Mainstream NZ excluded by National’s RMA changes
Mainstream NZ would be excluded by National’s RMA changes
The National Party today announced proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) that will exclude mainstream New Zealanders from decisions that affect them and their environment. The changes will also allow developers to resist environmental standards by demanding compensation.
“RMA processes will become an elite sport for the wealthy and competing supermarkets. Instead we need a level playing field,” said Forest and Bird’s conservation manager Kevin Hackwell.
“Mainstream New Zealanders worried that their children can’t swim in the local river or that their air will be polluted from a nearby industrial development simply won’t stand a chance without money and access to lawyers,” he said.
“National is legitimising a whole series of steps that will exclude mainstream New Zealanders, not because they don’t deserve to be involved, but because they can’t afford to be involved. That is unfair and it is wrong. Clean air and water should not just be the privilege of the wealthy,” he said.
“Every step of the way, people without money will find barriers. These barriers include councils being allowed to not publicly notify proposals they are legally required to, requests from applicants for ‘security for costs’ and the direct referral of applications to the Environment Court. Those with money will not have the same problems,” he said.
“National proposes to bring compensation into the Resource Management Act. Developers will be able to say ‘pay me money or the environment gets it’,” he said.
“There is already a limited ability for property owners to be to compensated - owners of heritage buildings are sometimes compensated when the building is protected through a Heritage Order - but National’s proposal is radical and seems to have lifted straight out of the American anti-environment hard-right,” he said.
“Rural councils may not be able to protect soil and water in the hill country if farmers demand compensation, but will those farmers compensate the lowland farmers whose farms get wiped out by the resulting floods?”
“Developers may put up unreasonable proposals on the basis that councils will have to agree to them or pay up,” he said.
“These proposals are more far reaching than when National was last in Government. Labour’s more modest assault on the RMA opened the door and National is marching straight on in,” he said.
“We are pleased that RMA Minister David Benson-Pope is criticising National’s plans to use National Environmental Standards to fast track approval for pet projects. The Government’s own amendments will allow exactly that – we look forward to seeing these clauses dropped from the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill expected to be passed before the election.”
The main changes to undermine the involvement of mainstream New Zealanders include:
Direct referral of projects to the Environment Court that will mean mainstream New Zealanders who cannot afford lawyers and don’t want to go to Court will be shut out of the process. The Government is also proposing a similar process, but the Government’s process will not be automatically granted instead applicants will need to have the Minister’s approval before their project is fast-tracked through direct referral
Ending Environmental Legal Aid that gives mainstream New Zealanders a chance when faced with the ‘big boys;’
Widen the application of the limited notification process so mainstream New Zealanders won’t know about proposals that affect them until it is too late to do anything about them;
Proposals to require security of costs from people who wont be able to afford it;
Remove appeals on notification so that when mainstream New Zealanders discover that they should have been involved in a decision, they can do nothing about it (unless they are wealthy and can afford to go to the High Court). This is a U turn as National originally proposed appeals on notification in the 1990s. Appeals on notification in the current Bill before Parliament but have not yet passed into law;
New powers for the Environment Court and councils to throw submitters out of the process;
Forest and Bird is New Zealand’s leading NGO practitioner in RMA processes on behalf of nature. Forest and Bird’s branches and staff up and down the country make submissions on resource consents and district and regional plans and take part in Environment Court cases and mediation. Forest and Bird provides training in RMA processes and produces the Environmental Law Handbook.