New Zealand Institute Of Surveyors

  • Marian Hobbs

Thank you for the invitation to address you all this evening.

I understand that you have enjoyed a full day discussing landscaping, rural and urban values, and subdivision. Interesting areas of work and very topical when I think of the development pressure issues in places like Auckland or Queenstown. However, I wish to broaden the subject area of this speech this evening to matters that may be outside your immediate area of work.

I would like to make a few general comments about what lies ahead for the environment in the year. I will keep my talk brief, as I would like to hear your views as local government practitioners on issues relating to your work and your thoughts on more general environmental matters.

So what are the key environmental issues facing the government, and in particular the issues this year and beyond?
As Minister for the Environment I want to focus on nine of the more important:
1. Biodiversity,
2. Land and water,
3. Climate change,
4. Waste management,
5. Urban sustainability,
6. Environmental regulation and compliance,
7. Genetic Modification,
8. Marine environment; and
9. Treaty of Waitangi.

I wish to discuss each of these separately.

„h Biodiversity
Our native species help make New Zealand distinctive, but some 1000 species are threatened by pests and habitat loss. We cannot ¡¥turn the tide of this loss¡¦ by investing only in the conservation estate. If we are to protect biodiversity on private land as well as on Crown land, we will need to find a balance between landowner rights and responsibilities.

The Biodiversity Strategy has been released, so too has the document called ¡¥Bio-what?¡¦ These are two very important publications. The latter is the report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee relating to the effects of private land management on indigenous biodiversity. A consultation process throughout New Zealand is underway as I speak. The comments and submissions will contribute to form the first part of a comprehensive and integrated strategy to deal with the private land/biodiversity issues. An integral part of this strategy is likely to be the first National Policy Statement under the RMA. I am hoping for considered debate on this matter and welcome your comment.

„h Land and Water Quality
Kiwi¡¦s and tourists enjoy swimming, rafting and recreation in water- me included. Maori place special cultural and spiritual value on the water resource. However, too often, farm and urban runoff makes many lowland rivers and some popular beaches unfit for swimming or unhabitable in an ecological sense. This is not good enough. In drought-prone areas, every drop of water counts in when growing crops and pasture ¡V we need to make sure it is allocated fairly to ensure long-term sustainability objectives.

The Ministry for the Environment is working, together with other key resource users and managers (particularly regional councils) to improve management of our land and water. Examples of the projects addressing these matters include, to name but a few:
„h The ¡¥bad bugs¡¦ programme,
„h Guidelines to address water pollution caused by transport,
„h The ¡¥Sustainable Land Management Strategy¡¦, which is a five year programme to provide information and support to farmers about sustainable land management practices; and
„h Guidelines on water quality and flow requirements.

The way forward on these issue relates to asking the hard questions about the effectiveness of different solutions, and the scale of the resources available to tackle the problem.

„h Climate Change
Climate change could have major impacts on our whole economy and ecology of the nation. New Zealand¡¦s greenhouse gas emissions are rising, and we run real risks by doing little domestically to curb emissions.

In response to this issue there is a lot of work underway. We have already announced our intention to show political leadership in this area. For example, by early ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. It will however, require effort from every sector to lower New Zealand¡¦s emissions - particularly those that show the strongest growth in emissions, such as transport. This is obviously an issue for Auckland as it works to manage traffic congestion. Increasing the provision of public transport is part of the answer ¡V in fact a variety of price and non-price measures will be needed. Information and education, along with partnerships, will be crucial in addressing the major risks to New Zealand of climate change.

„h Waste
Waste is growing ¡V up 82% in Auckland in past eight years as an example. In some places the current management of landfills and hazardous waste is a risk to people, the environment and our ¡¥clean green¡¦ image. In addition, finding sites for new modern landfills is increasingly difficult because of community concerns. I trust you are familiar with the recent hearings in the Waikato and Canterbury regions.

The landfill census was launched at Hutt City Council last month. It includes detailed information about landfill management practice. The results are a follow up from the 1995 survey. This together with some additional follow up work will help in identifying possible initiatives to improve landfill management practice. Examples include the ¡¥Landfill Management Programme¡¦ and the ¡¥Hazardous Waste Management Programme¡¦. Local government is also assisting in collaborative projects in this area.

In all of these areas of work, there is some tension between the time required to do a technically thorough job, and the desire to see outstanding problems fixed faster. I am following the pollution and waste work programme closely.

„h Urban Sustainability
The cumulative effects of urban activities can contaminate air, water and land. City residents can also suffer a loss of amenity ¡V be it through additional noise, congestion, or loss of privacy and access to sunlight. Areas beyond cities are affected by the constant demand for resources. Transport and infrastructure problems are growing as a result. Have any of you tried to get from downtown Auckland to the airport in rush hour traffic? ¡V not enjoyable at all.

