At its coming Wednesday meeting, the Regional Council takes up what would appear to be a relatively minor, arcane item.

But what the HBRC staff is recommending speaks volumes about the anti-environment orientation of Andrew Newman’s Regional Council.

At issue is a submission the staff proposes to make to the Productivity Commission, which in turn has floated a draft report to Government called Towards Better Regulation. In the current Government, ‘better regulation’ generally means anything that reduces protection against unbridled development and/or diminishes citizen participation in decision-making.

In its submission, the HBRC staff jumps at the opportunity to attack and remove the Environment Court’s authority to act, in response to citizen appeals, as an independent, and more knowledgeable, legal and scientific check on regional council decision-making.

Says the HBRC’s draft submission: “Removing recourse to the Environment Court on policy decisions and limiting appeals to matters of law would profoundly change the quality, timeliness and nature of resource management decision making.”

Profoundly change the quality of decision making? Indeed it will … for the worse!

Example: The only reason the Tukituki might eventually receive less pollution from CHB’s sewage ponds is because citizens appealed inadequate standards proposed by CHB and this Regional Council to the Environment Court … and the Court sided with the citizens. The HBRC’s policy just wasn’t strong enough … and the Court agreed.

Example: The staff, and some Councillors, pretend that requiring early ‘collaboration’ will force all information and evidence on key initiatives onto the table, where the issues can be thrashed out, removing the need for any path to further appeal. Nonsense. Right now, the Regional Council is headed for a train wreck on its dam proposal precisely because the Regional Council itself plays the game it complains of — it has not, even yet, made critical science information available for public scrutiny. So much for ‘collaboration’.

Faced with skepticism from environmentalists who participated in the HBRC’s vaunted ‘stakeholder’ process, the Regional Council basically said … We dare you … try to beat us in the Board of Inquiry process (the HBRC is loath to see its dam proposal go before the Environment Court). When Hawke’s Bay’s leading environmental groups asked for $10,000 to fund independent review of environmental studies prepared to support the dam, the HBRC said … Get lost! So much for ‘collaboration’.

And then the HBRC has the audacity to complain about appeals to the Environment Court and prepares a submission calling for the termination of such appeals!

What does the Regional Council really think of the Environment Court?

Says its draft submission: “Courts are not established to mirror or represent the value judgments of people and communities. The role of the Environment Court in resource management policy and plan development is anomalous with respect to the broad range of other decisions made by local authorities … The proper role of the Environment Court is to adjudicate on points of law and on disputes arising from the interpretation and implementation of resource management policies.”

What arrogance and ignorance from the legal scholars at the HBRC.

New Zealand has a Resource Management Act, which confers a right to appeal natural resource policy decisions by councils to an independent Environment Court, precisely because national legislators realised the danger that our local councils might be populated by pea-brains. They passed a law based on the proposition that issues to be decided about our precious natural resources should not be decided — without recourse, without a check on the process — on political whim, or on the basis of superficial, incomplete or even misleading ‘evidence’ proffered by councils with development agendas and/or inadequate expertise.

The Environment Court protects enduring values and commitments set forth in law. And we can depend on it to do so better than this Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.

We know the un-elected staff finds independent Environment Court review a nuisance. But did you really vote for these Councillors — Wilson, Dick, Remmerswaal, McGregor, Scott, Gilbertson, Rose, von Dadelszen and Kirton — to subvert the RMA and the Environment Court? Where did they get such a mandate?

Tom Belford

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10 Comments

  1. Another fine article Tom – practice is making perfect as you head towards 100 published comments on this significant issue. And I don’t think you are being unfair on the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council – either the paid staff or the paid councillors – with the general thrust of your comments. ‘Pea brains’ could be seen as derogatory, but needs to be compared with what they say about you behind closed doors. And we’re never going to know that, with the current lot. They will live and die behind closed doors.

    There are three major problems with your attempts to bring about a genuine and effective public debate on Andrew Newman’s proposal for a government-funded high dam in the Tukituki headwaters. The first and most obvious is Newman’s entrenched position, where he has become the unchallenged public voice of the Regional Council on every major issue. The current Chairman Fenton Wilson prefers to say nothing in public, for reasons he has never explained. I cannot imagine either of the two previous strong Chairmen – Doug Walker and Ross Bramwell – tolerating this for a week. Newman would have been gone, and if that required a payout, the money would have been found.

    None of the current regional councillors – not even the best of them, Christine Scott – has been prepared to break this staff-imposed embargo on public debate. Again one can only speculate on their motives. The regional councillors who ran the show from 1992 to 1995 – Ross Bramwell, David Marshall, Dinah Williams, Rex McIntyre, Sam Robinson, and me – would have been debating this issue, boots and all, in the news media and everywhere else.

    The second problem is your inability to connect with a broad public audience. BayBuzz simply doesn’t have enough readers. Yes, the journalists read it, but what do they do with what they read? Nothing, in this region. And the excellent Rod Oram article in the Sunday Star-Times was directed at a national audience that has already made up its mind on the broader issue. National is going for ‘Think Big’ economic development and damn the greenies. Labour is essentially me-toing, with only a few quibbles, because that’s its point of difference with the Green Party. And Ross Norman wants to be in a Labour-led coalition government.

