RMA changes a threat

'If it's not broken, it doesn't need to be fixed'

JOANNE BENNETT AND FAIRFAX
Last updated 11:13 05/06/2013
jay graybill

MORE TROUBLE: Central South Island Fish and Game chief executive Jay Graybill says changes to the Resource Management Act put already degraded South Canterbury waters, particularly lowland streams further a risk.

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The Government is proposing changes to the Resource Management Act which will smooth the path to economic growth at the expense of the environment, Central South Island Fish and Game chief executive Jay Graybill says.

"The Government hasn't been able to identify what the problem is with the current law - if it's not broken it doesn't need to be fixed," Mr Graybill said.

He said it is a matter of public concern, not just for Fish and Game.

"We're not alone in our concern. It changes the value that is placed on amenities - swimming, fishing, picnicking - which affects nearly everyone. Those amenities could be downgraded in future, and our clean waters are already degraded, particularly around lowland streams."

"The RMA has been in place since 1991, so we have 20 years of experience and case law in the Environment Court. If the changes go ahead, the case law records to help judge future actions will be redundant, and we'll basically have to start over," he said.

Fish and Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said small streams won't be protected because they are not "significant" enough to be considered.

The changes would "effectively allow small streams to be turned into farm drains".

He said the focus is on part two of the act, which is a "critically important foundation principle of sustainable management."

The Government's aim is to improve the country's resource management system by setting clearer national direction, establishing local resource management plans to replace the current range of planning documents, simpler, faster and fewer resource consents, and comprehensive management of natural hazards in planning and consenting.

However, opponents fear more shortcuts and less protection, limiting the public's ability to take part in resource management.

Former Labour prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer said, if passed, the changes will seriously harm the RMA's ability to protect New Zealand's natural environment.

Sir Geoffrey, who spearheaded the RMA, said the Government's reforms were an "alarming attack on the nation's recreational and environmental values."

Mr Johnson said it is "unnecessary meddling" and that it had been a "woefully inadequate" public consultation and submission period.

Mr Johnson said now was the time for people to act.

"We need to to get involved in the formative stages, before the bill stage," he said.

He said National has timed the contentious issue to not coincide with election year.

Fish and Game supported moves to shorten timeframes, improve planning processes and simplify planning documents, but it was totally unacceptable that National is using this as an excuse to attack the core principles of the act, effectively lowering environmental standards.

Opihi Catchment and Environment Protection Society (OCEPS) chairman Ray Brokenshire also urged people to make their feelings heard.

Rangitata MP Jo Goodhew said the Government's proposals are consistent with, and based on, the Land and Water Forum's recommended approach - to develop a shared vision and a common way forward among all those with an interest in water, through a stakeholder-led collaborative process.

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"A key element of the proposals is the introduction of a national objectives framework. Among other things, this would mean the Government would require, for the first time, New Zealand waterways, including those in South Canterbury, to meet a national bottom line to ensure they are a healthy place for fish and plant life, and that they are safe for recreational activities," Mrs Goodhew said

"Overall water quality in a region, for example South Canterbury, would need to be maintained or improved.

"If freshwater is already above these bottom lines, it cannot be allowed to deteriorate," she said.

Conservation Minister and Nelson MP Nick Smith said Fish and Game's claims were utter nonsense.

He said if Fish and Game placed the importance of trout and salmon ahead of people, then it had "completely lost perspective of what was important".

Dr Smith said changes to part two were based on technical advice from reputable planners and councillors. The most important clause in the RMA was section five, which would not change.

"Changes to part two give greater recognition to the rights of property owners to reasonably use their land.

"The nonsense in Nelson city over the micro-management of people's homes and where they can have a window or where they can site their house on a section is a very good example of why it needs to change," Dr Smith said.

SOUTH CANTERBURY HERALD

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