Many different groups within the Ministry for the Environment are working to address urban environment issues. Strategies are being implemented with local government to improve monitoring and the management of air and water. There is also an ongoing role for input into the Auckland growth forum. I see that this issue will continue to be a complex and difficult one, where no amount of technical work will deliver easy answers. It will be an evolving process as values and attitudes change. I would like you to think about the role your profession plays in changing urban landscapes, for example intensification patterns.

„h Environmental Regulation and Compliance Costs
Few would argue (I hope) that New Zealand has no need for environmental laws. Recent debate over amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 has seen expressions of support for the principles they promote from many sectors. However perceptions about how these laws operate in practice have at times, not been so positive.

The Government is very supportive of the Resource Management Act. No doubt the Act can be fine-tuned and the costs of compliance hopefully reduced. However, the Government has reservations with aspects of the RM Amendment Bill that the previous Government introduced.

The Bill is before the Local Government and Environment Select Committee. The Committee is chaired by Greens Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons. Several of the members have been local authority councillors. I understand the Committee has received almost 400 submissions.

I have advised the Committee on the Government¡¦s position on parts of the Bill it is unlikely to support. I doubt the Government¡¦s views will surprise many people here. We want local authorities to retain control of the resource consent process. This means we have concerns over proposals to require contestable processing of consents, to require councils to appoint commissioners to make decisions, and for applications to be heard directly by the Environment Court. It is worth noting that the government has an open mind on the remainder of the Bill. The Committee has started hearing submissions and will report back to Parliament in due course.

We will continue to resource best practice and work together with local government. The Quality Plan Project is one example. As you know, it is a resource to assist planners writing the next generation of district plans. I congratulate the Institute of Surveyors in being an active participant in developing this project, and I look forward to your continued support. You will in the future see a focus on improving connections between the RMA, plans and environmental outcomes ¡V monitoring is a key element in the loop. Another area of work where further research may be required, relates to investigations about the barriers restricting public participation in resource management processes.

„h Genetic Modification
Genetic modification offers both economic opportunities and environmental risks. Public disquiet is mostly focussed on food safety, however environmental, ethical and maori cultural issues have also been made clear. The government has recently announced the establishment of a Royal Commission into genetic modification. Its primary objective is to inquire and report on the strategic options available to enable New Zealand to address genetic modification now and in the future. I expect the Royal Commission to consult widely with the public and report its findings within a year. Watch this space.

„h Marine Environment
Marine environment issues are hugely complex, logistically difficult, and hindered by poor information. There are no over-arching goals to guide the integrated management of marine resources. Without a common set of policy goals it is harder for decision-makers to determine the appropriate trade-offs between potentially competing areas. Current initiatives to clarify goals in related policy areas would benefit from clearer goals for marine management. For example, interface issues between fisheries and resource management legislation. (Tasman) My colleague, the Hon Pete Hodgson is leading the development of an ocean strategy. This is an overarching policy that involves a number of departments. The process is in its early days and putting this strategy together will involve public participation and comment.
„h Treaty of Waitangi
Environmental management legislation provides for iwi and hapu to have a role in natural and physical resource management. Often I hear that tangata whenua are frustrated with the way that this has been working in practice and the opportunities for influencing decision makers.

As a result they are applying pressure through the courts, the Waitangi Tribunal and the Treaty of Waitangi claims settlement process to promote their interests. This is having an effect on local government processes, particularly consultation on resource consent applications.

Work in the past has been focussed on removing barriers and promoting greater opportunities for practical involvement by iwi in decision making. I support continued investment in the development of iwi management plans as a practical tool to help iwi and councils incorporate maori environmental values into RMA processes. The sustainable management fund is being used to pay for the creation of a iwi management tool kit.

The preparation and distribution of quality iwi management plans that clearly articulate the environmental values and interests of iwi in a particular area would be invaluable in helping resource managers. The plans could help consent applicants, resource users and regulators. A clear and early understanding of iwi environmental interests would help everyone. I encourage you to contact Ministry officials should you have questions on this work.

Ongoing and future projects relate to exploring opportunities for co-management between iwi and councils; and looking at ways of including maori knowledge across all work programmes.

In summary, there are nine key issues areas facing the Government. I have a full plate on my hands as you can see ¡V biosecurity and broadcasting aside. Improving our countries environmental quality over the years ahead is undeniably critical, as you would all know doubt agree. I acknowledge, in these early months, that it is not a task that an individual Minister would ever hope to achieve on their own ¡V integrated approaches and solutions will do it. This involves all of you too.

I consider that there are five immediate challenges ahead to begin to resolve the issues I have outlined tonight. These are:
1. Move faster on the priorities to avoid the problem areas growing larger,
2. Get the balance right between national consistency and flexible decision-making at the local level,
3. Better consideration of environmental issues across all central government departments and agencies,
4. Achieve more environmentally sustainable economic activity; and
5. Improve ways to influence international environmental policy that affect us.

I do welcome your comment on the issues and challenges that I have outlined. We have time for a few questions, would anyone like to start?