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A plan for the future and for the environment

16 September 2008 Speech Notes

Embargoed until: 5.05pm


A plan for the future and for the environment

Environment Minister Trevor Mallard's speech to the Resource Management Law Association (Canterbury Branch) pre-election seminar, Rydges Hotel, Christchurch

Good evening and thank you for your invitation to speak at this seminar about Labour's environment policy and the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Environmental sustainability is an issue that has grown in importance here and internationally as the need to address climate change and other environmental pressures increases.

It is, of course, a significant challenge to manage these pressures in a sustainable way, without negatively impacting on our economy.

But it’s a challenge we in the Labour-led government take very very seriously.
And we’re committed to working alongside practitioners such as you to ensure that our environment is not just protected for the future, but enhanced.

High environmental standards are integral to New Zealand’s identity, social development and international competitiveness.

Our "clean green" brand is dear to most New Zealanders and it is also important to our exporters – and if it's not, then it should be.

I've said this many times to business audiences –New Zealand can actually leverage economic opportunities in our offshore markets out of being carbon neutral, being climate friendly and selling products that are at the leading edge of sustainability.

Consumers worldwide are increasingly demanding products that are climate friendly – and this trend is not going away.

The Labour-led government has a raft of initiatives aimed at tackling climate change at the grassroots through household sustainability and energy efficiency programmes, at the public service level and at the industry and business level – with millions being pumped into research into reducing our greenhouse gases.

If we had done nothing and failed to introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme or delayed it as National wants to do in order to please its big polluter special interests - the costs would be much higher.

John Key and his frontbenchers Lockwood Smith and Maurice Williamson may be climate change sceptics but Labour recognises that by ignoring climate change, New Zealand would completely miss the opportunities that being carbon neutral and climate friendly offers to us as a small country out on the edge of the world.

Labour knows that as a government, it is vital to show leadership on this front, not only in the actions of public agencies, but also in the information and support that we are providing at all levels of New Zealand society - to help us during this transition.

Our government in contrast to National, has a plan of action for the future – that seeks to balance competing interests in a fair manner and that will ensure our environment and way of life is not under threat.

In contrast, there is no sign of any coherent approach or plan or policy from the opposition, apart from the fact it wants to let the big polluters off the hook.

As you are all well aware, the Resource Management Act plays a significant role in addressing our environmental challenges. It is the cornerstone of New Zealand’s environmental legislation.

It plays a significant role in addressing the environmental challenges we face as a nation.

The strengths of the RMA process include that it provides a robust process for managing the environmental impacts of activities – it ensures resources are managed in a sustainable way.

It allows local solutions to be tailored to local issues and concerns when it comes to development. The RMA also allows all environmental impacts to be considered together and is world leading in providing integrated management of resources.

It is central to the work currently going on to improve the sustainable management of our natural resources which play a big role in every New Zealander’s livelihood.

Labour has implemented reforms to the RMA to reduce delays and costs and we are supporting local government and RMA practitioners to develop best practices and improve RMA implementation.

Most resource consents are processed quite quickly and at reasonable cost - approximately 94 percent of consents are processed on a non-notified basis and 73 percent of consents are processed within the required timeframes. Only 0.7 percent of consents are declined.

Labour is committed to helping local government, practitioners, and stakeholders strike the right balance between using our environment and protecting it for future generations.

Let's look at the new work the government is doing around the Act and how it affects you.

Sustainable management of our resources

For a start, there is plenty going on in policy development around the sustainable management of our water resources.

This work includes the development of a suite of national environmental standards. A proposed National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management has been announced and the Board of Inquiry appointed to consult on it and recommend to me the final version.

A new drinking water standard came into effect in June.

A National Enviromental Standard for Measurement of Water Takes is currently being drafted into regulation – and will help provide more accurate information about water use so it can be better managed.

The government has also consulted on a standard on setting ecological flows and water levels and the submissions will be considered before final policy decisions are made.

This standard is important to help manage biodiversity in New Zealand. If the level of water in rivers, ground water, lakes and wetlands runs too low, we risk damaging our unique habitats for native animals and plants.

We’re also looking at how to improve our wastewater management. Failing wastewater systems – such as septic tanks – pollute our environment and impact on people's health.

A discussion document on a proposed new national environmental standard for wastewater systems is now out for consultation to address these issues and improve the performance of these systems.

Renewable energy is also an important focus for the government and much work is being done in this area. A National Policy Statement on Renewable Electricity Generation is now out for consultation.

It is 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.

As you can see, there are a lot of new standards and policy statements being developed and I would urge you as RMA practitioners to put in submissions during the consultation phases.

Changes to the RMA

As I mentioned earlier, we amended the RMA in 2005 in order to widen 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.

The call-in combines the local council’s consideration and a potential Environment Court appeal process into a single consideration– retaining public consultation as part of the consideration.
In both cases the final decision is made by either the court or the board, and not by the government.

This provides an important tool for reducing the costs and processing time of these significant applications that transcend local concern.
Since the 2005 changes I have announced four call-ins.
• Transpower’s North Island Grid Upgrade project (announced in August 2007; hearing underway).
• Unison Networks Limited’s proposed Ta Waka wind farm in Hawke’s Bay (announced in December 2007; submissions closed; Environment Court consideration expected to begin in December).
• Contact Wind Limited and Contact Energy’s Hauauru ma Raki wind farm near Raglan (announced in August 2008).
• Contact Energy’s Te Mihi geothermal power station (announced in January 2008).
In respect of this last call-in, the Board of Inquiry notified its decision on Saturday – which means the entire process from start to finish took about nine months.
This decision was in my view a significant milestone that completely destroys National's argument that it needs to change the RMA because the legislation is cumbersome and delays projects for years.
What they are really saying is that public consultation is a nuisance and holding everything up.
Under National the RMA would be amended to cut the public input in order to get infrastructure projects approved within a nine month timeframe.
But as the Te Mihi decision demonstrates, changes to the RMA are not needed and projects can be approved within acceptable timeframes – with public input and consultation secured throughout the process.
Unlike National, Labour believes public input must be protected regardless of the project that is proposed.
Throughout the call-in process for Te Mihi, the board adopted good practice approaches, including pre-hearing meetings to resolve outstanding issues, and pre-circulating evidence which would be taken as read at the hearing.
Working alongside RMA practitioners

Along with the work on environmental policy, the government has a key role to play in supporting our RMA practitioners and decision makers, such as yourselves.

The quality planning website – the QP – is one such tool and now receives over 25,000 visits per month.

The government is also supporting communities to improve their environmental management and get to grips with the RMA through the Making Good Decisions programme.

This programme is designed with councillors, community board members and independent commissioners in mind. It equips our panel members with the skills they need to run fair and effective resource consent hearings.

Over 1000 people have been certified under this programme since it began about four years ago.

Conclusion

As you can see there is plenty of work going on to help us improve the sustainable management of our natural resources.

The RMA is, of course, central to this.

Its role is to help us achieve our environmental goals by successfully managing our precious natural and physical resources for future generations in a sustainable way.

I see the next few years as being an exciting time for those in the RMA 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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