For cyclone-hit farmers and growers putting in massive hours to get their land and production back into some sort of working order, the last thing they need is to be tied up in the usual resource consent costs and delays. Every dollar is needed to pay for materials, machinery and labour.
That was Federated Farmers’ motivation to write to Environment Minister David Parker earlier this month to ask for suspension of some of that consent red tape, in the same manner as the very successful emergency legislation enacted after the Kaikoura/Hurunui earthquakes.
The Severe Weather Emergency Legislation Act went through the House and select committee in little over two days mid-March. Andrew said the Federation didn’t get everything it sought, “but we persuaded MPs on some important changes and the door is open to further practical measures via a second Bill”.
The emergency legislation means farmers in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, and Hawke’s Bay regions; and the districts of Tararua, Masterton, Carterton, and South Wairarapa can get on with tasks such as correcting waterways, removing silt, clearing debris and creating the conditions for restored access and animal welfare as a permitted activity. Unfortunately – at this stage – Feds’ argument that cyclone-hit farms in Manawatu-Rangitikei should also qualify fell on deaf ears.
Importantly, our push for an extension to 1 April 2024 for these emergency activities, rather than the proposed October 2023 deadline, was successful. Coupled with the removal of the potentially problematic requirement that the work needed to be undertaken ‘immediately’, it means farmers will have next summer to do some of these repairs.
The Ministry for the Environment has summarised what the legislation means (full advice is on the Feds’ website):
The Severe Weather Emergency Legislation Act makes three main changes to the Resource Management Act, which are time-limited to expire once those affected are anticipated to have had enough time to restore their properties and infrastructure.
For owners or occupiers of rural land in the severe weather-affected areas, the Act allows emergency or remedial actions to be carried out without a resource consent. The Act gives them 60 working days to tell councils what actions they’ve taken. Councils have the discretion to allow more than 60 working days.
- This is designed to help rural landowners and occupiers address urgent matters like removing silt, clearing slips and rebuilding smaller structures like retaining walls, culverts and bridges.
- They can only use these provisions where they consider the activity is needed to avoid injury or loss of life to humans or animals, or serious damage to land and property.
- Action taken must be proportionate to the potential injury or damage, and it must avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effects they cause to the environment.
- Impacts must not cause significant adverse effects beyond boundaries of the owner/occupier’s land.
- Activities prohibited in national environmental standards (NES) or relevant district or regional plans remain prohibited.
- Written approval in advance is needed for any actions on culturally significant land.
- The changes will be repealed on 1 April 2024, after which time all the usual requirements of the national environmental standards and relevant regional and district plan will again apply.
Another change relates to councils exercising emergency powers under the RMA to enter properties and prevent serious harm from occurring, (e.g to clear a stream on private land which has become blocked and is threatening to flood surrounding land). Councils usually have to tell the landowner or occupier when they enter a property, but given the scale of evacuations this will not always be practical. For the period the Act is in force, councils can instead leave a written notice at the property.