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'Don't blame the RMA' PM told by 13 major orgs


'Don't blame the RMA' PM told by 13 major organisations

An unprecedented coalition of 13 national organizations representing over 350,000 members have written to Prime Minister Helen Clark urging her to reject anti-environment changes to the Resource Management Act.

The 13 national environmental, recreational and community organisations warned that proposals to introduce a national interest clause and fast-track major projects were reminiscent of Sir Robert Muldoon's National Development Act.

"This kind of environmental coalition has not been seen since the campaign that saved Lake Manapouri. Politicians should take note. The public of New Zealand will not accept Think Big II," Forest and Bird's Conservation Manager Kevin Hackwell said.

"A recent Growth and Innovation Board Survey showed New Zealanders don't want growth to compromise their quality of life or the environment. This letter reflects the aspirations of New Zealanders," he said.

The letter to Helen Clark questioned whether there was any evidence, other than anecdote, to justify the proposed changes. It noted that the current boom in construction suggests that the RMA is not slowing the economy.

According to the Ministry for the Environment, 49,000 resource consent applications were made last year and fewer than 300 were declined. In addition, research by the OECD shows that compliance costs under the RMA are modest by international standards.

Proposals singled out for criticism included:

* amending Part II (the purpose and principles of the RMA) to include a reference to the "national [development] interest" and adding social and/or economic objectives * reducing the scope of Environment Court appeals; * introducing increased and unnecessary formality into Council hearings; * introducing costs at Council level and reinstating security for costs at Environment Court level; * limiting participation in resource consent processes * substituting industry standards for environmental standards set by plans.

The organizations proposed a range of suggestions for improving the operation of the RMA including producing national standards and national policy statements and providing resources to local councils to better meet their responsibilities under the Act.

"The Resource Management Act has never had the chance to strut its stuff. Major high-level sections of the Act have never been implemented. After 13 years we only have one national policy and no national environmental standards. That's a disgrace," said Fish and Game's Director Bryce Johnson "It's no wonder regional councils have struggled to do their job in a consistent and effective manner. No one routinely assesses their performance against the purpose and principles of the Act.

"Reducing public participation in RMA processes would make it much more difficult for people to protect their recreational activities against impacts from unwanted developments," said Federated Mountain Clubs President John Wilson. "The RMA is meant to enable people to provide for their social and cultural wellbeing and their health. That is what recreation is all about."

Friends of the Earth New Zealand Co-director Bob Tait said that if the amendments went through, then the long-standing and nationally important role of watchdog groups would be stifled. "We are deeply disturbed by these proposed changes," he said.

Gary Taylor, Chairman of the Environmental Defence Society, a group consisting mostly of resource management professionals, said that he is especially concerned that any further weakening of the RMA would "remove any remaining constraints on already rampant coastal subdivision and development and destroy the qualities that make New Zealand special."

"Business and government need to accept that protecting our environment is essential to our economic welfare. Our two biggest income earners - tourism and agriculture - rely on our clean green brand. Lowering our environmental standards would cut right into our bottom-line performance as an exporting nation," he said.

Organisations and spokespeople:

Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand Kevin Hackwell: 04 385 7374 or 021 227 8420

Fish and Game Council of New Zealand Bryce Johnson, Director: 021 397 897

Environment and Conservation Organisations of New Zealand Cath Wallace, Chair: 04 389 1696

National Council of Women of New Zealand Beryl Anderson, National President, 0-4-914 0796 daytime 0-4-567 6063 evening

Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations of New Zealand Hugh Barr, Secretary: 04 934 2244

Ecologic Foundation Guy Salmon, Executive Director: 021 548 336

Greenpeace New Zealand Cindy Baxter, Campaign Manager: 021 772 661

Environmental Defence Society Gary Taylor, Chairman: 09 810 9594

Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand John Wilson, President: 025 977 974

Friends of the Earth New Zealand Bob Tait, Co-director 09 303 4319

New Zealand Deerstalkers Association Trevor Dyke, President 06 388 0387 or 025 476 858

New Zealand Salmon Anglers Association Neville F Ellis, President: 03 383 0900

New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers Alan McMillan, President: 03 489 8284


Letter

9 July 2004

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister
Parliament Buildings
Wellington
Open letter delivered electronically and by post

Dear Helen Clark

Resource Management Act Review

As national organisations representing the public interest in environmental protection, recreational amenity and community participation, we are alarmed by the proposed changes to the Resource Management Act that are being suggested as part of the current Review.

