Why RMA reform is not anti-environment

November 23rd, 2008 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

makes a very good case for RMA reform in the SST:

Smith replies that he doesn’t so much want to alter the environmental outcomes of disputes under the law, but the process. At present, decisions are made by dozens of local bodies, some of them tiny, and then routinely appealed to the Court. The result is often expensive and unnecessary delay.

Yep, it is not about getting different decisions made, but the idiocy that it takes longer to get a resource consent for a road, than it does to build it.

He offers a couple of examples. “TrustPower has applied for a quite controversial power scheme on the Wairau River in Marlborough. The process has been awful. It went to a commissioners’ hearing and it dragged out for more than two years, but everybody knew from the word go that it would be appealed to the Environment Court. I have sympathy with the Marlborough District Council, which is the administering body for the law. They don’t have a high level of expertise with a very large hydro development. They’ve never had one before.

“And an organisation like Fish and Game has spent hundreds of thousands of their environmental money [fighting the proposal] knowing all the time that the thing was going to the Environment Court.

“Another example is a highly controversial Mokihinui hydro scheme on the West Coast proposed by Meridian. Now Buller District Council is one of our smallest councils in the country. For them to be dealing with a $200m proposal… You’ve got a council with a population of 3000 or 4000 processing a consent that’s got major implications way beyond the Buller District.” The officer concerned with processing resource consent applications, he says, was probably also the dog control officer.

If it involves national infrastructure, it inevitably is dealt with nationally. This doesn’t mean no local input, just that the actual Councils may not be best placed to deal with it.

Smith wants to set up a new body, the Environmental Protection Agency, with a trained and professional staff equipped to do the administrative work with these complex proposals, which would be considered either by the Environment Court or a board of inquiry. Time-wasting and expensive hearings by tiny local bodies would be omitted.

The EPA may actually result in a better level of environmental advocacy.

The , he says, is an impediment to efficient investment in infrastructure “and that’s not helping the environment either”. Auckland has a worse air pollution problem than Los Angeles, he says, with cars stopping and starting in congested traffic. A better roading network would help the environment.

The Greens have an extreme anti-road views, but the reality is that NZ’s future includes both more roads and more public transport. Only extremists think it is a choice of one over another. And delaying much needed roads does have a toll – on the environment, on the road toll, and on the economy.

The RMA, despite some changes by the Labour-led government, presented huge difficulties for the development of environmentally friendly electricity projects such as wind and geothermal. Smith believes there is great potential for green power in New Zealand. The geothermal area of the central North Island had the advantage that it was close to the major growth areas of Auckland and the Waikato. There was some potential for hydro although “we’re certainly not going to be damming every last river”, he says. “And there is some longer-term opportunity around tidal and wave energy.”

A considerable number of renewable energy projects have been killed off due to the RMA process.

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29 Responses to “Why RMA reform is not anti-environment”

  1. Rod (236 comments) says:

    The man must be mad.

    You mean he actually wants it to be possible for new projects to get approved?

    What’s the world coming to?

    Our environment might be changed, for goodness sake.

    We can’t have that!!

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  2. deanknight (263 comments) says:

    Some quick point:

    1. Only 1% of resource consent decisions made by local authorities are appealed to the Environment Court:
    http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/rma/annual-survey/2005-2006/summary/index.html

    2. The RMA already allows the Minister to “call-in” projects of national significance:
    - http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/rma/annual-survey/2005-2006/summary/index.html
    No reform is needed to place greater emphasis on national matters.

    3. Can you name the purported “renewable energy projects have been killed off due to the RMA process”? In any event, a National Policy Statement for Renewable Energy Generation is presently being implemented:
    - http://www.mfe.govt.nz/rma/central/nps/generation.html
    Amongst other things, is will “establish the national significance of the benefits that are associated with renewable electricity generation”. Again, reform of the RM rules themselves is not needed.

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  3. Owen McShane (1,226 comments) says:

    These reforms help address our current economic inefficiencies which will certainly make it difficult for infrastructure projects to play their role in leading us out of recession.
    However. they do little for the day to day frustrations and costs endured by ordinary people simply trying to go about their business.
    We have to wonder why so many councils work themselves into a lather and yet continue to discharge shit onto their beaches.
    This is the focus of my proposed reforms.

