John Key and the National Party promise “reform” of the Resource Management Act so it is less of a drag on economic growth (“holding business back” as they see it). You can view their policy statement here.
“Reform” consists of various steps to “streamline” and “simplify” the operation of the act. For example, there are “too many consent categories” according to the policy statement, which allow “costly and time-consuming arguments over irrelevant issues.” Reforms would also provide for “Priority Consenting” of “major infrastructure projects” by a newly established Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). And “new powers to reject vexatious and frivolous objections” would be created.
The devil will be in the detail if National gains power and enacts such a measure. And the full impact could fall like a tidal wave right here in Hawke’s Bay … at Ocean Beach.
A recent speech by National environmental spokesman Nick Smith gives cause for concern. He has stated that National’s intent is to reduce “landscape protection” under the RMA. National tried unsuccessfully to enact a similar change in 1999, but Smith has indicated this is the path National plans to pursue again.
How might this threaten Ocean Beach?
Landscape protection is one of the key provisions under the current RMA that defenders of Ocean Beach have cited in their submissions against Andy Lowe’s proposed development, and would likely be a key aspect of any appeal made to the Environment Court.
As we reported previously, Lowe’s Hill Country recently requested and received a delay in the independent commissioners’ hearings on Ocean Beach until next March (at the earliest). Perhaps Andy is hoping a new RMA enacted by National, with weaker landscape protection, will be more favorable to his cause. Perhaps a proposed 1,000 home housing development, complete with extensive roading, water and sewer infrastructure would be a candidate for “Priority Consenting” by the new EPA instead of the Environment Court?
Any changes to the RMA would have a profound impact on how economic and environmental values are balanced in New Zealand. Some sound reasonable at first glance — such as encouraging regional and district councils to develop single plans, and greater use of national environmental standards and policy statements. But truth be told, some “procedural “reform,” as suggested above, has traditionally been nothing but code for screwing the environment.
Without question, the “fine print” of any bill will be exceedingly important and must be thoroughly debated if National wins the opportunity to “have a go” at the RMA.
But first, what voters in Hawke’s Bay need to hear — from John Key, Nick Smith and our own “Backing the Bay” boys, Craig Foss and Chris Tremain — is this: Just how worried should we be that a National victory will threaten the defense of Ocean Beach?