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Proposed RMA changes 'deeply troubling', Environmental Defence Society says

Thursday 28th February 2013

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Many of the government's proposed changes to the Resource Management Act are "deeply troubling" because of the "radical shift of power to Ministers" and the introduction of new economic development objectives to compete with environmental outcomes, says the Environmental Defence Society.

The country's leading lobby group on environmental law and regulation, the EDS says many of the proposals in a discussion paper released this morning by Environment Minister Amy Adams "go too far."

"The changes could encourage unsustainable and environmentally damaging urban sprawl," said EDS executive director Gary Taylor in a statement. "Developers will be thinking all their Christmases have come at once."

Among issues highlighted in a hastily prepared seven page analysis of the proposals is the intention to create a new government agency which could step in over the heads of local governments to speed up developments regarded as being nationally significant.

Adams focused particularly on the need to release new land for housing in Auckland, but EDS fears this is "another example of the government removing responsibility from elected representative local authorities and placing it in the hands of the executive or their nominees."

Proposed changes to Sections 6 and 7 of the RMA, governing the approach to nationally important matters, could also weaken the Act's current bias in favour of maintaining environmental bottom-lines and instead allow a bias in favour of economic development.

The government discussion paper says the changes are necessary because in practice, the RMA may have resulted in "an under-weighting of the positive effects (or net benefits) of certain economic and social activities."

However, EDS says that merging the two sections and adding new requirements for local government to take into account communities' future needs "will place greater emphasis on economic effects to the detriment of the environment."

EDS did, however, welcome some aspects of the proposed reforms, particularly the government's rejection of recommendations from a Technical Advisory Group that would have weakened protections for coasts, landscapes, and native flora and fauna.

"However, the inclusion of competing economic development matters may dilute that protection."

While the plan to reduce the number of planning documents in operation could work, EDS is concerned this could see a loss of regional planning at the expense of plans focused at the district level.

 

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