Should RMA consider management of natural hazards?


An independent report, commissioned after the Canterbury earthquakes,  recommends changes to the Resource management Act to take account of natural hazards and urban infrastructure development.

The risk of liquefaction wasn’t taken into account in granting consent for subdivisions because the RMA doesn’t require natural hazards to be considered.

Its priorities are preserving natural character, landscape, flora and fauna, public access, cultural values and heritage.

The report proposes changes to that, about which Environment Minister Amy Adams says:

The report proposes that changes be made to the principles in sections 6 and 7 of the RMA to bring managing natural hazards and urban and infrastructure into the list of things that should be considered when Councils grant resource consents.

It also says that none of these matters should be more important than another, and proposes changes to the structure of the RMA to make this clearer.

Most lay people hadn’t heard of liquefaction and wouldn’t have been particularly concerned about it before the earthquakes. But now we’ve seen its impacts it is not hard to make a case for including the risk of natural hazards in the RMA.

“A key consideration for the Government in thinking about any changes to the resource management system is to achieve enduring outcomes while reducing the time, costs and uncertainties involved in the process.”

The RMA isn’t working as well as it should and could. All these factors must be considered in improvements to it.

Further streamlining for RMA


National has announced plans for further  and much-needed improvements to the Resource Management Act.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said the first round of reforms are working well and the focus now is on getting better performance for medium-sized notified applications by requiring that decisions be made within six months.

“It is unacceptable that many of the 1800 notified consents covering new factories, commercial buildings, subdivisions and regional infrastructure take much longer than a year to resolve.  These delays cost jobs, impose significant holding costs and cause frustration for all concerned.  It is nonsensical that projects take longer to consent than they actually take to build.”

Entrepreneurs and business people know that time is money, too many council staff involved in the processing of consents don’t appear to understand that.

The Prime Minister and Dr Smith announced National’s Resource Management policy at the site of a $15 million new four-level building by Major Property Tauranga Ltd that took nearly two years to get a resource consent.  The project is now going ahead with the first tower cranes in Tauranga in five years.

“Our concern is not the final decisions from the RMA but the time it takes for a decision to be made.  We can’t have bureaucratic processes holding up these sorts of developments when we have the building industry holding out for more work,” Dr Smith said.

“Our next phase of reforms will also address problems identified from the Christchurch earthquakes over natural hazard management.  It is unsatisfactory that new subdivisions were approved in Christchurch without any consideration of known liquefaction risks.  A new requirement will be for councils to consider natural hazard risks like earthquakes.

“We also want to simplify the plan making process as it is too slow and cumbersome.  Auckland
will not prosper if, as predicted under the current Act, it takes 15 years to complete a new Unitary Resource Management Plan for the city.  . . .”

Planned changes include simplifying the planning processes of the Resource Management, Land Transport and Local Government Acts as well as tighter timeframes for plan making.

“Our  plans for a second substantive phase of changes to the Resource Management Act  contrast with Labour who has no ideas for reform and accepts the status quo as acceptable.  New Zealand
cannot afford to ignore the real problems the RMA causes for those wanting to  invest and create jobs.”

The Resource Management is  generally good in theory but it can lead to prolonged and unnecessary delays in practice.

The implementation of these improvements would reduce the time and money wasted as applications wend their way through the consent process.

Simplifying and speeding up the planning and consent process will contribute to productivity which is one of the ingredients in improving economic growth.

Consent cost kills cubicle dairy application


The news that the companies applying for resource consents for large cubicle dairying operations in the Mackenzie basin have withdrawn their applications will be welcomed by the many people who were horrified by the idea.

A lot of the reaction was based on emotion rather than fact and included concerns over animal welfare which have nothing to do with resource consent.

I had mixed views on the application – some of it emotive – so I’m not altogether unhappy that the applications have been withdrawn, at least for now.

But what does concern me is that the reason for the applicants aren’t going ahead with their plans is the cost of going through the consent process.

It was the “extraordinary cost of the call-in process, combined with the premature consideration of effluent consents without certainty of gaining water” that led to the decision to withdraw effluent applications, Southdown Holdings director Richard Peacocke said.

This doesn’t mean the companies won’t reapply later. Environment Canterbury is considering their applications for water and if they are granted the applications for effluent discharges could be lodged again. But that will still be an expensive process.

Any development has to meet the requirements of the RMA but applying for consent shouldn’t be so costly ideas die on the drawing board for financial rather than environmental reasons.

Consent delays could cost councils


The government is following through it’s promise to streamline the RMA with a proposal for efficiency incentives on the processing of consent applications.

In announcing the plan, Environment Minister Nick Smith said:

“Last year’s report on resource consent processing identified that 31% of resource consents were processed late and another 28% involved an extension of time,” Dr Smith said. “The report also identified that this problem had got progressively worse over the last decade.

