A wide range of sector groups, including Federated Farmers, is urging the government to go back to the drawing board on resource management reform and take the time to get it right.
Feds President Andrew Hoggard appealed direct to Chris Hipkins, tapping into the new Prime Minister’s theme of concentrating on the “bread & butter” issues that mattered most to ordinary New Zealanders.
“If the concern is the cost of living crisis, a good starting point would be the locations where that bread and butter originally comes from and the costs being forced on the people that make those staples,” Andrew said.
“If Cabinet truly wanted to help those who make the bread and butter, it would revisit resource management reform and the proposed 853-page Natural and Built Environment and Spatial Planning Acts. Our fear is that in its current form these RMA replacements won’t improve anything, and in fact will make things worse.”
With the election looming closer the temptation for the government may be to try and patch-up by way of lengthy Supplementary Order Papers all the flaws in the two bills pointed out by myriad submitters to the Environment Selection Committee. Federated Farmers says that would be grossly unfair, with no opportunity for further public comment on whatever alterations were proposed.
Front of mind for Feds and other ag sector groups is the way the Essential Freshwater legislation was botched. Poor consultation there meant provisions in the new regulation that were illogical and impractical required ad hoc subsequent amendments. They’ve been amended seven times in two years and they’re still not right.
Like Federated Farmers, Beef + Lamb NZ has pointed out in relation to the NBEA and SP Acts that much of the proposed resource management system will be dependent on the form and content of the National Policy Framework, which is yet to be released.
“Without that detail, it’s impossible to provide full analysis of the direction and implementation of the new bills, and therefore the impact on farmers,” B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor said.
Roger Patridge, Chairman of the NZ Initiative, was particularly blunt. “Parker’s proposals may be the most incoherent, unworkable and productivity-harming reforms ever conceived by a New Zealand government,” he said. “Rather than resolving the problems that have beset the RMA, the new laws will amplify them.”
Local Government NZ also has signification reservations. Chairperson Stuart Crosby noted under the existing RMA, there are over 70 planning documents drawn up by regional and territorial councils. They’re tailored to local needs, and local residents are consulted on them.
That number will shrink to 15 under the proposed legislation, and the plans will be drawn up not by directly elected representatives but by people appointed by Councils and local iwi to Regional Planning Committees.
“Quite simply, the regional representative groups will be relatively independent of the local councils who will then have to implement something that potentially they might not actually agree with,” Crosby said.
Even the behemoth Auckland Council, which won’t have the problem of trying to cater for diverse district interests on a new regional planning committee, says the proposed legislation is too complex. It is worried about ‘ministerial over-reach’, ‘unfettered powers’ and the risk of political interference in the plans to centralise control of resource management.
The vague and amorphous terms that pepper the bills were described by the Environmental Defence Society as “word soup”.
National board member Mark Hooper fronted the select committee to present Federated Farmers’ 32-page submission.
“Farmers agree the costly, slow and unpredictable processes under the RMA need fixing, but in getting rid of the old dog the government risks replacing it with an even bigger monster,” he said.
“We are very concerned that the NBE is riddled with new, amorphous terms, like upholding the interconnectedness of the environment, and a focus on well-being will launch New Zealand into a decade of court cases trying to understand what anything in the Bill means.”
Requirements for decisions to promote 18 different system outcomes, alongside future well-being and interconnectedness, create an impossible maze for a Minister to navigate when setting new regulations.
“We could accept the pain of going through this process if we thought the new bills would lead to a better outcome in the end. Unfortunately, after a decade of court cases, farmers will be left with a regime that looks very similar to the one they have now, if not worse,” Hooper said.
David Farrar in Kiwiblog highlighted Feds’ portrayal of what the new law would mean in terms of someone wanting to do some commercial fishing and someone wanting to milk a cow.
“The commercial fishing boat has simple rules. They buy some quota and they can catch fish. Their petrol supplier buys some ETS units, and they can burn petrol on their boat. Fairly simple,” Farrar said.
“But if you are a farmer who wants to milk a cow you have to get a resource consent with decision makers considering water, cultural heritage, biodiversity, Te Mana o te Wai, greenhouse gas emissions, natural features of landscapes, the need for highly productive soils to be maintained, Te Oranga o te Taiao, the mauri of the land, plus the intrinsic relationships of local hapū.
A hit on local democracy
Proposed replacement resource management legislation will severely undercut local democracy, Federated Farmers says.
The National and Built Environment and Spatial Planning bills would shift all planning decisions away from New Zealand’s 67 city and district councils to 15 new Regional Planning Committees. These committees will have a mix of council and iwi or hapū appointees, none of whom will be directly accountable to the towns and districts they set the rules over.
This would mean decisions relating to transport, parks, and urban planning in a place like Taupō would happen in Hamilton, Masterton would see decisions made in Wellington, and Timaru would be planned out of Christchurch.
“This of course happens fast on the heels of decisions to strip district councils of responsibility for Three Waters. If we aren’t careful, there won’t be much left for district councils to do but organise the Santa parade,” Feds resource management spokesperson Mark Hooper said.
“If the Government is serious about shifting New Zealand from our current three tiers of government to two, this should be done transparently. We don’t accept a situation where district councils are stripped of responsibility piecemeal.”