Federated Farmers has called for “extreme caution” in repealing or re-writing the Resource Management Act.
Targeted and focused change, rather than wholesale replacement, would provide the ability to make changes to address problems with the RMA whilst minimising the disruption to 30 years’ of case law, to councils, resource users and communities, Feds said a submission to the Environment Select Committee.
An independent economic assessment of the proposed Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) warns of higher costs and more uncertainty.
Federated Farmers commissioned Douglas Birnie, Director of Enfocus to assess the economic implications of the NBA, the first of three new pieces of legislation planned to replace the RMA. His assessment is that the resource management approach proposed in the NBA risks:
- Slowing down decision making, and imposing high costs on councils and resource-based sectors, communities and households while the uncertainties are only very gradually resolved
- Poorer regulation, more litigation and political resistance, and limited or no environmental gains over what would otherwise be achieved.
Federated Farmers has included Douglas’ assessment as part of its 205-page submission on the NBA.
Douglas recommended the approach to changing the RMA should be targeted and focused, as opposed to the “revolutionary, opaque changes” currently proposed. He favoured retaining much of the current RMA framework but providing clearer signalling around key priorities of concern, and specified environmental goals where greater protection is to be sought.
As early as February this year, Federated Farmers Vice-President and resource management spokesperson Karen Williams said that while an overhaul of the RMA was warranted and overdue, care was needed not to throw out what was useful and well-proven while trying to get a legislative framework that was more streamlined and less costly for all participants.
Then in June, when the ‘exposure’ draft was released, flaws were quickly evident.
While Karen welcomed a consultation pathway that was much better than that which led to the Essential Freshwater regulations mess, she said Federated Farmers was “deeply concerned” with proposals to place decisions affecting local communities in the hands of unelected planning committees, with at most one person representing each local authority, an as yet undefined number representing mana whenua and one representative of the Minister of Conservation.
“That stripping away of local democracy undermines the ability of local communities to have a real say – via duly elected councils – on fundamental aspects of what happens in their own neighbourhoods,” Karen said.
She also warned that a raft of new, undefined terms and concepts had the potential to be a feeding frenzy and gravy train for planners and lawyers over the next decade as these terms and concepts are argued over and finally defined by the courts.
More than a month further down the track and those concerns – and others – have only intensified. A comprehensive submission has been put together by the Federated Farmers RMA Reform team led by Nikki Edwards, Principal Advisor Legal and Strategy, and including Karen Williams, Gavin Forrest, Paul le Miere, Kim Reilly, and Coralee Matena. The submission draws on the 30 years’ experience Feds has participating in planning processes under the RMA (including submission writing and meetings with councils and stakeholders, council hearings, mediations and Environment Court appeals).
Feds welcomed the fact there is a two-stage select committee inquiry as the NBA is drafted and finalised but had concerns about how effective this will be due to the lack of detail on the NBA exposure draft and the two other pieces of legislation to follow (the Strategic Planning Act and Climate Change Adaptation Act).
In principle, Federated Farmers sees merit in providing greater national direction (to save reinventing the wheel in every region and to avoid delegating or putting off the “hard decisions” that ought to be made at a national level), and in having a coherent and consistent national framework for providing that direction. But there is concern the proposal potentially delegates significant powers to the Minister with few checks and balances.
The submission said there needed to be robust evaluation and decision-making, community consultation and tailoring of directions to the particular region, district or location. It otherwise risked unintended consequences or perverse outcomes.
The Government has proposed there be one combined plan per region and that decision-making be made by planning committees, with just one representative from each local authority. So in the case of the Wellington region, that would be one plan and one planning committee to make decisions currently made individually by district and city councils from Masterton, Carterton, South Wairarapa, Upper Hutt, Hutt, Porirua, Kapiti and Wellington Councils and the Greater Wellington Regional Council.
“Federated Farmers is very concerned about the loss of local democracy, particularly the loss of a ‘local voice’ and accountability in plan making. This has the potential to frustrate all of the reform objectives, particularly if a loss of local democracy results in plan changes that are not implementable or practical, and plans that are not supported by the community.”
Once the full draft of the NBA (incorporating the Select Committee’s feedback) is available, there needs to be comprehensive public consultation before it comes back to the Select Committee for a second time, the Feds submission said.