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Mallard: Sustainable develpt at sustainable price

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister for the Environment

3 April 2008 Speech Notes

Embargoed until: 9.15am

Sustainable development at a sustainable price

Speech by Environment Minister Trevor Mallard to the Planning Institute conference, Regents Theatre, Greymouth

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this morning.

The Resource Management Act (RMA) is as relevant today as ever for sustainably managing our precious natural resources; and sustainably managing developments that might encroach on our environment. It allows all the parties and individuals involved to take account of and balance environmental pressures with the demands and needs of all of us who use the environment and its resources.

Councils have worked hard to respond to the demands of the legislation, and the planning profession has also risen to the challenge. I hope you have also found the Ministry for the Environment’s Quality Planning website and resources, and best practice training programmes helpful.

Today I will focus on national environmental standards, national policy statements, and call ins. In 2005 our government passed amendments to the RMA that sharpened these tools for national guidance.

I also want to make some general comments on your work as planners. You all play a very important role in building continual efficiency improvements into the planning process using those RMA changes.

I'll go into more detail about this later but this means keeping a rein on costs to applicants and seeking out and using the innovative and sustainable solutions that are available under the RMA and that help potential developers and also the communities who are looking on and are worried about keeping their environmental protections in place.

National environmental standards are an important RMA tool when it comes to regions protecting the integrity of the local environment and protecting and enhancing the quality and quantity of vital resources such as water and air.

We now have our first freshwater standard relating to drinking water sources as well as 14 national environmental standards relating to air quality. And the government is in the process of setting further standards to improve freshwater management, telecommunications facilities and electricity transmission. It is also considering standards to address on-site wastewater systems and contaminated land.

This broad range of national environmental standards should provide more consistency to environmental management across the country.

In June, the National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking Water will come into force, with a six month phase-in. This will contribute to a multi-barrier approach to keeping pollution out of our water supplies, rather than just relying on treatment at a later stage.

Freshwater management is a priority. A National Environmental Standard for Measurement of Water Takes is currently being put into regulation, and I recently released a discussion document proposing a National Environmental Standard on Ecological Flows and Water Levels. You can comment on this proposal until 31 July this year.

The Resource Management Act is about sustaining our natural resources. And it is also about sustainably managing our physical resources.

Some of the standards we are developing are to ensure the necessary maintenance of our infrastructure and to improve the delivery of essential services.

Cabinet recently approved the National Environmental Standards for Telecommunications Facilities, which are now being drafted and will become law in the second half of this year.

By ensuring consistent planning requirements, we can give greater certainty to the industry and increase choice for consumers.

Both are vital to the Labour-led government’s wider goal of building a knowledge based economy while at the same time acting sustainably - with a mind to the threat of climate change and also the needs of future generations.

Electricity transmission is essential to our everyday lives. We have heard a lot about security of supply and we are working to ensure we have a robust and reliable electricity transmission system.

To help achieve this we are developing national environmental standards for the electricity transmission system. The standards deal with maintaining and protecting built electricity transmission structures to help ensure the robustness of the national grid.

This brings me to the second area of guidance - national policy statements. These tools will help local councils decide how to balance competing national benefits and local costs.

In March, the government issued the National Policy Statement on Electricity Transmission. It sets out the framework for managing our national grid. It is a clear statement of the national benefits of electricity transmission.

Currently there is plenty of discussion about the local adverse effects of transmission lines and so there should be. But what is often missing is recognition of the benefits to the nation of efficient and reliable electricity transmission. This national policy statement will guide decision makers in striking the balance between the national, regional and local effects.

We are also developing a National Policy Statement on Renewable Electricity Generation. Both these energy-related national policy statements are designed to support the New Zealand Energy Strategy and the government’s target to have 90 per cent of our electricity generated from renewable sources by 2025.

New Zealand is now experiencing greater competition for resources than ever before and in some areas it is clear that we have already reached, and in some cases breached, certain biophysical and ecological limits. Yet the polluters carry on.

I am reading stories nearly on a daily basis of shocking contamination that is still going on - especially in relation to water. The latest that had me gobsmacked was a report about the state of a stream - that sounded more like an open sewer - feeding the Tukituki River in Central Hawke's Bay.

