John Key and Nick Smith have announced details of the initial changes to the RMA. The bill will go to select committee in the normal way and is expected back in the House in August. What are the major changes:
- Remove frivolous, vexatious and anti-competitive objections by increasing the fee for an appeal to the Environment Court from $55 to $500, and allow compensation to be awarded to a business where a competitor tries to use the RMA to delay competition. In my opinion the $500 filing fee is still remarkably considering some consents cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to achieve.
- Streamlining processes for projects of national significance to allow national boards of inquiry to be formed, and a nine month deadline for decisions.
- Creating an Environmental Protection Agency as an independent statutory body from the Ministry for the Environment.
- Improving district plan development and changes by having the focus on issues rather than individual submissions, and allowing regional councils and TLAs to produce a combined RMA planning document.
- Improving resource consent processes as only 56% of notified consents are processed on time. Councils will be required to reduce their fees when they do not process a consent within the legal timeframes.
- Streamlining decision making by allowing applicants to choose independent commissioners instead of local body politicians – so long as they meet the cost.
- Improving workability and compliance by increasing maximum fines from $200,000 to $600,000
- Allow enforcement action to be taken against the Crown (currently exempt)
- Improving national instruments with more use of national policy statements
Nick Smith also provides some examples of why we need RMA reform:
- Wairau Pak’nSave – The proposal to develop a Pak’nSave supermarket on Wairau Road on the North Shore has been embroiled in litigation since the 1990s. Consents have been granted several times only to be appealed to higher courts, and although the supermarket building has been constructed, it is unable to operate due to ongoing litigation.
- Long Bay Structure Plan – 12-year planning process characterised by disagreement between North Shore City Council and developer ended with Environment Court issuing a decision in favour of the council-proposed Structure Plan.
- Whangamata Marina – Initially proposed in 1995, the Whangamata Marina proposal is still awaiting a final decision after the High Court directed the then Minister of Conservation to set his decision aside and reconsider the applications.
- Crest Energy Marine Energy Project – After almost four years Crest Energy is awaiting an Environment Court hearing.
- Alpurt B (Albany to Puhoi Realignment) State Highway One – RMA approvals took approximately 10 years from lodgement to completion.
Now what has been the reaction to the changes? Most of it is predictable with the Greens and allies aghast, and business and industry groups supportive.
Rodney Hide has called it a good start. Labour has gone for a bob each way and said it agrees reforms are needed and just intends to scrutinise the legislation rather than necessairly oppose it. This is clealry a sign of Goff’s move to the centre.
The Environmental Defence Society has a fairly balanced take on the bill, detailing the parts they like and don’t like. Much more constructive than some otehr groups.
Former Labour Party President Bob Harvey has welcomed the changes, in his role as Mayor of Waitakere. The Wind Energy Association also supports it. If you want more renewable energy, you need RMA reform.
Also the NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development is strongly backing the reforms. They are a major advocate of environmentally friendly business practices and (for example) were big supporters of the Emissions Trading Scheme.
It will be very interesting to see how Labour votes on the changes as they go through the House.