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Government's RMA changes back in Parliament

Hon David Benson-Pope, MP

Member of Parliament for Dunedin South Associate Minister for the Environment

25 July 2005 Media Statement

Government's RMA changes back in Parliament this session

Associate Environment Minister David Benson-Pope has confirmed the government's intention to pass its package of improvements to the Resource Management Act in this session of Parliament.

Mr Benson-Pope says the Bill, known as the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill, which sets out a series of practical improvements identified after talking with business, local government, environmental organisations and the broader community over a year-and-a-half, would be passed before the election.

"This Bill is about providing greater certainty and efficiency in the way the RMA operates, while not sacrificing protection for our environment," said Mr Benson-Pope.

"We need to get the balance right so that New Zealanders get the environmental protection they expect and deserve, as well as certainty about the process. We are doing a lot to improve the quality of decision-making, and further reduce delays and uncertainty about costs."

Mr Benson-Pope says the three key areas to the government's improvement package are:

- Improved and quicker decision-making on resource consents

- Empowering councils and working with them on large or complex proposals

- More leadership, especially through national policy statements and standards

"The National Party are well behind and are desperately trying to play catch-up," said Mr Benson-Pope. "We are taking action to reduce delays, eliminate unnecessary costs and ensure full opportunities for participation by affected parties."

Summary of major features of the RMELA Bill:

Improved and quicker decision-making on resource consents:

The Environment Court has reduced delays with all cases now being heard within six months (down from 18 months in 2000); mediates 80 per cent of cases; and the RMELA Bill now explicitly requires the Court to have regard to council decisions – all this reduces the game playing by vexatious submitters

New requirements for accreditation within two years of the RMELA Bill passing.

Councils are given extra powers for hearings and have the ability to require or invite people to pre-hearings and strike out vexatious and frivolous submitters

Council staff training programme developed to back-up good decision-making

Monitoring and review of council performance and targeted one-on-one assistance for poorer performing councils

Further information requests can be declined by applicants, thus avoiding “standoffs’ over information requirements. Where an applicant does not provide information that has been requested, the consent authority must proceed with the application and either grant or refuse it.

The Bill recognises existing investment as a factor in deciding whether to allow the replacement of existing consents – this provides more certainty for business and the community.

Empowering councils and working with them on large or complex proposals:

Provisions developed by Local Government New Zealand have been adopted. These provisions acknowledge the need for some decisions to be dealt with at a national level.

More tools are now available to the Minister. For example, not just call in but ability to make Crown submissions, appoint a member of the hearings panel, direct councils to consider the matter jointly. These options are decided in consultation with the affected Councils

The Minister, if calling in an application (including designations), can send it to a specialist Board of Inquiry or off to the Environment Court.

More leadership, especially through national policy statements and standards:

The reform package heeds the call from local government, NGOs and industry for more central government leadership, including the need standards and policy statements

Already 14 standards for air quality and toxics have been developed with councils and industry

Six standards (contaminated land, raw drinking water, telecommunications, bio-solids, land transport noise) and four policy statements (biodiversity, electricity transmission, electricity generation) are either being scoped or are in preparation

Freshwater standards and policies being considered as part of the Sustainable Development Water Programme of Action

Ability under RMELA Bill to set absolute standards

Minister has ability to direct preparation of plans and to investigate councils performance


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