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?