    However, as an IT man DPF should be thrilled at this good news which I hope will actually slow down the investment in some of our proposed infrastructure such as train-sets in Auckland.
    The really good infrastructure news is called Avego.
    Read about it here:
    http://www.avego.com/ui/index.action
    I remember my ex Professor and later friend and colleague, the late Mel Webber, predicting this over twenty years ago. Now the Greens will surely support this new technology although sad to say one US jurisdiction has sabotaged Avego because they feared the loss of passengers on their buses and trains.
    This is the future.
    Its time to brush aside all those Romantics who look to the past to recreate their ideal world and let new technologies give us all better mobility at lower cost.
    OUr new Ministers of Infrastructure and Transport have to attend the forthcoming American Dream Conference in Seattle which will be focusing on public transport disasters and looking to the future. I first learned that this software was being developed at their Portland conference which I think was four years ago.
    Sadly, I suspect it will pass the Royal Commission right by. You can be sure the ARC will make no effort to bring them up to date.
    So bring on the broadband!

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  4. Ross Elliot (67 comments) says:

    Smith replies that he doesn’t so much want to alter the environmental outcomes of disputes under the law, but the process.

    Huh? It’s the outcomes that actually matter. What’s the point of rejigging the process if the same old anti-industrial, anti-development decisions are arrived at?

    The RMA is the altar upon which the Enviro-Nazis have sacrificed private property rights, all in the name of the nasty little concept of sustainability.

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  5. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    I’d like to see Smith right out of the picture actually. He’s a decent enough guy, but overboard on this environmental stuff. I believe in the company of Simon Upton he played a big part in the introduction of this legislation when he should have known better, and as a National Party member, should never ever ever have even thought about such a gross attack on property rights as this legislation has developed into. For this monumental error, he should be forever banished.

    [DPF: The RMA was written before Nick was an MP, and passed into law when he was a junior backbencher. He has been consistently supporting reform since he became a Minister]

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  6. Nookin (2,891 comments) says:

    Deanknight – I think that the RMA was blamed for the abandonment of the Waitaki project. That may have been the promoters excuse however.
    In my experience the present procedural regime is inadequate where there are contested applications. Experts tend to become advocates ( in fact many people go directly to a planner in the first instance and I have yet to see that person turned away because the planner cannot support the application), the evidence is not adequately tested and the scrutinisation of some proposals leaves a lot to be desired. All this leads to a desire for a second opinion. Some applications should have a more formal hearing from the outset – evidence on oath, cross-examination etc. Doesnt need to be in the EC. Plenty of capable commissioners. Mediation should be a prerequisite before a full hearing in the first instance. I am not aware of many local authorities using mediation in the first instance. They like it better when the justice dept pays. Mediation is ideal for many RMA disputes

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  7. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    [DPF: The RMA was written before Nick was an MP, and passed into law when he was a junior backbencher. He has been consistently supporting reform since he became a Minister]

    OK. I’ll accept that. I wasn’t around then, was only going on anecdatal stuff and perhaps should have researched it better. I’ll take back what I said. Well, half of it anyway :) (That said, there seem to be a lot of people out there who blame it on Nick.)

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  8. Grant McL. McLachlan (5 comments) says:

    Dean Knight,

    In response to your points:

    1. Yes, 1% of resource consents are appealed but how many are declined or withdrawn and reapplied for? How many small scale projects are made a meal out of by council’s consultant planners who are given a blank cheque (and then charged to the applicant) to drag out the process, ask superfluous information requests, then notify to parties over issues the parties have no expert knowledge of? To make it worse, the delay has been so long the council has often proposed a new district plan that changes the ‘relevant provisions’ that the application is to ‘be considered under’. The RMA is such a mine field due to the delays, the financial risks are often too great.

    And by the way, how often does the Ministry bother to monitor council’s performance of its obligations under the Act? You quote 2005-2006 figures! And how many councils are currently operating under operative and proposed plans just to confuse matters! Those stats you link to Dean are out-dated.

    On an aside, while the ironic problem with so few appeals is the lack of caselaw that could improve the operation of the Act, few Councils have the skills base or resources to assess applications utilising the latest RMA caselaw and methods.

