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Resource Management Act changes a mixed blessing

· Resource Management Act changes a mixed blessing.
·
· Changes to the Resource Management Act passed in Parliament yesterday evening are a mixed blessing according to Forest and Bird.
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· Forest and Bird’s lawyer Kate Mitcalfe was commenting on the passing into law of the Resource Management Amendment Bill.
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· “Forest and Bird remains disappointed that limited notification was adopted, especially given the low level of public notification under the Resource Management Act, but we’re pleased that the worst aspects of the proposal were scrapped by Parliament,” Ms Mitcalfe said.
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· “People who wish to challenge illegal non-notification decisions by local government will still have to take the decisions through an expensive High Court judicial review and that is a big disappointment. In effect, Parliament has endorsed unfair and illegal behaviour by local government,” she said.
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· “Let’s not forget that environmental compliance costs in New Zealand are lower than other OECD countries and the level of public notification of resource consents is very low at around 5% of applications,” she said
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· “Forest and Bird welcomes changes to make it easier to develop National Environmental Standards. National standards to protect waterways and clean air are long overdue,” she said.
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· “Forest and Bird will be promoting national standards that clean up our environment now that the law has been changed to make national standards easier to achieve. This will be a real test of the government’s commitment to sustainability,” she said.
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· “We will also be taking a close look at the performance of local government. There are real problems with illegal non-notification of resource consents, councils failing to enforce their own rules and with decisions to retrospectively grant resource consents for environmentally damaging activities,” she said.
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· Note
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· National Environmental Standards
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· National Environmental Standards (NES) have the potential to be a big step forward. A key problem with the administration of the Resource Management Act is the lack of national direction. NES could change that. It is important that NES are robust and enforceable. Forest and Bird will be campaigning to ensure that standards adequately protect the environment. Support from political parties and the business sector for robust environmental standards would be a sign that its commitment to the purpose and principles of the Resource Management Act is genuine and not lip-service.
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· The new legislation clarifies that NES are minimum standards (that councils can refine but not undermine/avoid).
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· National Policy Statements
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· The new legislation contemplates local government taking action as a result of National Policy Statements (NPS). This clearly means an NPS can direct outcomes, as issue that has been hotly contested in the development of the Biodiversity NPS. Many councils lack effective rules to protect natural areas on private land and are not meeting their obligations to protect significant habitats and indigenous vegetation under the Resource Management Act. A robust National Policy Statement on Biodiversity that required local councils to meet their obligations would be a big step forward.
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· Notification
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· The law changes on notification are a mixed blessing. On one hand, limited notification has been introduced and no measures have been put in place to make it easier for communities to overturn unlawful decisions by councils to not notify resource consents. On the other hand, the ‘permitted baseline test’ that required councils to ignore some of the effects of an activity on the environment has been weakened. The Courts have previously instituted a mandatory ‘permitted baseline test’. This test is now discretionary.
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· Looking to the future
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· New Zealand’s environmental performance is poor. New Zealand holds world records in the number of threatened species, rivers are still being polluted, important wetlands are still being drained and forests are still being cleared. If New Zealand is to achieve sustainable management, a lot will need to be done.
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· Forest and Bird will be seeking the following improvements over the next few years.
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Council compliance with the law on notification. End to the practice of retrospective consents for environmentally damaging activities that would otherwise be illegal. Proper enforcement of district and regional plan rules. Adoption of a National Policy Statement on Biodiversity that provides direction to councils on how to ensure natural habitats are protected. Adoption of robust national standards that significantly reduce air, water and soil pollution and protect water quality.

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