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Support for RMA Bill, but concerns about workload

Support for RMA Bill, but concerns the Govt misunderstands workload

First published in Energy and Environment on November 28, 2019.

Submissions on the Resources Management Amendment Bill are generally supportive, though many express concerns about the time frame and resourcing of the accelerated freshwater proposals.

There are also difference of opinion over the Environmental Protection Authority’s new roles as a prosecutor and Federated Farmers suggest the entire Bill be put on hold until a wider review of the RMA and fundamental reform is undertaken.

A number of submitters including Waikato Regional Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council also said the Government should move to include climate change implications as part of the decision making process in the RMA.

They said waiting for further RMA reform or other legislative vehicles would mean a wasted opportunity to give councils more tools to meet the Government’s wider climate change objectives.

There was also widespread concern about the cost and resourcing issues around the plans to speed up water quality reforms through the commission process.

While many supported the concept, they also believed the Government was underestimating the pressure it would put on commissioners and councils to meet the deadlines.

The Greater Wellington Regional Council said “We are concerned over the demand that a 2023 timeframe for all councils will place on a pool of potential commissioners which is very limited. An informal survey of all regional plan hearings commissioners by the Policy Special Interest Group listed a pool of approximately 20 individuals and only a handful of these could be considered regional plan freshwater experts. There is a very limited number of commissioners across NZ who have the relevant skills and experience to hear such proceedings. We do not believe there is sufficient capacity to undertake parallel processes for each region.”

Local Government NZ said, “Faster notification will require some form of trade-off: quality/durability, community engagement, data collection, or evaluation.” They also doubted there was the capacity in NZ to meet the timeframes.

Others said ministers were underestimating the pressure they were putting on councils, not only in terms of resourcing, but also having to finance the commissioners and process themselves. Federated Farmers argued the Bill should not proceed at all as it pre-empts the wider review of the RMA now underway. “It goes well beyond the narrow-scope intended for Stage 1. The changes will have significant repercussions for resource users, councils and ratepayers, and these have not been adequately consulted on… particularly in relation to the Freshwater Planning process proposals, and the provision of RMA enforcement powers to the Environmental Protection Authority.”

Some submissions on the Bill are covered elsewhere in this week’s Energy and Environment with more coverage next week.

First published in Energy and Environment on November 28, 2019.

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