    2. Yes, call-in provisions have been around for some time but how often have they been used?

    I think you miss the point, however, that there is a need for integrated infrastructure planning that are not implemented in a piecemeal fashion. In other words, if a new generation facility is approved, then the reticulation of the power should not be restricted but integrated in the proposal. The changes to the inner city bypass turned the project into a bottle neck defeating the point of the project. All those millions just to save one set of traffic lights!

    3. There are several large-scale projects that have been stopped at an early stage due to the financial risks during the planning stage. Head down the hallway to your mates in the New Zealand Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation and ask them. How many law firms are currently on Meridian Energy’s books who have worked on canned projects or working on yet to be announced projects?

    Dean, in an ideal world you might be right but there are competing interests who are all too aware of how to milk the system, pile on costs to applicants and delay the process. I also do know many environmental lawyers salivate like hyenas around planners waiting for work to come their way.

    Lawyers will only benefit if the status quo continues. Value-added planning is more productive than litigation over trivial matters.

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  9. Turpin (342 comments) says:

    If it’s your land you should decide what does and doesn’t happen on it, others negotiate not dictate.
    that’s fair anything else unless it’s public health is not.i

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  10. dimmocrazy (286 comments) says:

    Progress and development (‘sustainable’ or not) is not restricted to the ‘large’ projects such as hydro schemes and other large infrastructure works. It is also the myriad of small subdivision applications, building consent related RMA applications, and the useless involvement of ever increasing numbers of ‘professionals’ and ‘experts’ in even the most trivial of applications. There is a vast army of grey-shoe bureaucrats out there that satisfy their own personal need for social relevance out of being as difficult as possible for their fellow men. These (often left-leaning) dimwits hide behind increasingly complicated regional and district plans, which contain a morass of incomprehensible and discretionary gobbledygook that serves but one purpose, control over what people can or cannot do with their own property. I say put together good dispute resolution and efficient court processes and go back to the good old fashioned common law principles of property right, with only very limited regulation. The whole RMA needs to be reviewed, not just the process in respect of large projects. Also the way local and regional authorities have build empires around this legislation must be scrutinized and purged. Come on Rodney, go for it!

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  11. Grant McL. McLachlan (5 comments) says:

    Yeah, everything dimmocrazy said but with one warning. The RMA was meant to be deregulation. The UK replaced their Town and Country Planning Act with the Compulsory Purchase and Planning Act which was meant to deregulate planning. Instead, the void created only encouraged planners to over regulate. Sound familiar? This is Rodney and Nick’s challenge.

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  12. freethinker (648 comments) says:

    Dean Knight – Project Aqua

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  13. georgedarroch (305 comments) says:

    “Dean Knight – Project Aqua”

    So?

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  14. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,787 comments) says:

    A considerable number of renewable energy projects have been killed off due to the RMA process.

    But are renewable energy projects like wind power the most cost efficient way to produce power in New Zealand? Coal Fired power stations should be built if the cost per kilowatt hour is cheaper. New Zealand is too poor as a country to indulge in the environmental guilt trip industry. Simply put, New Zealand hasn’t earned the right to be decadent.

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  15. Generic Username (1 comment) says:

    “Dean Knight – Project Aqua”
    My dad worked with some of the people working on Project Aqua at the time, and said right from the outset it would never go ahead – if the project is no good, environmentally damaging, costs outweigh the benefits, then the RMA will block it, and that is the purpose of the law.
    OECD rank 22 kiwi – The cost per kilowatt hour of power from sources such as wind and solar is rapidly approaching the cost of electricity from coal – and with economies of scale, then increased uptake will reduce costs further. Not to mention the impact of carbon taxes/credits.
    As for being “too poor”, sure we’re no Liechtenstein or Luxembourg, but don’t kid yourself about being poor – I hate to repeat this yet again, but go to a truly poor country, and then count your blessings for being a New Zealander – PNG, the Solomons and Vanuatu are a short flight away, but the difference might shock you.
    And frankly, we are too poor as a country not to invest in sustainable energy – too dependent on valuable european and american tourists, and consumers of our “clean green” products. This change in world thinking is all but inevitable – the best thing we can do is get stuck in, both in development of new technology, and implementation on a large scale. I can’t say which route exactly will be the one to take, but if we try to ignore the mood for change we will pay the price in the end.

