Two dynamics look like they will converge in the year ahead, probably with bad results for the environment.
On the one hand, NZ government at every level is panting with anticipation to spend money to stimulate the economy.
Much of this increased spending will be dedicated to building “infrastructure.” Now, to most elected officials I’ve heard talk about this, infrastructure means road-building … and you can bet your bottom ratepayer dollar that each and every local council is putting forward its road-building wish list for when central government opens the spending spigot.
Here in Hawke’s Bay, our representatives will petition for the region’s full share of road-building largess. But we can count on them to be creative and go further still — no doubt they’ll try to add sports parks, museums, stop banks and god-knows-what other edifices to their central government infrastructure shopping lists.
Meantime, as many as two-thirds of Hawke’s Bay homes are inadequately insulated, and thus unhealthy. But will an intensified campaign to ensure healthy homes, with environmental benefits as well, make it onto the region’s infrastructure wish list? If it does, I’ll be shocked and awed.
So on the one hand, we can expect a blossoming of “bricks & mortar” public works projects whose precipitating intent is to pump money into the economy.
At the same time, the drive by the National-led Government to “reform” and “streamline” the Resource Management Act (RMA) will aim to remove obstacles (like citizen participation) to spending development money in as fast and un-challengeable a fashion as possible.
National’s newly-announced RMA “reform” package will curtail local public involvement in the face of enormous new pressures to build, build, develop, develop.
With myriad small “nicks,” the National package will threaten public involvement with “death by a thousand cuts” — higher filing fees for the Environment Court, requiring upfront security for costs, requiring less public notification of resource consents, limiting the grounds on which Environment Court appeals can be filed against district plan changes, and other provisions whose intent and impact remain unclear.
Having heard the HB Regional and Hastings Councils discuss the proposals, I should note that our local officials will be submitting in favor of such changes.
Certainly, aspects of the RMA need attention and correction. But on balance, National’s proposals appear to go too far to impede legitimate public participation on behalf of protecting environmental values.
As the Environmental Defence Society concludes in its excellent analysis of the proposed RMA “reforms”: “Overall there are a number of changes that taken together will weaken proactive planning, further limit public involvement in RMA processes and shift the balance further towards development interests.”
A thrust to spend lots of money quickly on infrastructure, in a more development-friendly RMA framework, could well become a recipe for serious environmental degradation.
For this reason, environmentalists must become conversant with the proposed RMA changes and make their views known to MPs and local officials as the legislative process proceeds in Wellington.