RMA reform – the good, the bad, and the ugly

National’s proposed RMA reforms have been released. The official summary is on Scoop. There’s some good in there and some bad. Reform of the RMA is certainly needed, it’s a horribly bloated piece of legislation. A few things that jump out are:

Removing frivolous, vexatious and anti-competitive objections
Good idea to get rid of anti-competitive objections. But what is “frivolous” or “vexatious”? Those words could mean anything. In practice this means:

  • Allowing the Environment Court to require security for costs.
  • Increasing the fee to appeal to the Environment court from $55 to $500.

Basically they are saying that any appeal from someone who is too poor to afford $500 plus an unspecified security deposit (could be thousands) is “frivolous”, and anyone who can afford that is not. This allows the wealthy greater access to justice than the poor and community organisations, and is a very bad move in my mind.

Streamlining decision making

  • This involves creating an Environmental Protection Agency (ie more bureaucracy) to determine whether a project is of national significance or not and push it through.
    I have no problem with streamlining things, but do we really need more bureaucrats to do less bureaucracy? Surely if it were streamlined we would need fewer bureaucrats?
  • Projects that are not of national significance can be sent directly to the Environment Court without the need to go through the local authority consenting process first.
    I understand the reason behind this. Currently our community is fighting the CPW irrigation scheme, and many organisations have spent thousands fighting the consents process knowing they will end up in the environment court anyway so their money is being wasted. But we need provision for one hearing, and one appeal. If the one E.Court hearing is the final decision, there is no backup if the first decision is faulty.

Minor changes to speed things up

  • Removing the ability for appellants to make general challenges or ones that seek the withdrawal of entire proposed policy statements and plans. But what if you have genuine concerns about the entire proposal?
  • Simplifying the process so that local authority decisions on submissions do not need to be made in respect of each individual submission but are to be made according to issues raised. Very sensible.
  • If consents are processed late, the fee must be discounted. Sounds like they were reading Family Party policy regarding building consents – this is a great idea. Can we have it for building consents too?
  • Allow local authorities to take enforcement action against the Crown. Also good.

So all up there is a lot to help push through big projects, a few things to help people with minor applications, and a definite bias against objectors regardless of whether their complaint is valid.

And still NO mention of private property rights ANYWHERE.

On average it may be more positive than negative, but there is a lot in there to be very concerned about. If they would only affirm common law private property rights they could throw away most of the RMA, just keeping a few bits that genuinely relate to Resource Management – such as permits for water abstraction etc. But unfortunately NZ elected a bunch of politicians who don’t have the guts to do that.

Other views:

Not PC thinks National is paving the way for Think Big 2.0

I am embarrassed to admit I actually agree with Russel Norman (Green Party):

However, increasing the filing fees for Environment Court cases and the requirement for security of costs will silence legitimate public input into local decision making. … How many community groups, made up of regular citizens, not millionaires, can come up with tens of thousands of dollars in security when they are trying to protect a coastal area from a property speculator?

Federated Farmers calls it “an ok first stab”, but has some concerns:

Some farmers will be dubious about changes that are aimed at streamlining projects of national significance and improving national instruments, without strengthening the rights of individuals to receive compensation.

Remember the Bill will be introduced later this month and open for public submissions.

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