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  16. goodgod (1,363 comments) says:

    In the eye’s of greenies RMA reform is anti environment because the terms “green” and “environment” do not have anything to do with the natural world. “Green” means communist. “Environment” is a communists power to dictate what other people do.

    It’s all code. You’ll never get them to admit it.

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  17. Straight Shooter (140 comments) says:

    The biggest problem with the RMA is the quality of the lawyers who say they specialize in that area. Most depend heavily on planners and charge like a wounded bull as they play catch up with the relevant planning instruments. Planners undercharge and are unappreciated compared to the legal bigwigs.

    The major reason why there are so few appeals is due to the cost. The $55 filing fee for an appeal is just the tip of the iceberg if lawyers jump in and drag it out through a paper war (which is often the case). Some councils then send their legal bills to the appellants when the appellant withdraws due to running out of money to fund their own appeal.

    It is due to the lawyer fear factor that councils are able to pummel applicants with poor decisions that include conditions of consent that hit the developer up for lapsed maintenance the council has failed to do or financial contributions to fund councillors’ pet projects.

    (I am a lawyer and a planner by the way.)

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  18. berend (1,602 comments) says:

    RMA, RMA? What was the party that introduced it?

    DPF: Only extremists think it is a choice of one over another.

    Probably the same people that think that subsidizing one form of transport by another is crazy if you want to beat Australia by 2025. Silly extremists. Does ipredict have an OECD ranking bet? They should have. I’ll bet that in 2011 we’ve slipped again.

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  19. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    Turpin (196) Vote: 2 2 Says:

    November 23rd, 2008 at 7:13 pm
    “If it’s your land you should decide what does and doesn’t happen on it, others negotiate not dictate.
    that’s fair anything else unless it’s public health is not.”

    And that comment by Turpin is running at 2 for, 2 against.

    This is part of NZ’s big problem. We’re all so in favour of “protecting the environment”, we see nothing wrong with hefty abridgements of property rights, and we have no idea of the nightmare that many property owners get put through, and you can bet that any members of Joe public that have it happen to THEM would very quickly change their ideas. Trouble is, it only happens to comparatively few people at a time.

    Owen McShane has some horror stories. How does anyone here feel about the possibilty that when you retire, you might decide to sell off half your section to get a bit more retirement income; but the RMA process not just prevents you from doing it, it bankrupts you and you lose the lot and end up in a retirement home?

    And we just fail to get the connection with our overall economic well-being.

    There was that goodie little story about the struggling solo mum about to lose her job as office lady at a firm of painters; they had no work and the owners were shutting up shop and moving to Aussie. Owen pointed out to her that every proposed new development in the region had recently been abandoned in the face of RMA opposition; and she said something like, “oh yes, I was one of the people protesting, we can’t have our views spoiled, the birds and bees and trees and so on, yadda, yadda, yadda……” and then (Owen tells us) the penny dropped……….

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  20. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    Some good contributions on here. Straight Shooter, you said it.

    It is all very well for RMA apologists to tell us that very few projects get stopped by the process, but they are ignoring the people who just give up and go away, or don’t even try; or the projects that get strangled in the cradle by the cost of the process; or the signals being sent that NZ is “closed for business”.

    This is actually a major cause of low social mobility, and barriers to new competition entering markets, as well. The compliance cost barrier has been set so high since the days when James Wattie set up a cannery in his garage, that there probably won’t be any more Watties Canneries success stories in NZ’s future.

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  21. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    Owen McShane:

    “……as an IT man DPF should be thrilled at this good news which I hope will actually slow down the investment in some of our proposed infrastructure such as train-sets in Auckland.
    The really good infrastructure news is called Avego.
    Read about it here:
    http://www.avego.com/ui/index.action
    I remember my ex Professor and later friend and colleague, the late Mel Webber, predicting this over twenty years ago. Now the Greens will surely support this new technology although sad to say one US jurisdiction has sabotaged Avego because they feared the loss of passengers on their buses and trains.
    This is the future.
    Its time to brush aside all those Romantics who look to the past to recreate their ideal world and let new technologies give us all better mobility at lower cost.
    OUr new Ministers of Infrastructure and Transport have to attend the forthcoming American Dream Conference in Seattle which will be focusing on public transport disasters and looking to the future. I first learned that this software was being developed at their Portland conference which I think was four years ago.
    Sadly, I suspect it will pass the Royal Commission right by. You can be sure the ARC will make no effort to bring them up to date.
    So bring on the broadband!”

