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Proposed Amendments to the RMA

17 September 2004

RMA amendments: Proposed Amendments to the RMA turn over the Fundamental Principle of Enablement in favour of Central Planning.

Many of us have been concerned that the proposed amendments to the RMA focused on process and failed to address any of the fundamental flaws in the Act.

The press releases from the Government have tended to confirm this view. However the fact sheet Improving the RMA – Improving local policy and plan making, one of several fact sheets which set out the proposed amendments in more detail tells us that:

The role of regional policy statements will be strengthened. District and regional plans will now have to ‘give effect’ to the regional policy statement (instead of being ‘not inconsistent with’ it).

This means all plans in the region will have to align more closely with the regional policies. Regional councils will have a greater role in strategic planning through their regional policy statements, with an explicit ability to develop and implement policies on: • promoting sustainable urban form • timely and effective provision of infrastructure and its integration with land use policies • allocation of natural resources.

The Town and Country Planning Act was about the direction and control of the use of land. The RMA was intended to turn that on its head and focus on managing the environmental effects of the use of land.

Section 5, which states the purpose of the Act, says that “people and communities” are to be enabled to provide for their own economic, social and cultural wellbeing, while managing their adverse effects on the environment. Many (sadly, not all) decisions of the Environment Court do accept that councils no longer have any business directing and controlling the use of private land.

Another principle of the RMA is that Regional and District Councils are equal in the hierarchy of sustainable management – they just have different functions and focuses. Hence, District Plans were required to be “not inconsistent” with Regional Policy Statements.

The proposed Amendment makes it clear that Regional Councils are now above District Councils in the hierarchy of the implementation of the RMA. District Councils will have to give effect to Regional Policy statements even when those policy statements are demonstrably flawed as they frequently are.

More importantly, the proposed amendment now requires Regional Councils to promote “sustainable urban form”.

The promotion of sustainable urban form is the key plank of Smart Growth which should by now be a totally discredited idea. Of course, Smart Growth, or the management of urban form, necessarily requires the direction and control of the use of land. Promoting the timely and effective provision of infrastructure sounds like good sense, but within the Smart Growth framework this strategy is also used to direct and control where we live work and play. Smart Growth advocates simply hate on-site treatment of waste water etc. They want us all living behind an urban fence connected to reticulated services, which they, and only they, provide.

So this reform has been perfectly happy to address fundamental principles of the RMA provided the reforms promote central planning and place more power in the hands of bureaucrats.

I am stunned that the Local Government Association has so warmly endorsed these reforms given that they turn City and District Councils into puppets of the Regional Councils.


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