    The third problem is public apathy. The people of Hawke’s Bay are either focused on surviving the long recession, and hoping for better times down the track; or planning their own escapes to more prosperous places like Auckland, Christchurch or Perth; or paralysed by feelings of helplessness and irrelevance.

    Finally, let me say I’d love to see a meaured, well-informed public reply to your critique from the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, published in BayBuzz. A reply that takes each of your main points and gives a considered, fully referenced response. The sort of reply I would be wanting to make if I was the Regional Council Chairman. It will be a cold day in Hell when that appears.

  2. Public say – it is fast disappearing as elected and un elected bureaucrats make decisions for us, ignoring any input.
    Anybody recall the recent referenda, totally ignored by the Clark/Key duo.
    And then is this; already the ICLEI is in our local bylaws.
    That is one of the aspects Christopher Monckton will cover in his presentation here, April – Monckton’s schedule – on how ICLEI inserts its insidious tentacles into local government under the stealth of the UN’s agenda 21.

    Yes, it is a major problem – the uninformed public ( i don’t care/need to know about that ) being led along by a controlled media.

  3. A fantastic article Tom – and a great addition Bill. I have commented on this issue before on the BayBuzz site and in the mag; and my main concerns about the issues around management v governance have only grown (ie – who is actually running the strategic agenda on the Council?).

    I must admit, I enjoy the company of a number of the HBRC councillors and have respect for their elected position as well as for the public service of many who serve our region on this council, however, the increasing number of knowledgable voices that express serious doubt about what is happening re the Ruatanawha water storage project (from a consultative, management, governance and feasibility perspective) is alarming.

    Surely the councillors can’t all agree with Andrew on every point in his business case… Surely they have been approached by the same people who have approached me, and have been given the same information that I have been given. If so, why the silence?

    I have listened to both sides with an open mind and open ears, and must conclude that:
    1. the HBRC has not acted in a consultative and collaborative manner
    2. this is not the best use of $500m of economic development money,
    3. the economics do not stack up
    4. the protection of the Tukituki river system will not take place as promised
    5. it will simply not create the sustainable wealth promised by the HBRC

    I also agree with Bill in that the level of public apathy around this issue is greatly concerning. The HBRC is talking about spending a considerable amount of ratepayers money on this scheme, however, the debate around whether is the the right thing to do has barely raised its head.

    I am hopeful that it will become an election issue and the true facts (as presented to me by people I have great respect for) come out.

    …and then to read about the contemptuous way in which the Council views the environment court… The arrogance in actually putting these views down on paper in a public forum is astounding. Tom, I hope like hell the councillors have a real go at Andrew and his staff for such an ill-considered submission, but I won’t be holding my breath…

  4. a final comment re the baffling silence by councillors on this issue…

    A number of regional councillors have provided their 2c worth on the issue of amalgamation and so any such argument around ‘collective responsibility’ simply doesn’t stack up.

  5. Looks like Stuart and me are singing in concert on this one! And anyone who thinks “that’s just politics” is sadly uninformed..

  6. First of all, re Collin Blackmail’s comment-the ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability is the world’s leading association of cities and local governments dedicated to sustainable development made up of over 1000 cities and towns in 84 countries.
    I had not heard of it until now, and I am not sure that HBRC would sign up, though I would support it.

    ICLEI promotes local action for global sustainability and supports cities to become sustainable, resilient, resource-efficient, biodiverse, low-carbon; to build a smart infrastructure; and to develop an inclusive, green urban economy. Sounds good to me.

    Unfortunately Christopher Monckton has no scientific credentials nor credibility in his campaign to forget about climate change, and is considered to be a fraud in his claim to be a member of the House of Lords.
    I would imagine his stance on the RMA would be to abolish it altogether!

  7. Secondly, I have never supported watering down the RMA or making it harder for the community to participate in and challenge environmental decisions.
    At the meeting in question I successfully argued that the HBRC was in fact responsible for managing public resources which in fact make up ‘the commons’ such as freshwater, and this was not just a perception. For the rest, I was ignored.
    The changes discussed in Baybuzz are just another move towards the current government philosophy that everything hinges on economic development.
    Of course this will not work as it is a totally unsustainable model in every way,but it is the current mantra that everyone who is paid by public money, even those who are supposed to protect the environment, must subscribe to if they want to work in the system under the current regime. Sigh.

  8. I am confused as to where local bodies; and the government obtained their mandate to have legal authority and control of any water system in New Zealand.

    The Treaty of Waitangi gives exclusive rights to Maori over all waters.

    Maori never ceded sovereignty over these assets.

    So when was this ‘Treaty Right’ extinguished in NZ law.

    Can someone please answer this for me?

  9. It wasn’t extinguished Dexter. One would have thought that local government officials would have learned some history, but apparently not. Mind you, the Mighty River Power debacle demonstrates that our national politicians are not too sharp either. Of course, possibly the local iwi are smart enough to wait until the project is completed with ratepayers money before they take ownership.

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