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RMA not economic tool - watchdog

Friday 1 Mar 2013 10:29 a.m.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright (file)

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright (file)

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Parliament's environmental watchdog has criticised the Government's economic focus in tinkering with resource management laws, even before a major overhaul was announced this week.

The Resource Management Act (RMA) is about considering the environmental effects of development and "is not, and should not become, an economic development act", says Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright.

On Friday, she released her submission on the Government's proposed changes to the Resource Management Reform Bill, which the Government announced last year.

It proposes streamlining Auckland's first unitary plan, a six-month time limit for councils to process consents for medium-sized projects, and easier direct referral to the Environment Court for major regional projects. Councils will also have to show they have carried out a thorough cost-benefit analysis in their planning decisions.

Dr Wright was scathing of plans to increase the influence of economic concerns in the RMA process.

"There is a sense in the changes that the environment is considered the enemy of economic progress despite the fact that a large part of our economy is built on our environmental credentials.

"I am also concerned that the changes would give more influence to effects that can be easily expressed in dollar terms than to effects that cannot be so easily monetised."

The cost of creating reserves could more easily be counted than the value of the biodiversity in those reserves, she said.

"Too often what can be counted is given most weight even if it is not very important or accurate."

Dr Wright is yet to consider the effects of the Government's latest plans to give a greater role to central government in the RMA process.

Environment Minister Amy Adams on Thursday unveiled plans for sweeping law changes that will give a much greater role for central government to direct local government decision-making.


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