I really urge councils to get tough and use the tools they have by putting proper restrictions in place and by doing their monitoring and punishing those responsible for the breaches of local regulations. Industry groups also need to start penalising their members who are blindly and stupidly destroying the resources on which their industries are based. Dairy farming is one high profile example, but urban polluters can be just as bad.

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management is going to tackle hard this very serious issue.

I aim to have the draft out for consultation around June, so again, please use your expertise and have a say.

The other national policy statement in development is the review of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, which is managed, as you know, by my colleague the Minister of Conservation.

The 2005 amendments to the RMA have widened the opportunities for intervention on proposals of national significance.

Changes were made to the call-in process - so that the matters of national significance can be referred either to a Board of Inquiry or directly to the Environment Court. In both cases the final decision is made by either the court or the board - and not the government.

The government has used the call-in process now on three occasions.

Transpower’s Upper North Island Grid Upgrade Project was called in last year and a Board of Inquiry set up to consider and decide the resource consent applications and notices of requirement. In December I announced two other call ins – Contact Energy’s proposed geothermal power station in an area known as ‘Te Mihi’ near Taupo, and Unison’s proposed wind farm near the Te Waka range in Hawkes Bay.

By calling in these applications, the government has recognised the national significance of renewable energy developments and the contribution projects such as these can make to security of supply. The scale of the project is not the only factor in determining national significance —but its location and contribution to national targets or other government objectives are also relevant.

The RMA enables an applicant or local authority to make a request for me to intervene. I am aware there is growing interest in the call-in process from others with nationally significant proposals, not only renewable energy, but also transport or telecommunication projects.

A word of warning - the timeframes around intervention are tight. While there is a window open for intervention - it is a narrow one. The call-in process requires applicants to have done their homework first as there are few opportunities to reshape a proposal on the way through. If you want to use the call-in mechanism I need to see well prepared applications.

I do expect to receive more requests and I will be assessing each of these on a case by case basis against the criteria in the Act.

The Resource Management Act is coming of age and we are now looking to the second generation of RMA planning documents. The government is mindful of the cost of going through the first schedule process. The development of national environmental standards and policy statements at this time will mean that local authorities can respond through plan changes in a co-ordinated and consistent fashion.

Where that national guidance is still being developed, I urge you to be part of those policy development processes. The involvement of planning practitioners always provides a reality check for government and will ensure national guidance is practical, workable and adds value.

Planning practitioners also play a critical role in providing this reality check in the preparation of regional policy statements and district and regional plans and the evaluation and processing of resource consent applications.

As I’ve said, the RMA is central to sustainably managing our precious natural and physical resources. But we need to sustainably manage our resources at a sustainable price.

I have mentioned steps the government is taken to permit the maintenance of transmission lines and new minor telecommunication facilities.

It is important that in the second generation of plans, we focus on key environmental issues, rather than plans becoming a complex mass of complicated rules, that are too costly to develop and to administer. Similar clear thinking is needed in evaluating resource consents to ensure timely and robust decisions at a reasonable price to applicants. You will all know examples of good practice in this area – and hopefully you are sharing them around at this conference.

Some examples I'm aware of - the 430 hectare Pyes Pa development in the Western Bay of Plenty shows how councils and the private sector can work in unison to provide for the development of a major mixed-use greenfields growth area in a short timeframe. I understand the plan change and consent processes were completed in a matter of months and project received an award from the Planning Institute.

The increasing use of pre-lodgement meetings between councils and applicants to sort out issues is also a good idea. For example, the Kapiti Coast District Council arranges for all key staff (consent planners, engineers, reserves officers) to attend a meeting with a developer before a consent application is lodged so that likely issues can be identified ahead of time and possible solutions discussed.

What I am trying to say is that your default position should be how can we make good applications succeed, balanced against our goal of sustainability and the costs and benefits for all concerned: the communities, the environment, the shareholders and the employees.

I see the next few years as being an exciting time for the planning profession as the next generation of policy statements and plans are developed, and the government plays its part in providing national direction and guidance.


ENDS

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