    YOU SAID IT, Owen.

    “Green” mistaken assumptions actually risk holding us back in the past, same as the Commies Planned Economies made a whole swag of mistaken assumptions all the time, and ended up stuck in the 1950′s while the free world moved on.

    How many people realise that the efficiency of public transport is so low, that merely carrying two people in your medium sized car instead of one, makes you more efficient than public transport at its best, let alone at its worst. At its worst, i.e. when running services through the day with very few passengers, it would be more efficient for those passengers to be using a car each?

    How many people understand that the cost of “investments” in public transport would “save” so little emissions compared to just carrying on using our cars, that those “investments” ALWAYS will take longer to “pay off” than the life of the “investment”? That is, they are not worth doing? The government should just buy us all new Hondas, we’d actually achieve our emissions targets immediately, not in the year 2040 or whenever, and it would cost a LOT less than buying enough buses and trains for us all to use “instead” of cars, and we’d retain the economic advantages of the flexibilty of using cars.

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  22. PhilBest (5,112 comments) says:

    Here are some conclusions from a European Parliament Conference on Transport Policy in July 2005.

    “90% of travel in the EU is by car”. “Transport modes are not simply interchangeable”. “Public Transport operates effectively within specific niches”. “In the great majority of cases, travel by road cannot be made any other way”. “The smooth running of modern economies relies on road transport. Cars play a large role in economic productivity and the enlargement of markets”. “The high costs of public transport subsidies weighs heavily on Europe’s economy”. “The “external costs” (air pollution, etc) of vehicle use is covered many times over by the net taxation revenues specifically levied on road users”. “Since 1985, emissions levels of each new vehicle coming to market have been reduced by a factor of at least 10, and even though traffic volumes have increased, air quality in Europe’s cities is improving spectacularly”. “Investments in Rail would take 10,000 years to recoup in terms of reduced CO2 emissions”.

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  23. Straight Shooter (140 comments) says:

    Following on from what PhilBest said about Sir James Wattie, spare a thought for the New Zealand Winemakers. They have been absoultely stupified by legal morons with no practical knowledge of the viticulture industry.

    The pioneering vineyards in the country (The Mission, Te Mata Estate, Cloudy Bay, Babich, Martinborough Estate) started with less than 2 hectare plots.

    So what do their legal “experts” recommend be put in every new district plan? They want “special” treatment to prevent reverse sensitivity and maintain their “valuable” soil resource. They want “entrenched” minimum lot sizes of 4 hectares and only one dwelling per certificate of title. So, forget about accommodation for seasonal workers, homestays, vineyard managers, or weekend chalets. Forget about testing an area for other uses, it is 4 hectares or piss off! Protectionism by stealth.

    The ironic thing is that people are now starting vineyards in every area but the “protected” viticulture areas.

    Dickheads!

    (And Berend, National didn’t stuff the RMA. Local government did)

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  24. Chthoniid (1,966 comments) says:

    Well, I think the RMA was initially drafted in such a way that it improved on the existing planning legislation.
    These included:
    1- 10 year planning cycles rather than 5, to provide more certainty
    2- provision for market instruments instead of just regulation
    3- a focus on environmental outcomes
    4- Sec 32, which created some rudimentary requirements for policies to have some cost-benefit justification.

    Where it has fallen down is:
    1- allowing everyone and their dog the right to object. This opens up a pandora’s box of objections being used anti-competitively and in a vexatious way to increase costs and impose delays on projects.
    2- allowing local authorities to put full costs of the consent onto applicant. What this means is there is no incentive by the LA to consider the costs of the process on the applicant. You in effect, permit excessive information gathering beyond any economic rationale.
    3- including intrinsic values in the law, which as these are incomprehensible to common law and economic axiology, create carte blanche rationales to generate objections.

