Monday, April 22, 2024

Farming lobby urges govt to rethink RMA reforms

Neal Wallace
Deep misgivings about plans to centralise environmental planning processes.
Beef + Lamb NZ’s policy and advocacy manager, Dave Harrison, says the ‘once-in-a-generation reform’ is being rushed through with little consultation.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Farming groups are calling on the government to start its Resource Management Act reforms again.

The government wants to replace the 30-year-old RMA with new legislation (hanganga ture) consisting of the Spatial Planning and the Natural and Built Environment (NBE) Bills.

It would see more than 100 RMA plans condensed into 15 NBE plans and planning decisions taken away from New Zealand’s 67 city and district councils and given to 15 new regional planning committees.

After two and a half years in development, the public only got to see the new legislation in November and had to file submissions by early February.

Environment Minister David Parker wants it to be law before October’s election.

Earlier this year farming groups warned the environment select committee that the proposed bills were as problematic as the existing RMA.

They feared farmers’ voices would not being heard and were concerned at the level of responsibility and power the proposed structure would bestow on the environment minister and central government.

There was further concern the new bills duplicate existing legislation, such as allowing regional plans to introduce greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Additional concerns were the 10-year consent duration for activities involving the taking, using, damming, or diverting of water and subsequent discharges of contaminants, along with a market-based allocation method for discharges.

The fear is this could create uncertainty for farmers and influence future investment and planning decisions.

Last November Parker described the two bills as working together to cut red tape, lower costs and shorten the time it takes to approve new homes and key infrastructure projects.

“The current system does not work. It takes too long, costs too much and has not adequately protected the environment or supported development,” he said.

Parker said his aim was to standardise conditions so there were few bespoke consents, to set up a planning regime that “frontloads” the arguments about what can be done and where it can be done in a series of plans and documents.

Federated Farmers national board member and RMA spokesperson Mark Hooper said the government proposals risk replacing an old dog with a bigger monster.

“We are very concerned that the NBE is riddled with new, amorphous terms – like upholding the interconnectedness of the environment, and a focus on wellbeing – that will launch New Zealand into a decade of court cases trying to understand what anything in the bill means.” 

He said shifting all planning decisions away from city and district councils to new regional planning committees creates concerns about local democracy.

“These regional planning 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,” he said. 

This could see decisions relating to transport, parks and urban planning for a place like Taupō happening in Hamilton.

Masterton would see decisions made in Wellington, and Timaru would be planned out of Christchurch, he said. 

Beef + Lamb NZ’s policy and advocacy manager, Dave Harrison, said while having fewer local government plans would make life easier for advocacy groups, there are significant questions and concerns about how they will work.

Harrison said this is a once-in-a-generation reform but is being rushed through with submissions called for over Christmas and with little consultation in its development.

It was reported in February that the environment select committee public hearing revealed multiple submissions that raised similar themes of concern.

These include the likelihood of long legal arguments defining new terms and concepts included in the bills.

There is also criticism that the bills do not make clear how the balance between environmental protection and allowing development will be reached.

Watch our latest On Farm Story on time-saving agritech to help farmers manage biosecurity on-farm below

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