Nick Smith 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 Environment 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 RMA, 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.
, Nick Smith