“This new policy of a financial penalty on councils for late consent processing is designed to reverse this trend and get councils focused on providing a timely service.”

The discount regulations suggested approach is that councils must provide a discount of 25% for a consent one week late, with an additional 5% per week up to a maximum of 80%. The regulations also set out procedures for determining fault, and definitions to ensure the incentives are workable.

“It has long been councils’ policy that a penalty is loaded on ratepayers for failing to pay rates on time. If it’s good enough for the goose; it’s good enough for the gander. This new policy applies the same principle where the council fails to meet statutory timeframes.

“These regulations will set the minimum discount for lateness but councils will have the option of developing their own tougher regime if they wish. For instance, some councils already offer a free consent if late (i.e. a 100% discount) and will be able to continue to do so.

“This new policy is about recognising that time is money. New Zealand’s economic recovery cannot be held back by inefficient and costly red tape.

It would be difficult to quantify the cost of prolonging the resource consent process. But most applicants complain about the time taken to process applications and comment that a private business wouldn’t survive if they worked so slowly. One of the reasons for that is that private businesses are very aware of the cost of delays.

Incentivising efficiency, or disincentivising delay, will ensure that councils and their staff also understand the dollar value of delay.

It’s a policy that could well be applied to some central government agencies and their processes too.

More information on the proposal is available at the Environment Ministry.

Whose trees are they?


Concern is mounting over changes planned in the Resource Management Act which would allow people to chop down trees on their own property without seeking permission.

Yes, you read that right. People who own trees will be able to chop them down without resource consent unless it is listed in a council’s district plan.

Councils are concerned that this will mean pockets of bush and coastal pohutukawas will be able to be cleared unless they are protected.

The Resource Management (Simplification and Streamlining) Amendment Bill, which contains more than 100 changes aimed at reducing cost and delays, allows group of trees to be listed in district plan schedules, but does not say what constitutes a group.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Nick Smith said the changes were intended to make councils focus on which trees needed protection.

It would be up to councils to prove that larger groups needed protection.

Surely that’s an improvement. Isn’t it better and less expensive, for councils to specify which trees, or groups, need to be protected than to require every individual property owner to go through the resource consent process every time they want to cut down a tree?

The change in law may even encourage people to plant more trees, in particular natives. Stephen Franks points out that the current law discourages this.

Most tree control provisions in local planning schemes effectively nationalise the tree and the land on which it grows a few years after planting, when it reaches a size that other people might enjoy.  Without compensation you lose control of the tree and the land on which it grows, for the benefit of people who like to look at it.

The result? Wise folklore that says “don’t plant trees”. Certainly don’t let anything grow to the expropriation point.

Trees are living things, they grow and sometimes they grow too big for their site.

I’m looking at a flowering cherry outside my office window. It’s almost in full bloom and looking gorgeous but its roots are cracking a nearby path, its shading other plants and we’re going to chop it down. We planted it in the wrong place. We’ll plant another one in another place where it won’t matter how big it gets, but we have a country garden which enables us to do that.

People in town don’t have that luxury and when they find the 100 acre tree they, or people who owned the property before them, planted gets too big for their quarter acre – or smaller -section they should be able to chop it down.

Trees are beautiful, they attract birds and provide shade and shelter. But a tree which grows too big for its site becomes a nuisance. They get in the way of overhead lines,  provide too much shade, get in the way of paths and driveways, and might even become dangerous.

Property owners should have the right to deal with a nuisance on their own land without the hassle of going through the consent process unless there is a very, very good reason for requiring them to do so.

They should also have the comfort of knowing that planting trees on their own property doesn’t automatically turn it in to a reserve.

Planting trees should be encouraged not disencentivised by effectively nationalising them and the land on which they grow. The ammendment to the RMA should do this.

Rating the Councils


The Ministry for the Environment’s two yearly Resource Management Act survey of local authorities showed a big difference in performance among councils.

In 2007/8: 

  • 51,960 resource consent applications were processed through to a decision.
  • 0.74 per cent (385) of resource consent applications were declined.
  • 4.7 per cent (2409) of resource consent applications were publicly notified.
  • 1.9 per cent (975) of resource consent applications were notified to affected parties only (limited notification).
  • 69 per cent of resource consent applications were processed on time.

The councils which were best at processing consents on time were:

Stratford District Council processed 97 applications and 100% were processed on time.

Buller District Council 130 – 100%

Taranaki Regional Council 401 – 100%

Matamata Piako District Council 281 – 99%

Waitaki District Council 157 – 99%

Kapiti District Council 317 – 99%

Western Bay of Plenty District Council 431 – 99%

Northland Regional Council 904 – 99%

Wellington Regional Council 703 – 99%

The worst performing were:

Environment Canterbury which processed 3,374 applications and managed only 29% on time.

