A warning that central government is hiding a power grab behind a discussion document, on improving the resource management system, was presented to Tauranga city councillors this week.
A warning was presented to Tauranga city councillors this week.
Employer and Manufacturers Association executive officer Peter Atkinson says the document proposes a system where central Government can directly alter council documents like long term plans.
“These proposals will significantly shift the balance of power between national and local governments, taking power away from local government and allowing the central government much more latitude to delve into local affairs,” says Peter.
“This is a considerable amount of power for a minister to have and the EMA is concerned over the effect such a sword of Damocles may have on council thinking around council planning processes.”
The conditions under which such powers will be exercised by the Minister for the Environment need to be clarified, says Peter.
“The discussion document almost implies that these powers will be exercised by the Minister as a matter of course, while public statements by the Minister indicate they will only be used ‘as a backstop’.
“The whole thing sounds like it has not been thought through properly.”
In its submissions to Government, the EMA is calling for clarification regarding the use of Ministerial powers, and is seeking a transparent process to be nominated for the occasions when the Minister chooses to intervene.
The discussion document presents the current Resource Management Act system as hierarchical and very decentralised. A majority of decisions are made by local government – regional councils, city and district councils and unitary authorities – that act as both a regional and district/city council. Decisions are designed to be made within a framework that flows from the national level to regional policy statements and plans, and on to district plans and rules.
At issue, is the lack of clear, up-to-date national guidance on matters of national importance which is leaving such issues to be resolved at local levels. Coupled with a highly devolved decision-making system, this has led to tension between national and local objectives and the development of inconsistent approaches across the country.
There is insufficient attention being paid to meeting future needs, as opposed to mitigating impacts. There is over-reliance on consents and Environment Court appeals in attempting to resolve fundamental tensions over resource uses/values that would be better addressed at the regional level.
New Zealand’s 78 local authorities have more than 170 resource management planning documents covering 2272 different zones, management areas or policy overlays. Scotland, with 5.2 million people, has just 37 comparable planning documents.
The sheer number of plans and the breadth of their content makes it overly complicated for New Zealanders to engage, understand and comply.
Plan-making is also expensive and time-consuming for local authorities. While plans will always require money and time to develop, under the current system it costs too much, takes too long and is unnecessarily complex.