By Mark Hooper, Federated Farmers resource management spokesperson
“Faster, cheaper, better resource management.” These were the words that led Minister Parker’s press release when introducing two new bills to Parliament to replace the 30-year old Resource Management Act, or RMA.
Most farmers would say ‘sign me up’. Over the last decade farming by consent has become commonplace in New Zealand. In addition to a land use consent, a costly resource consent is often needed to build a new structure, effluent management system or now even undertake things like winter grazing.
But rather than Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” I wonder if farmers should be singing The Who’s “We won’t get fooled again”?
Reading through the over 800 pages of new law it is hard to see where the Minister’s theory of change comes from.
The Minister has stated that “More upfront work on plans [will happen] to provide clear direction and to increase certainty around consent processes.”
This seems to be a reference to the beefed-up spatial planning system. Spatial plans are not new, they’re useful tools for councils to plan where future urban areas will go and future infrastructure corridors need to be. They can then avoid allowing a new shopping centre in the same place they want to build a new motorway, for example.
But the Minister’s plan will allow new ‘Regional Planning Committees’ (more on them in a future article) to map out things like “areas that are suitable for land use changes that would promote climate change mitigation” and “the indicative location of planned or potential business” (Spatial Planning Bill, Clause 17).
The assumption is that it is then much “faster, cheaper, better” to get a resource consent to do the things the map says.
For example, if the map says my farm is an ‘area suitable for land use change that would promote climate change mitigation,’ perhaps to forestry or oats, then presumably I can more easily get a resource consent to convert to forestry or oats.
But what if I want to convert to deer farming? Or what if I want to just keep on dairy farming? Is my resource consenting still “faster, cheaper, better” if I don’t follow the map? Or do I find that things become slower, costly and all around more difficult?
Likewise in an urban setting, who is to say that a 30-year plan can accurately predict where people may want to run a business? History has shown governments are poor predictors of the future. I am sceptical the answer to improving the resource consenting system is by asking planners to predict up front where everything might go.
Resource management reform is a once in a generation opportunity to improve the productivity and environmental management of New Zealand, while reducing the cost from what has become a huge industry of resource planning.
Changing the RMA will lead to a decade of uncertainty as new terms like upholding “interconnectedness of all parts of the environment” (yes, the new Bill says plans must do this) are defined by the courts.
On coming to grips with the over 800 pages of new law, Feds is increasingly of the view that the Government’s proposal has gone completely in the wrong direction. It won’t achieve “faster, cheaper, better” but will see a decade of court cases and uncertainty as new plans are put in place.
Our regional councils are all presently completing plan changes to respond to the Government’s 2020 Essential Freshwater package. These need to be notified by 2024. This process has taken a toll on council staff and farmers alike. The last thing we want once this process concludes is for everyone to start again from scratch in a new system that isn’t a significant step forward.
The Prime Minister has recently stated that her Government will begin to consider areas of major change that need to be slowed down.
The Environment Select Committee only gave the public until the January 30 to submit on this law change. I wrote to the Environment Committee along with other agricultural leaders arguing that this was wholly inadequate for a piece of legislation that governed how we farm, how our towns are planned, how our infrastructure is developed, how our factories run and how our environment is managed.
They extended the time by one week (thanks!).
Prime Minister, if you are looking for areas that need to be slowed down, where change is needed but deep consideration is also required both to get that change right and to bring the public with you…
Prime Minister RM reform should be front of the list.