Westland District Council 183 – 30%

Far North District Council 609 – 37%

Waimate District Council 70 – 41%

Carterton District Council 106 – 42%

Auckland City Council  5,434 – 45%

Whakatane District Council 287 – 45%

Gisborne District Council 525 – 50%

The Waitaki District lies within the boundaries of two regional councils – Environment Canterbury and the Otago Regional Council.

Anecdotal evidence which points to major frustrations with Canterbury and fewer problems with Otago is supported by this report. Environment Canterbury was the worst in the country at processing consents  on time and Otago which processed 734 managed to do 67% on time.

The table with results for all councils is at the link above.

The full report is here.

RMA needs change in law and practice


Solving problems with the Resource Management Act require changes in both law and practice, Environment Minister Nick Smith said.

He was commenting on the release of the two-yearly report on local authorities’ administration of the RMA.

“This report tells a sorry story of delay, frustration and unnecessary costs for more than 16,000 homeowners, businesses and farmers whose consents last year were not processed within the legal timeframes,” Dr Smith said.

“This problem has been ignored and got progressively worse over the past decade increasing from 18% to 31%, despite a nine-fold increase from 3% to 28% in consents where Councils granted themselves a 20-day extension.”

It’s not just a problem of  direct costs to applicants and ratepayers, it’s the indirect costs to the country because these delays hamper economic growth.

The Resource Management Reform Bill aims to simplify the consent process and give councils incentives to improve the time it takes to deal with applications.

“The wide variation in the performance of Councils shows that practice can be substantially improved. Eight councils who are breaching the law more often than they are complying are receiving a letter from me seeking improvements. I have also written to the 25 councils with 90% or better compliance commending them on their performance.

“I also want to commend Councils for the improvement in the proportion of consents being monitored – that is up to 79%, and for the 84% level of compliance with consent conditions which is a record high.

“The efficient processing of resource consents is critical to lifting productivity and the creation of new jobs. This report is a wake-up call that significant improvement is required.”

The basic premise and aims of the RMA are good, but changes in some of its clauses and improved performance by under-performing councils is essential to improve productivity while safeguarding the environment.

RMA changes improve process still protect environment


There are sound economic, environmental and social reasons for protecting and enhancing our air, soil and water which is why the general thrust of the Resource Management Act – the sustainable development of physical resources –  is good.

However, worthy though the intentions of the RMA are it’s implementation leaves more than a little to be desired so National’s plan to streamline it are welcome.

The changes are to be announced today and the NBR reports they’ll include:

* Major projects to be considered by a board of inquiry headed by an Environment Court judge or a retired judge replacing two hearings – at local body then Environment Court level. There would be limited appeal rights.

* Measures to crack down on vexatious or frivolous objections and attempts to misuse the process to get delays.

* Changes to allow local councils change plans faster and remove the requirement that those making submissions on proposed changes had to be given the opportunity to comment on other submissions.

* Tougher fines for major breaches up from the current maximum of $200,000.

I don’t think any of these will threaten our air, soil and water quality but they should reduce the time and costs involved in applying for consent.

We had a very expensive experience  with a vexatious objection when we applied for consent to take water fromt he Kakanui River.

But a two year delay, $20,000 in direct costs and more in lost income when we had to dry cows off early because we ran out of irrigation water part way through the season was minor compared with what many other applicants go through as an NBR opnion piece by Hamish Firth on the good, the bad and the costly  illustrates.

Contact’s eyeing the Clutha


Contact Energy is investigating more dams on the Clutha River.

Contact Energy’s Wellington-based communications manager Jonathan Hill said the power company was “taking a close look again” at old proposals which had been on the back burner, such as those involving sites at Beaumont, Luggate and Queensberry.

… Mr Hill said Contact did not have any firm plans in place and was simply looking at all of its options.

“However, we have a clear preference that any new hydro developments should be on rivers that already have hydro schemes on them, to avoid altering virgin rivers.”

Beaumont, Luggate and Queensberry on the Clutha River had all been proposed as possible sites.

Mr Hill said they were the only river schemes that Contact was actively looking at as the plans had already been drawn up by the previous owner, ECNZ.

“I think its a very important point to make that if we do identify a project that we would like to advance, the first steps will be to discuss it with local communities.

“The role of new, large-scale hydro projects will be particularly important in an environment in which there is growing concern around climate change and sustainability and in which traditional thermal fuels such as gas are becoming increasingly expensive,” he added.

The increase in thermal generation has been a major contributor to the increase in our carbon emissions. But the difficulty of getting through the Resource Management Act makes the development of new wind and hydro generation a long, involved and expensive process.

The Environment Court appeal against Meridian Energy’s  application consent for its Project Hayes windfarm in the Lammermoor Range has been adjourned until January.

