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Resource Management Act - Investment in the Future

The Resource Management Act - Investment in the Future

The Government, with United Future's support, is planning to pass an amendment to the Resource Management Act under urgency this week. The Resource Management Amendment Bill will severely reduce opportunities for public participation and undermine the quality of environmental decision-making, says Forest and Bird.

"Public participation is consistent with democratic principles," says Kate Mitcalfe, Forest and Bird's environmental lawyer. "Submitters provide alternative information to that of the applicant in the resource consent process. The public has an important role representing the interests of the environment and the community."

Environment Minister, Marian Hobbs, has said reducing public participation will cut costs to business. However, the vast majority of resource consent applications are already processed without any opportunity for public input. On average, a staggering 95% of resource consent applications are processed on a non-notified basis and decisions are based solely on information provided by the applicant.

A recent OECD Report shows that the average compliance costs for NZ businesses is lower than that of businesses in any of the ten other countries surveyed. In fact Ministry for the Environment estimates that our "clean green image" is worth billions of dollars each year to exporters and the tourism industry.

The failure of councils to notify resource consent applications allows important natural areas to be destroyed without any public input. Examples include a coalmine under the Paparoa National Park, creating a significant risk of subsidence; the farming of the alien invasive seaweed Undaria pinnatifida in Wellington Harbour; and the clearfelling 100ha of pristine native forest in the Catlins.

Despite the extraordinarily low levels of public participation under the RMA at present, the Resource Management Amendment Bill proposes to shrink public participation even further. "Limited notification", as proposed by the Resource Management Amendment Bill, would mean that members of the community that are not neighbours are excluded from environmental decision making processes.

A recent case in point is the application to dump the 117m Frigate Wellington in the proposed marine reserve area off Wellington's South Coast. In spite of the area's scientific values, Wellington Regional Council granted the resource consent. Two members of the public appealed this decision to the Environment Court - a scientist and a planner. Neither were "directly affected" by the proposal but both were extremely concerned about its effects. Limited notification could see people like this blocked from participating in RMA processes.

"Shutting the community out of decisions to allow developers to make a quick dollar will lead to ad hoc development at the cost of clean air, land and water, and public health and enjoyment." Ms Mitcalfe says that public participation ensures that all the information is available and properly balanced, creating fair and sustainable decisions. It is essential that the interests of the community and the environment be considered alongside those of the developer.

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