Labour Threatens The RMA For Christmas
The Labour Government is threatening the fundamental tenets of the Resource Management Act, says Forest and Bird.
The Government plans to pass an amendment to the RMA that will severely reduce opportunities for public participation in the planning process. Environment Minister Marian Hobbs made an announcement earlier today, in response to the Business Cost Compliance Report (Striking the Balance), that the RMA will be amended to limit public notification.
Forest and Bird's environmental lawyer Kate Mitcalfe says "the changes the Government propose will undermine the RMA and shatter Labour's green image." "This amendment is worse than the changes that were originally proposed by the National Party."
Ms Hobbs has said that public notification will be reduced to cut the costs involved in the planning process. Forest and Bird supports the goal of reducing unnecessary costs - but not at the expense of fair decision-making and stopping communities from having a say about development on their doorstep.
"The Minister is being poorly advised if she considers that reducing the ability of communities to participate in environmental decisions will create better environmental outcomes," says Ms Mitcalfe.
"Opportunities for public participation in resource management decision-making are already very limited. On average, only 5% of resource consent applications allow any opportunity for public comment."
"The Government is proposing to create even more barriers to public participation in important environmental decisions that affect the community. This will only undermine the quality of decision."
Ms Mitcalfe says that public participation ensures that all the information is available and properly balanced, and that it creates fair and sustainable decisions.
Another decision by the Government that will restrict public participation is the retention of the cumbersome judicial review process to challenge notification decisions, rather than allowing an appeal to the more accessible Environment Court.
"These changes might reduce the costs to the developer, but at what cost to the community and the environment?
"Shutting the community out of decisions that affect their environment, only to allow developers to make a quick dollar, will lead to ad hoc development at the cost of clean air, land and water, and public health and enjoyment."
On average, only 5% of resource consent applications are currently publicly notified, allowing any opportunity for public comment. In addition, more than 99% of all resource consent applications was granted last year and only 1% of applications were appealed.
EXAMPLES OF NON-NOTIFIED APPLICATIONS
* A non-notified resource consent for a flockmud landfill at Waipu, south of Whangarei. Monitoring by Northland Regional Council has detected toxic waste in the landfill. Had the application been notified, local residents would have been able to voice their concerns, and the contamination would have been avoided.
* A non-notified coastal permit issued by the Wellington Regional Council to farm the alien invasive seaweed Undaria in Wellington harbour. Yet, considerable resources have been directed to trying to eradicate Undaria from Stewart Island and Bluff.
* Various burning permits in the Canterbury and Otago Regional Council areas, despite impacting on identified significant natural areas.
* A consent to coal mine under Paparoa National Park (Buller District Council).
* Timberlands consent to log in Orikaka forest (Buller District Council).
* A non-notified consent to hang cables granted by Wellington City Council to Saturn Communications.
* Subdivision of a coastal block at Thompson's Point on Waiheke Island, which began illegally without a resource consent. Part of the works was in a wetland area where earthworks are not permitted under the District Plan. The earthworks are visible from public places and from the sea. The applicant then applied for retrospective non-notified resource, which has subsequently been approved by the council.
* Onetangi Hotel landfill - The applicant applied for consent to construct bunding and backfill with clean fill. The earthworks were adjacent to a public reserve and in the centre of Onetangi Village. The reserve is largely flat low lying wetland. It was approved as a non-notified application.
* Non-notification of an application by Fletcher Challenge Energy to carry out seismic surveys (New Plymouth District Council). The surveys had significant adverse effects on the local community. Drilling also encroached into Maori burial grounds.
* Non-notification of new 42 dwelling subdivision development, Chartwell.
* Non-notification of multi-storey apartment development, Kelburn Parade, Wellington. Development had significant adverse and ongoing effects on neighbours. The recent Assignment programme covered this application.
* Non-notification of a consent to clear-fell 100 ha in the Catlins granted by Clutha District Council.