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Pet projects get special treatment in RMA reform

Pet projects get special treatment in RMA reform

New Zealanders may want a clean green environment, but the Government has put greater weight on giving pet infrastructure projects a helping hand in today's announcements on the RMA review.

"It's a pity that the Government has put politics ahead of good environmental decision making. We hope that people go to RMA Minister David Benson-Pope's advertised RMA meetings and urge him to start putting New Zealand's environment and our valuable 'clean green' reputation first," said Forest and Bird spokesperson Geoff Keey. "We're obviously relieved that earlier proposals to amend the purpose and principles of the RMA have been abandoned, but a number of today's proposals are way off the mark," he said.

"We have consistently asked the Government if there is evidence to justify special processes for pet infrastructure projects and we still haven't seen anything. It seems that a lack of justification is no barrier to changing the law," he said.

Key changes that will favour pet infrastructure projects include:

* Central Government 'national interest' submissions * Modified call-in process * Extension of call-in to include private plan changes and * A new 'menu of options' for addressing the national interest in major projects * Reduced appeal rights for major projects * Priority given to National Standards and Policy Statements on infrastructure

"It's hard to accurately assess the vaguely worded proposals in today's public announcement, but it has modernized Think Big written all over it," he said. Why is the National Policy Statement on Biodiversity currently under development not on the list of National Policy Statement priorities for the Government? In fact none of the existing matters of national importance listed in the RMA have been identified as a priority for national policy leadership by the Government," he said.

"Recently, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Sciences published research showing most of New Zealand's lowland streams and rivers are too polluted to safely swim in. Clearly cleaning up New Zealand's lowland streams and rivers is a priority for national standards, but it has been completely overlooked in this review" he said.

"The Government's proposed changes to the development of national policy statements will create political ping pong as it is easier to develop national policy statements. They will change with every Government. What is of greater concern is that these policies can be so quickly developed that they will leapfrog the local planning process, removing the ability of local communities to contribute," he said.

"The Government has also put up a whacky proposal to allow developers to submit inadequate applications that don't disclose the environmental consequences of what they plan to do, by removing the need for further information. This is likely to result in developments getting permission even when the damage to the environment is not fully understood," he said.

"We welcome the proposal for appeals on notification decisions, but we want to see a timeline for it, not some vague assurance," he said. "We also welcome compulsory accreditation of RMA councillors, new money for the Ministry for Environment and an expansion of best practice work. It is just a pity that these sensible and positive proposals have been overshadowed by others with serious consequences for the environment and the community," he said.

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