RMA changes significant improvement, more to do
25 July 2005
RMA changes are a significant improvement for business, but more can be done says Business Council
The NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development (the Business Council) has welcomed many of the changes made by the Local Government and Environment Committee to the Resource Management and Electricity Amendment Bill and which are expected to be considered by Parliament this week. The changes, which put additional resources into the consent decision making processes and provide the Minister with more options when consenting authorities face decisions on projects where parochial and national priorities are in conflict are an important step forward. These changes in the RMA will be seen as positive by business and build on the leadership shown by the current Government in reducing delays by increasing resources available to the Environment Court and in the development of standards.
Peter Neilson, Chief Executive says that the measures will provide business with more confidence in the Resource Management Act (RMA) in some respects, but concludes that the changes stop short of the Business Council’s complete portfolio of actions required:-
The retention of an accreditation system for those charged with decision making is welcome because it will provide the right platform for more consistent decisions. We are also pleased that the Government has taken on board our concerns about resolving conflicts between national and local priorities by giving the Minister powers to send projects to the Environment Court for decision. Subject to the need for some further workability refinements, these changes to the Bill are promising.
In its submission to Government in February, the Business Council asked for the consideration of eight specific areas:
1. Access to Independent Commissioners as of right for both applicants and submitters to address the issues of consenting authority poor performance.
2. Repayment of fees when councils fail to meet statutory deadlines.
3. Legislative provision for industry and Local Government New Zealand under Ministerial supervision to develop National Standards that will prevail over local plans and policies (including where necessary local variations).
4. Replacement of the rarely used and highly politicised “call in” process with a process that is effective and appropriately used. A key aspect of this is to have an independent Standing Hearings Panel, where the Executive Chair (a person such as a retired High Court Judge) would decide according to statutory criteria whether a non-local consenting track should be used.
5. The addition of an additional criterion for “call-in” allowing its use where it is likely there will be a conflict between national and local priorities.
6. Specific provision for consent authorities to take account of the importance of existing infrastructure at the time of reconsenting
7. Express recognition and protection of the resource allocations made under the RMA, and an associated legislative review of better options for deciding allocation issues relating to water, geothermal, airshed and coastal issues
8. That applicants who consult with the Iwi/Hapu registered as having mana with a consenting authority have a “good faith” defence if they have consulted with those Iwi/Hapu named.
Whilst the changes announced do not address issues relating to independent commissioners and the repayment of fees on non-performance, the Business Council is pleased that the remaining six items have been addressed either directly or in effect through other means.
A 12 month review by the Business Council of the impact of the RMA on SME businesses overwhelmingly found that the real problem is in the delay in getting decisions out of some councils, not usually the decision itself. This could have been simply addressed by introducing independent commissioners as of right for applicants and objectors and a refund of charges if councils exceed the statutory timeframes. We understand the select committee believed such changes were outside the ambit of the amendment bill.
The problem with the RMA is the performance of a small number of mainly urban councils where delays are common. The Business Council thinks that the Government should consider adding to the bill as reported back to allow applicants and objectors access to independent decision makers as of right and reimbursement of fees when deadlines are not met. The removal of the power for the Minister to appoint a commissioner for consenting processes may be seen by some poorly performing councils as central government tolerating unsatisfactory performance of statutory duties.
Overall the RMA review has been a successful attempt to address many of the process issues that have frustrated business in using the RMA.
The verbal submission, the main Business Council submission and related research papers can be downloaded from our website at http://www.nzbcsd.org.nz/story.asp?id=499