Its Project Aqua on the south of the Waitaki River never got to the consent stage but the company is now looking at a scheme on the north bank.

This winter’s power crisis was avoided by conservation measures and timely rainfalls, but at great cost to businesses and the economy.

Conservation measures can only do so much, if we want to be a first world country with a first world economy so we can afford first world social and environmental initiatives, we need first world power supplies and that means more generation.

If the past is any guide there will be fierce oppostion to more dams on the Clutha. But if we have to reduce carbon emissions and nuclear generation is neither popular nor practical then we have to accept more wind and/or hydro schemes.

Consent Appeal Off Track


While debate rages over KiwiRail nationwide, North Otago has a local argument over whether a disused line should be re-opened to allow trains to run at all.

A branch line used to run from the limeworks on the outskirts of Weston to Oamaru. It was closed in 1997 and the lines were lifted a couple of years later but its owner, then NZ Railways, retained ownership in case it was needed for a cement plant.

However, when the Waitaki district plan was reviewed in 1993 the designation wasn’t properly recorded. OnTrack now needs it redesignated because it’s the best means of transport for Holcim NZ  if its plans for a new cement plant in the Waiareka Valley come to fruition.

The new plant would be a $400m investment for Holcim but its plans have not been greeted with universal enthusiasm and the Waiareka Valley Preservation Society  was set up to oppose the proposal.

Resource consent was granted in February but both Holcim and the WVPS have lodged appeals – the former over some of the conditions, that latter over the approval.

OnTrack’s application to redesignate the line came in the middle of all this and the WVPS submitted against it. Independent commissioner Allan Cubitt recommended that approval be given and because OnTrack is a requiring authority under the Resource Management Act it makes the final decision. Not surprisingly it accepted the commissioner’s recommendation but now the WVPS, which submitted against the application, is appealing that consent too. Their appeal will be considered with the others on Holcim’s proposal in the Environment Court.

We farm next to the site for Holcim’s plant and another of our properties neighbours the company’s sand pit, which will be used if the cement works go ahead. 

I submitted in support of Holcim’s proposal at the resource consent hearings. I’ll cover the details in a future blog, but the short argument is that there would be substantial economic and social benefits for the district if the cement works go ahead; and RMA conditions will safeguard the environment.

As for the railway line, I crossed it several times a week when it was open before and can’t recall any problems then. People who have built beside the rail corridor since the track closed will have concerns; but once they get used to them they’ll hardly notice a few trains a day – and they will not run at night.

I think the WVPS objections have more to do with the society’s opposition to Holcim than the reopening of the railway line. And that’s one of the frustrations with the RMA – it allows people objecting to one thing to object to another in the hope of stopping the first.

Feds Chief Not Out To Win Friends


When I was a child, every meal began with grace. I suspect relatively few families do that now and even if they did I don’t think they’d be taking any notice of Federated Farmers out-going President  Charlie Pederson:

“Folks in the city need us more than they know,” he told the federation’s annual conference in Christchurch today.

“Three times a day as they sit down for a meal every New Zealander should say “thank God for the producers”.

And he suggested than when people sat down after a meal, in front of their large flat screen TV, they should also thank God for exporters “because without them this proud little nation would be the largest third world country in the South Pacific”.

He’s right about the importance of producers and exporters but this isn’t the way to get support from those who fail to appreciate that.

Mr Pedersen, a dairy farmer, railed against the “cruelty” of Resource Management Act, which regulates environmental standards for use of land, air and water.

The RMA needs some attention – but it’s not because it regulates air, soil and water, it’s the way it does it which is the problem.

“Food producers are on the brink of feeling unloved and unwanted in this country,” he said, speaking in the wake of complaints that the nation’s 10,000 dairy farmers are being attacked for their intensive style of agriculture.

And public comments like his introductory ones are part of the reason for this.

Mr Pedersen said today there were untruthful people who would brand farmers as “profit-driven people, unconcerned about our environmental footprint”.

“Much of the contempt we face as food producers is falsely based,” he said. He particularly criticised the “hypocrisy” of consumers living in unsustainable cities who demanded farmers accept responsibility for the environmental effects of production.

He’s right that much of the criticism is not based on fact and there is an element of both ignorance and hypocricy from critics. We have only one world, we all need to look after it and it’s best to address the logs in our own eyes before worrying about the specks in other people’s.

Another approach would be for consumers to share the cost of Kyoto and a better environment by paying an extra tax on all food.

“The proceeds of this tax could be used to help New Zealand food producers to buy carbon credits and compensate for property loss under the RMA,” suggested Mr Pedersen.

“Such a tax would have the double benefit of keeping New Zealand food producers viable and still producing in New Zealand, and allowing all New Zealanders to share the responsibility”.

No thanks – we’ve already got too many taxes and compliance costs and a subsidy by any other name is still a really bad idea.

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