Expert Enironmental Law advice

Resource Legislation Amendment Bill Flawed

Thu July 28th 2016

Simon Berry and Helen Andrews are concerned about a number of the “reforms” of the RMA contained in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill that is currently before the Local Government and Environment Select Committee.

Many of the amendments have been introduced to address problems that do not, by any objective assessment, exist or require legislative intervention. Further, the officials responsible for the legislation acknowledge that the impact of the implementation of these amendments has not been assessed.

A number of the proposed amendments to the RMA are overly complex and introduce novel legal concepts that will create process delays and costs, contrary to the purpose of the Bill and for which the RMA will be inevitably and simplistically blamed.

The Bill will introduce changes to the RMA of a type that have never been seen before and which threaten to push the RMA to a point at which it may become practically unworkable. It will also continue the severe erosion of rights of potentially affected people to be involved in RMA process and access to Justice. Simon and Helen note that:

“The severe erosion of rights of public participation seems to spring from a mind-set reflected in the Regulatory Impact Statement (”RIS”) that such amendments are required because the Act’s current scheme of broad public participation:

“…undermines the purpose of notification and seeking submissions, which is to give decision-makers useful, focused input.”

With all due respect, this is an extraordinary non sequitur that is inconsistent with the basic concept of participation that has always been fundamental to RMA processes. Indeed, this thinking has spawned proposed reforms of a nature never seen before – amendments that represent a difference in kind rather than degree that if enacted would strike at the very heart of the RMA.”

The Bill also continues the accumulation of power by the Minister for the Environment at the expense of local decision making - another cornerstone of the RMA that would be eroded by the Bill.

Simon and Helen see the Select Committee as the next key step in saving the RMA:

“The RMA, a fundamentally sound statute that deservedly started life as an internationally ground-breaking piece of legislation, has been fundamentally weakened by continual (and particularly recent) amendments. It is nearing a tipping point at which it is becoming unworkable. And two of its fundamental precepts – public participation and local decision-making by co-operative mandate – would be severely compromised by the Bill. The RMA is being brought to its knees.

… when issues of this magnitude are at stake, there needs to be strong justification for the amendments by reference to the alleged problems and quantification of the “costs and benefits” of the choices made, including the option of “doing nothing”. After all, this is the bare minimum that Parliament expects of planning authorities. The proponents of this legislation readily acknowledge that this has not been done.

Sound analysis and debate is required. As a minimum, those aspects of the Bill that we have highlighted in this paper need to be revisited, preferably by their removal from the Bill and complete reconsideration in light of these remarks. Obviously the Select Committee is the fundamentally important next first port of call in that regard. The hope is that party political considerations can be put aside in favour of quality outcomes.”

See Simon and Helen's article, "The Final Straw for the RMA? Some Shortcomings of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill 2015".

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