Upton Initiates Rethink On Scope Of Rma

  • Simon Upton

The Minister for the Environment, Simon Upton, is preparing to initiate a debate on the range of activities currently controlled by the Resource Management Act.

Mr Upton said that the Act enjoys overwhelming support for its focus on environmental protection, but there is growing concern that in practice the Act is being used to re-create the world of economic and social planning that used to go hand in hand with our old command-and-control economy. "There has been a temptation to dress up in environmental garb interests which have everything to do with economic and social outcomes and nothing to do with preserving the quality of New Zealand's environment."

To spark an informed debate on these issues, the Minister has commissioned Resource Management consultant Owen McShane to write a Think Piece. Mr Upton stressed the debate will not be about environmental performance standards. "Broadly speaking I want to question the old Town and Country Planning inheritance that lingers on in the Act.

The greatly strengthened environmental protection powers, introduced in 1991, are not up for grabs. "The terms of reference for Mr McShane's work are limited to the control of land-use. We need to take a close look at regulations which provide councils with significant discretion over matters that ultimately involve highly subjective judgements."

Last year Mr Upton announced a substantial programme designed to improve practice under the Act. There are also a number of legislative amendments being considered which aim to improve processes and procedures under the Act. Mr McShane's piece will complement these initiatives by looking more fundamentally at the scope of the RMA's regulatory powers.

The Minister expects Mr McShane's study to be completed by the end of February. Following peer review, it will be published in late March. The Government expects a lively debate through the middle of the year leading to possible legislative amendments in the second half of the year.

"The Government has no preconceived view of any amendments in the area and will withhold judgement until the report's suggestions have been widely debated," Mr Upton concluded.

ENDS. A more detailed description of Mr McShane's Commission can be found in EnviroNet 10: http://www.arcadia.co.nz