RMA change naysayers 'scaremongering'

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 13:07 27/05/2013
Geoffrey Palmer
Fairfax NZ
SIR GEOFFREY PALMER: "Core environmental matters that currently have the status of 'matters of national importance' will be downgraded to mere 'matters'."

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Environment Minister Amy Adams says Opposition MPs and environmental groups are "scaremongering" in their attacks on proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA).

One of the architects of the RMA, former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, has launched an attack on proposed changes to the legislation, saying they would water down environmental protection.

Palmer said the changes would "significantly and severely weaken the ability of the RMA to protect the natural environment and its recreational enjoyment by all New Zealanders" by downgrading protections in a number of key areas.

The comments prompted a fresh round of attacks by Labour, the Greens and a number of environmental groups on the RMA changes mooted in a discussion document.

Labour has already vowed to repeal any changes to the law which it believes undermine environmental protection.

But Adams today dismissed the concerns saying they were clearly addressed in the discussion document.

"Contrary to claims, core environmental protections have been maintained in the RMA, and will, in some cases, be strengthened by the Government's proposals," she said in a statement.

"Where clauses have been proposed for deletion from the existing purpose sections of the Act, this is only where independent and recognised experts have identified them as unnecessary duplication that is already provided for through other parts of the act. This is made very clear in the discussion document.

Presenting his analysis of a discussion document during the weekend, Palmer said environmental protection would be replaced by development-focused principles.

"Core environmental matters that currently have the status of 'matters of national importance' will be downgraded to mere 'matters'," Palmer said.

These included protection of the coastal environment, outstanding landscape and indigenous vegetation, protection and enhancement of public access to beaches and waterways.

Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson told Radio New Zealand today the changes could see the act "completely undermined and basically turned into an economic development act".

Labour's Environment spokeswoman Maryan Street said the party supported amendments to processes that allowed the act to work more efficiently, but would reverse and repeal any changes made by the government to the principles and purpose of the act.

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"Sir Geoffrey Palmer's analysis of proposed changes to the RMA ... is devastating," she said.

"He notes they would wreck existing case law, and introduce huge uncertainty for all players, the opposite of what the Government says it is trying to do."

Green Party environment spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said the proposed changes to the RMA were anti-environment.

"The changes will make it harder for people to have a say and will mean much less attention is paid to the environment in decision-making under the act," she said.

Adams disputed that the changes would weaken environmental protection and said the act as it stood was not delivering for New Zealanders.

"The RMA, as well as being environmental legislation, is also our primary planning framework, and in that regard, it is not delivering in a way that meets the needs of New Zealanders," she said.

"Most New Zealanders acknowledge the RMA has become cumbersome, uncertain and highly litigious, and the reforms are focused on addressing that."

She said a draft bill on changes to the RMA was expected in the second half of the year. 

- The Dominion Post

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