the underpinning principles of the Act, notably the commitment to sustainability, the integrated approach to environmental management and the focus on environmental effects. Our major concern is that the Act has become too complex and cumbersome. This is evidenced by the 15,000 pages of district and regional plans, the 50,000 consents required each year and the seven year average time required for a council to process a plan change.

National’s reforms involve a rebalancing of several key aspects of the Act. Firstly, the public consultation provisions of the Act are open to abuse from minority groups who can impose huge costs or delays on communities. Secondly, the Act gives insufficient weighting to the rights of property owners about how their land is used. Thirdly, the Act devolves too much decision-making to councils, resulting in councils in every part of the country having different rules or having to reinvent the wheel.

National will reform the RMA in two phases. The first phase involves process issues that have been extensively debated since the McShane review in 1998. These will be included in a Bill introduced within three months of the election and passed into law within nine months.

The second phase of reform will deal with the more complex issues of resource allocation and infrastructure provision. A major piece of work will be undertaken on tradable water rights to improve the incentives for efficient and flexible water use. National will look to replace the command-and-control approach to urban development with the smart use of development levies. It is not for the state or councils to drive more dense city living by regulation, but instead to ensure people face the full infrastructure costs of their lifestyle decisions. These initiatives are about making greater use of economic instruments within the RMA framework and will be developed on a slower track to enable community input and careful attention to detail.

To increase certainty and consistency National will:

Establish an Environmental Protection Authority with responsibility for developing national environmental standards and policy statements.

Strengthen national environmental standards by removing the ability for councils to set different standards and by requiring approval of resource consents that comply with national standards.

Rewrite the principles of the Act to provide for sustainable development and a greater recognition of property rights.

Repeal section 8 (Treaty of Waitangi) and the 33 other provisions that make exclusive reference to Maori cultural and spiritual values.

Repeal Labour’s 2005 amendment that requires District Councils to comply with policy directives from Regional Councils.

Simplify the process for changing district and regional plans and require all councils to have operative plans within 12 months of the reform bill being passed.

Tighten the definition of ‘environment’ so the Act is focussed on management of natural and physical resources.

Limit the role of DoC to advising councils on biodiversity and heritage issues.

To reduce delays in the RMA, National will:

Enable resource consent applicants to refuse further information requests from councils, and to have their consent accepted or rejected on the information provided.

Repeal Labour’s 2005 amendment that enables council notification decisions to be appealed to the Environment Court.

Legislate for a “late consent being a free consent”, whereby if the council fails to process the consent within the 20 working days required by the Act it loses its right to charge processing fees.

Require decisions of the Environment Court to be delivered within 20 days of the hearing concluding.

Scrap Labour’s $3.4 million RMA Legal Aid Objection Fund.

To limit vexatious and frivolous objections, National will:

Reintroduce “standing” so that a person has to show they have a genuine interest in or will be affected by a resource consent, to be able to object.

Repeal Labour’s 2002 amendment so that the Environment Court can require security for costs from an applicant or objector.

Strengthen the powers of the Environment Court to award costs.

Expand the capacity of the Environment Court and councils to reject vexatious and frivolous objectors.

To streamline consent processing, National will:

Enable an applicant to seek direct referral to the Environment Court for major consents that are likely to be appealed regardless of outcome.

Integrate archaeological consents into the Resource Management Act

Reduce the number of categories of consent, and thus the complexity of the Act and district and regional plans.

Widen the application of the limited notification process

Introduce a new compensation mechanism for landowners significantly affected by plan changes or significant resource consents.

Q & A – Fixing the RMA is a legislative priority

Why is the Western Springs Speedway a good example of the Resource Management Act gone wrong?

The Western Springs Speedway is caught up in the bureaucratic quagmire of the RMA in that the Auckland City Council, in 1998, included in its District Plan a noise limit of 85 decibels. In practice this would force closure of the speedway. The key problem is that for the District Council to change the District Plan to a higher decibel limit (90) it would take, under the existing Resource Management Act, 2 or 3 years working at the fastest pace. (The average time for a plan change is 7 years).

Where is the Western Springs Speedway issue at?

The Environment Court ruled in favour of the Springs Stadium Residents Association in requiring the 85-decibel limit in the plan to be enforced.

This decision has been appealed to the High Court on the issue of whether the Western Springs Speedway could claim existing use rights on the basis that it had operated on the site for 75 years. The counter argument concerns whether the speedway operator agreed to the 85-decibel limit in 1998.

The High Court hearing on the existing rights issue was heard in June but, even if successful, would simply enable the Environment Court to reconsider the matter, taking into account these further factors. There is little prospect of this being able to be resolved by 5th November 2005 when the new season at the speedway is due to open.

How has Labour’s policy contributed to the problem?

In 2000, Labour with the Greens’ support introduced the Environmental Legal Aid Fund for environmental objectors. The Springs Stadium Residents Group, representing just 23 households and 78 residents, almost all of whom bought their houses long after the speedway began operating, received grant of $28,687.50 to help them prosecute their case against the speedway. In contrast, 51,000 people signed a petition supporting the speedway.

Labour in 2000 also rejected the Simon Upton reform Bill that included provisions that would have streamlined the process for changing district plans.

How will National’s reforms help?

National will scrap the Environmental Legal Aid Fund.

National will also streamline the process for making changes to District Plans. The process is far too complex and slow. Councils need to be able to make changes within a six-month timeframe not seven years.

How will National help the Auckland City Council and the Speedway resolve the issue for the coming 2005 season?

National will move amendments this week in Parliament during the debate on the Resource Management Act Amendment Bill. National’s amendment will empower the Auckland City Council to introduce an immediate plan change to increase the noise limit for the Speedway to take effect from the date of public notification. Objectors will have the chance to argue their case and ultimately determine the issue of the appropriate noise limit in the Environment Court, but in the meantime the Speedway will be able to continue to operate as it has for 75 years.


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