|Digest 6th November 2009 - The Reforms to the RMA|
|Library Archive - Centre Digests|
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The Amended Act is now available as a single document. It is now possible to start analysing the new legislation with some confidence.
Go here to read the Act as written and now in force. This is the official Parliamentary page. For more information and related documents, such as the Local Government Act, and the Building Act, you might prefer to go to the MfE Quality Planning site, where you can start here.
Naturally, people are asking what the Centre thinks about the end result of this first stage of the Reform process. In summary the answer is that it is like the curate’s egg – good in parts.
The major benefits are the reversal in the presumption of notification. This presumption made it too easy for officials to find an excuse to notify any application. The position was “if there is the slightest doubt then notify” and to be fair, this approach had been endorsed by decisions of the Environment Court. Now, the decision to notify has to be justified by the evidence.
The nation should benefit from the introduction of an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and the process for calling in projects of national significance. In the past, major projects of national significance were processed by District and Regional Councils whose fudiciary duty is to serve the interests of their residents. While Council decision makers were instructed to take account of matters of national importance to the environment (section 6) there was no equivalent requirement to have regard to the national economy or to access to energy, national connectivity, and mobility.
The EPA is mandated to have regard to the national interest, which will bring us into line with most other developed nations who do not allow the local interest to trump the interests of the nation as a whole.
The main problem is with the name. Names count. Inevitably, the EPA will grant consents for major projects that clearly have a major impact on the environment. Such decisions will attract strident claims that the EPA is failing in its duty to “Protect the Environment”. A Title such as “National Projects Agency” (NPA) would avoid this obvious response and would more fairly reflect its function.
The EPA will take away the responsibility for decisions on major projects which presently are dealt with mainly by Regional Councils. Some assume this removes the need for Regional Councils and that all councils become unitary councils. This overlooks the fact that Regional Councils have many functions independent of the RMA. This requires a comprehensive review of the roles of local government but it looks as though, once again, we shall be besotted by boundary issues and the assumption that “reform means amalgamation” will prevail. In the meantime talk of forming unitary councils, as though the EPA does not exist, is a total diversion.
Rather than speculate on outcomes of the New Act the Centre shall attempt to restrict firm commentary to actual contents of proposed plans or actual decisions.
The first two such commentaries follow.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 06 November 2009 15:39 )|