At a recent NGO “consultation” meeting (29 June 2004), delegates were told that the Government intends to change the RMA to reduce barriers to investment. When we asked for information about these “barriers”, there was none and it appears that no empirical research has been done in this regard.

The current boom in construction certainly suggests that the RMA is not slowing the economy. According to the Ministry for the Environment, 49,000 resource consent applications were made last year and fewer than 300 were declined. In addition, research by the OECD shows that compliance costs under the RMA are modest by international standards. Any change to this core piece of environmental legislation must be based on more than unsubstantiated anecdotes.

As part of the current Review, we understand that the Government is considering reducing public participation and watering down the environmental bottom lines provided in Part II of the RMA. This will corrupt the environmental and participatory integrity of the Act.
In particular:
• amending Part II (the purpose and principles of the RMA) to include a reference to the “national [development] interest” and adding social and/or economic objectives - this will create confusion and destroy the capacity of the Act to protect the environment;
• reducing the scope of Environment Court appeals;
• introducing increased and unnecessary formality into Council hearings;
• introducing costs at Council level and reinstating security for costs at Environment Court level;
• limiting participation in resource consent processes
• substituting industry standards for environmental standards set by plans.

Proposals to amend the Act to allow applications for large-scale projects, in particular infrastructure projects, to be processed with fewer checks and balances echoes Sir Robert Muldoon’s ‘Think Big’ National Development Act, which was designed to fast track projects, all in the name of the ‘national interest’.
These proposals to amend the Act are at odds with the principles that the Government signalled would guide the Review: safeguarding public participation and achieving good environmental outcomes. They go to the heart of the Act and are much more than a simple ‘tune up’. If implemented, they would run counter to the thrust of recent local government reform that has strengthened public participation and reinforced the importance of environmental considerations.
Like other users of the Act, we acknowledge that there are improvements that could be made to achieve greater efficiency and consistency in RMA processes. We welcome the Review to the extent that it intends to address poor implementation of the Act. Councils are often ill equipped to carry out their statutory responsibilities - they are poorly resourced and lack the technical ability to carry out their responsibilities (staff and elected representatives). In addition, central government has not provided leadership to councils, failing to develop the national policy statements and national environmental standards that were intended to underpin the Act, and failing to use their powers to “call in” complex or important resource consent applications.
Amending the RMA will not fix problems with its implementation, but will create further uncertainty. The Government already has the tools available to it to address these problems without amending the Act. In simple terms, “the Act ain’t broke, and doesn’t need fixing.” What it needs is forthright implementation and sharper accountability of those responsible at all levels.

We would like to meet with you and your Ministers to discuss our concerns. We note that the level of agreement between the signatories represents an unprecedented coalition of environmental and recreational NGOs. Thank you for considering this important issue.
Yours sincerely

Gerry McSweeney
President
Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of NZ

Bryce Johnson
Director
Fish and Game Council of New Zealand


Cath Wallace
Chair
Environment and Conservation Organisations

Beryl Anderson
National President
National Council of Women

Hugh Barr
Secretary
Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations
of New Zealand

Guy Salmon
Executive Director
Ecologic Foundation

Cindy Baxter
Campaign Manager
Greenpeace New Zealand


Gary Taylor
Chairman
Environmental Defence Society

John Wilson
President
Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand


Bob Tait
Co-Director
Friends of the Earth New Zealand

Trevor Dyke
President
New Zealand Deerstalkers Association


Neville F Ellis
President
New Zealand Salmon Anglers Association

Alan McMillan
President
New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers
Collectively our organisations represent over 350,000 New Zealanders
Cc: Michael Cullen, David Benson Pope, Marion Hobbs, Chris Carter,
Pete Hodgson, Jim Sutton, Jim Anderton, Parekura Horomia

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