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RMA Environment loses out changes will destabilise

Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ

Resource Management Act

Environment loses out, changes will destabilise policy, favour "think big" applicants

Changes announced to the Resource Management Act are likely to cause policy flip-flops and major difficulties for community and environmental groups says Cath Wallace, spokesperson for the Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ, ECO, an organisation of 65 organisations.

"The proposals have strong similarities with "Think Big" in the provisions for government to line up behind a favoured "national interest" proposal", says Cath Wallace. "Of particular concern and interest will be the process by which a proposal is deemed to have "national interest" .

"This "national interest" status has not been explained in the papers published by the government today. A 2003 proposal had the applicant, the Minister of Economic Development and the Cabinet deciding this without first obtaining any environmental reports or getting any kind of public input. It is an applicant's dream to be picked as having favoured status before anyone else has a say, and a nightmare for the environment."

"National Policy Statement processes proposed under the scheme may lead to severe policy instability", says Wallace, who is also a Senior Lecturer in public policy and economics. "The government proposes to diminish the processes for setting these policies. This means that policies may have little agreement or acceptance.

"Successive governments may seek to change the policies - but each time that happens, Regional Policy Statements and Plans and District level Plans also have to change. By going for the quick change mechanism, governments will set off cascading waves of change which will destabilise policy at all levels of government. We think the government has not thought this through.

"ECO welcomes the fact that the Purpose and Principles of the Act appear not to be changed and acknowledges those in Cabinet who held out against the attacks on these. But it is important that these are not underminded by the new measures and processes for policy development, "national interest" and consultation.

"There are some new measures that will help - but the new, complicated and burdensome processes at local government level are a mad response to difficulties perceived in the Environment Court - which are already being addressed successfully.

Communities will hate that local government hearings will be far more demanding on parties. It will make it far harder community groups and ordinary folks and the environment will suffer. There were 49,000 resource consent applications last year of which only 5% were publicly notified. Yet these are to become much more laborious for the sake of the tiny fraction which go to the Environment Court. That is counter-productive and will create more delays. It will leave the environment with less protection.

"Overall these changes are disappointing for their focus on applicant and local body interests and their disregard for the environment itself, said ECO.

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