Sir Geoffrey Palmer rips into Horizons
Legal luminary Sir Geoffrey Palmer has delivered a blistering attack on Horizons Regional Council's handling of intensive agriculture consenting.
The former prime minister marvelled at the "stunning illegality" that bordered on the wrongful use of power.
Palmer, the architect of the Resource Management Act, made the comments in an article for NZ Local Government Magazine on the poor handling of environmental regulation by local government.
Horizons' comprehensive defeat in the Environment Court earlier this year was held up as Palmer's main example of local government's failings.
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Fish and Game and the Environmental Defence Society, took Horizons to the court accusing the council of going too easy on farmers by allowing high levels of nitrogen to be discharged under the enforcement of the One Plan.
The plan is the council's set of rules and regulations for managing the Manawatu-Whanganui region's quality of freshwater, air and land.
Palmer said expensive trips to the Environment Court would not be necessary if councils followed and enforced the law properly.
"Local government has an obligation to lift its game to protect the environment. It must not be pushed around by powerful economic interests whose activities pollute."
The court sided with the two environmental groups this April and found Horizons had been granting consents based on a council resolution from 2013 that was at odds with both the One Plan and the Resource Management Act.
The plan originally cost between $9 million and $10m to develop. That process took 10 years of consultation, court battles and rewrites before it was signed off in 2014.
Palmer said questions had to be asked about how this situation came about, and under what legal advice Horizons had let it continue.
"The illegality of the council's decision making is quite stunning.
"The question arises whether the whole saga since 2013 was the result of incompetence or deliberate political manoeuvring."
Palmer couldn't think of a case of misfeasance in public office had succeeded in New Zealand, but Horizons' actions had came very close to that line, he said.
Nobody from Horizons commented on Palmer's statement on Friday.