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  25. Owen McShane (1,226 comments) says:

    Many people are complain that the last nine years of a Labour-led Government have left us languishing near the bottom of the OECD tables of economic growth and development, and are seeking explanations.
    While many left wing policies are held to blame, the most obvious explanation tends to be overlooked.
    Socialism, Fascism and Communism – the great failed experiments of the twentieth century – were all committed to central planning. The “Great Leaders” of these regimes declared the modern world to be too complex to depend on spontaneous order. Therefore central planning was needed to direct and control our chaotic lives.
    Todays ‘controllers’ claim our population, wealth, technology, and consumption are combining to destroy the planet, or will do so in the future, unless, of course, ‘environmental planners’ are empowered to ‘sustainably’ every aspect of our lives.
    In his seminal work, The Road to Serfdom, Hayek pointed out that central planning fails because it attempts to form a universal view on matters on which there can be no universal agreement. The planners must necessarily coerce those people who are willingly to go along with their visions. When ARC decides how and where future Aucklanders must live, all those people who would have other plans must be coerced into making second-best choices. They lose their property rights – and their liberty.
    The Great Leaders of the planned economies never admitted error. They simply increased the size and power of their police states and imposed more detailed and more widespread controls. Any expert who dared to criticise the Soviet Great Plan for Agriculture was dispatched to the Gulag for his heresy – even though millions starved.
    The most striking change over the last nine years of Government in New Zealand has been the proliferation of central plans – at all levels of government.

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  26. Owen McShane (1,226 comments) says:

    The horror story about the vineyards reminds me of a recent study which looked into the large amount of development in flood plains with recent disastrous results (naturally blamed on global warming). The real cause proved to be the way the Town Planners had locked up all the less flood prone land as areas of outstanding natural beauty etc so that development had nowhere else to go.

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  27. deanknight (263 comments) says:

    GMM:

    - The stats are the both recent available, as they come from the biannual survey of local authorities and the data from this year’s survey has not yet been released. But, regardless, the trends are basically the same.
    - In terms of the number declined, only 0.69% were declined, with a further 1.3% subject to objections (effectively appeals against conditions and fees by a resource consent holder).
    - On the call-in point, you’ll see my blog discusses this point. For many years it wasn’t utilised; however, in more recent years it has been as the government has begun to more strongly manifest the national interest through call-ins and NES and NPSs. No reform is needed to allow the new government to even more strongly do so – the RMA framework already allows this. Don’t take my objection to reform as an objection to call-ins. In appropriate cases, I’m supportive of the national interest being expressed in this way.

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  28. Straight Shooter (140 comments) says:

    Owen McShane,

    I am sure we can sit down over a vino and go through all the horror stories. Your example about building in the flood plains because people weren’t allowed to build on a hill is still relevant in Hastings District, Napier District, Horowhenua, Kapiti, Carterton, Marlborough… I can go on!

    The biggest problem I come across is the fear that applications will be notified. Just look at what can happen here:
    http://tvnz.co.nz/view/video_popup_windows_skin/2329446

    The biggest problem with the RMA process is that district plans are often not written taking into account the existing environment and often has some vision of how the environment should be. So proposals often fall into discretionary and non-complying activity statuses. Council policies therefore notify more people than they need to so to, ironically, avoid ratepayer backlash.

    I had a subdivision application recently publicly notified because the site contained notable trees. Every other aspect of the proposed subdivision complied. The 12 trees were included in the district plan because the family who owned the property wanted the trees recognised as they were planted by the founding father of the nearby town. The site was over 200 hectares and the trees were at the opposite end to where the proposed new boundaries were (a redundant cottage was to be carved off the farm). A person (who lived on the opposite end of town) who failed to purchase the cottage objected raising a lot of engineering, landscape issues and said the cottage was an essential part of the property. In other words, if the failed purchaser couldn’t buy it, no one would. After multiple engineers reports, landscape and heritage reports, at the hearing the objector didn’t turn up and the application was approved.

    Let’s see if Nick Smith does anything to avoid a repeat of this nonsense.

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  29. Owen McShane (1,226 comments) says:

    Under the reforms I am proposing your objector would have no standing and hence would not be a participant.
    And it would not have been notified either.

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