05, Aug, 2004

Government Warned off RMA Refocus

Category: ECO Inc

Moves by the government to improve implementation of the Resource Management Act and to provide information to people participating in Resource Management Act processes are welcome and are all that is needed, says the Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ, ECO, in Wellington today.

Cath Wallace, spokesperson for ECO, says the Government should not alter the RMA to insert objectives for infrastructure projects or other commercial or government projects.

Cath Wallace, speaking at the launch of the information directory and database, RMALink today, acknowledged that funding for the project had come from the Ministry for the Environment's RMA Education and Advisory Fund, and applauded the government's moves to improve RMA practice.

Wallace warned the government that there is intense concern in the community about proposed changes to the RMA. Proposals, which have been kept close to ministers and are on a fast track, apparently would insert new objectives or considerations into the Act, make local hearing processes more formal, and allow central government to decide to push a project as in the "national interest" at the expense of the environment or local and regional communities. Local councils would have to make decisions with their decision forced to favour projects related to the amendments.

"The government should not change the RMA into an instrument for development and for certain interests to push their projects. It will also cause congestion and delays if more formal processes apply at a council level. This will increase delays for all and create further difficulties for people to have environmental concerns heard. Already only 5% of resource consents are publicly notified. Of the 49,000 resource consents applied for in 2003/04, only 900 were appealed and only 300 rejected, according to the Ministry for the Environment's own figures.

Beryl Anderson, National President of the National Council of Women, an ECO member body, and itself an umbrella group, told the audience at the RMALink launch, "for New Zealanders, the Resource Management Act is an important instrument for the protection of the environment." Changes that alter the balance struck in the RMA she said "will be strenuously contested"

"The government should not insert new non-environmental principles or considerations into the RMA. The government should focus on ensuring that the community has proper input, that the environmental integrity of the Act remains and that practice is improved, said Wallace.