I went to a lot of effort putting together my submission on the Resource Management Act Amendment Bill. This bill makes some huge changes to the way in which planning and resource management happens in New Zealand. It makes huge changes to one’s right to have a say on what goes on around them and the formulation of planning documents. Let’s have a quick look at the main parts of this bill that I found problematic:
- Requirement for security of costs for Environment Court appeals. This would mean that a group or person may be required to stump up $10,000 just to take a case to the Environment Court. A classic way to eliminate opposition to contentious issues.
- Restrictions on appealing plans. This change would make it far more difficult for someone to appeal against a rule in a District Plan – like if council rezoned the place next door to allow for a 20 level apartment building, or for a factory.
- Removal of Non-Complying Activities. This change would remove the ability for councils to have an opinion towards an activity along the lines of “we wouldn’t really grant consent to this unless there’s a special case”. It is likely that these would become Discretionary Activities, which are generally considered to be “consent is likely to be granted unless there’s a good reason not to do so”. This change potentially has ENORMOUS adverse effects on the environment.
- Greater restrictions for a public interest group to join an appeal. Further steps to eliminate democratic involvement in the planning process.
- Removal of general tree protection rules. By far the most environmentally destructive change proposed, this would force councils to remove all general tree protection rules. I can hear the chainsaws warming up already on this one.
My overall conclusion was as follows:
In my opinion there are a number of aspects to the proposed Amendment Bill that need to be removed or modified. I have attempted to be as balanced as possible in my opinion towards this bill, and have supported aspects of it that I believe will be of benefit. However, there are certain parts of the bill that I consider will have significantly adverse effects – both on the environment and on the ability of the public to participate in the resource management process.
It is easy to criticise the RMA as being a ‘handbrake’ on development, yet at the same time it is easy to notice the environmental damage that is happening throughout the country – seemingly unchecked by the very piece of legislation that is supposed to stop this from happening. Resource management planning is about balancing the private benefit of development with the public good, in particular the environment. It is my opinion that the proposed changes to the RMA go too far in advancing private benefits and will result in a significant loss of public good, through damage to the environment. This is particularly the case with regard to the proposed changes to general tree protection rules.
I stated clearly that I wished to attend the hearing on this, to present my submission and give further detail and/or answer questions.
So today I read this article: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10569007
Of particular note:
The Local Government and Environment Select Committee is in Auckland for two days to hear oral submissions on a raft of sweeping changes to environment laws.
More than 100 people will address the committee on plans to hike court filing fees, to make it harder to challenge local planning rules and to reverse the presumption stating communities should have a say on local developments, among other things.
The Tree Council (Auckland) Incorporated will tell the committee that banning tree protection rules, as the Government plans to do, will leave trees in 700 of Auckland’s 800 parks unprotected.
More than 80 of 840 written submissions before the committee are from people who want councils to keep their powers to protect trees of a certain type or size.
An administrator for the select committee said about 45 minutes had been allocated to hear concerns about trees.
Other groups, such as the Environmental Defence Society, are likely to raise tree issues as part of a wider submission.
The committee will sit for four days in Wellington, two in Auckland and one in Christchurch.
I specifically asked to be heard on this issue, and gave my address and a number of phone numbers and my email address so that I could be contacted and asked as to whether I still wanted to attend the committee hearing. This is what councils do with resource consent hearings, this is what ARTA has done in relation to my submission on the Auckland Transport Plan, but for some reason it hasn’t happened here. Aucklanders are getting a mere two days to have their say on this critical matter, and many submitters aren’t even getting told about it. That’s disgusting. It makes me really really angry.