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Resource Management Reform Bill needs changes

MEDIA RELEASE – For immediate use – 21 March 2012
Resource Management Reform Bill needs changes to achieve resource management ‘streamlining’
The New Zealand Law Society believes amendments are necessary for the Resource Management Reform Bill to achieve the government’s outlined objectives.

The stated purpose of the Bill is to streamline the resource consent regime and improve the Resource Management Act’s workability.

The Law Society presented its submission on the bill to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee yesterday.

“The Law Society is aware of concern within some sectors of the community that resource consent processes in particular take too long and are too expensive,” Law Society Environmental Law Committee convenor Margo Perpick says.

In its submission the Law Society recommends amendments to the Bill that would help to streamline the resource consent process “in the sense of making the resource consent process faster and more efficient, while improving – or at least not sacrificing – decision-making quality”.

The Law Society is concerned the bill’s proposed timeframes may reduce the quality of information presented to Hearings Panels.

“If the proposed timeframes are adhered to strictly then Consent Hearings Committees are likely to be faced with reports and evidence from parties that are quite unsatisfactory in terms of accuracy and quality,” Ms Perpick says.

At present the bill proposes to extend the time limit for notification from 10 to 20 working days while reducing the time limit within which a hearing on a non-notified application must commence, from 25 working days following the closing date for submissions to 35 working days after the date of the application was first lodged with the consent authority.

“This will shorten the length of time affected parties have to prepare evidence and presents a considerable risk that decisions will be made incorrectly, leaving the parties to resort to the appeal process to correct such decisions with the presentation of accurate and good quality evidence,” Ms Perpick says.

“This would not be consistent with the aim of the bill to improve the quality of local decision-making.”

The Law Society is also concerned that the new appeal processes in the bill could impact on the right to a fair hearing.

“The structure of the new appeal process is a significant departure from the current way in which appeal rights in relation to resource management issues are dealt with,” Ms Perpick says.

The provisions in the bill will remove the full right of appeal to the Environment Court for a submitter on a Hearings Panel decision, while the Council is given the ability to reject the Panel’s recommendations, even though it would not have heard the evidence presented to the Panel, the Law Society submission says.

“This would generally be considered to be a serious breach of the rules of natural justice,” Ms Perpick says.

ENDS

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