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Business NZ defends RMA reforms as misunderstood and overdue

Friday 13th September 2013

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Proposed reforms to the Resource Management Act are overdue and rightly seek a new balance between environmental and economic development priorities, says the head of the country's largest business lobby group, Business New Zealand.

Chief executive Phil O'Reilly said there was no doubt "the RMA is doing a poor job of delivering good decisions that appropriately consider both environmental and development factors."

His comments follow this week's blow to the government's plans to reform fundamental clauses of the 22 year-old legislation when its parliamentary support partners, the United Future and Maori parties, both announced they would not support current proposals.

At this stage, the proposed changes to Sections 6 and 7 of the RMA have not been introduced into Parliament, but have been canvassed in a government discussion paper developed after lengthy consultation.

During that consultation, Business NZ advocated an even more fundamental change to the RMA, suggesting Section 5, which enshrines sustainable development as the Act's purpose, should also be changed and that the proposed changes to Sections 6 and 7 would be insufficient on their own.

"We need a better decision-making framework so the environment can be protected and development can also occur," O'Reilly said in today's statement. "The RMA currently gives precedence to the environment (section 6), while development (section 7) is subservient to it.

"The proposed reforms would merge the principles in sections 6 and 7 so that decision makers would be required to ensure environmental and development issues were both taken into account."

The criticism that would create unresolvable conflicts between environmental and development priorities was "unfounded," O'Reilly said.

"The RMA was always meant to be able to weigh up all of the important values to reach decisions that delivered sustainable management of the environment. But we can hardly call the operation of the RMA to date a success. Let's take this opportunity to lift our vision of sustainable management up from the minutiae to what is strategically important."

Opponents of the changes to Sections 6 and 7 broadly support other proposals to streamline RMA decision-making and argue much of the business community's concern over slow decisions on resource consent applications would be dealt with by swifter processes.

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