Concern over proposed RMA changes

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 10:53 08/08/2014

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Resource consent applications for the Ruakura development could be a rubber stamp exercise if proposed changes to the Resource Management Act are adopted, according to Green MP Eugenie Sage.

She was in Hamilton this week to talk about the environment but had a number of concerns over a recent draft decision to approve a plan change for the inland port project.

Tainui Group Holdings (TGH) and Chedworth Property Limited (CPL) wanted a change to an inherited rule that prevented them from applying for consent and the decision, to be finalised in September, will allow them to push-on with their $3.3 billion plan.

Reforms to the RMA were pushed by the National-led government earlier in the year which would see the cost of building reduced and the consenting process shortened.

Sage said the Ruakura decision was already fast-tracked and RMA reform would be the green light TGH and CPL were waiting for.

"That is what the National government wants - to tilt the playing field and the RMA in favour of development," she said.

It will just become a rubber stamp if National's changes go through."

TGH and CPL have projected their 50-year plan for a logistics hub, and residential and retail development would generate more than 10,000 jobs, $4.4 billion in local GDP and remove 65,000 truck movements from the roads.

Their application to re-zone the development area was declined by Hamilton City councillors but was forwarded to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and heard by an independent board of inquiry.

Sage said the board's decision was critical but the EPA was too far from the community and too close to government and removed the ability of councils and communities to decide what happened in their regions.

"The EPA is not at arm's length of government because the minister is appointing the decision makers of some of the boards. The Environment Court is much more independent."

The development promoted urban sprawl outside the limits established by council and more time should have been taken to reach a decision, Sage said.

Massive expansion on arable land on the city fringe would leave a permanent impression on the city and she said it had just been rammed through.

Residents ran the risk of being steamrolled by a weighty and expensive process and the process bypassed good local governance and community input.

"Where we have got concerns more generally about they way in which the EPA is calling in projects like the Ruakura development and calling them projects of national significance sidesteps the council planning process," she said.

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"By kicking upstairs to the EPA rather than having a council hearing means that it is more difficult for the community to be involved.

elton.smallman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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