Palmer warns of Resource Mgmt Act fiddling

  • 04/11/2015
Sir Geoffrey Palmer (File)
Sir Geoffrey Palmer (File)

The architect of the country's environmental protection rules admits some need fixing, but through better plans and processes rather than altering environmental bottom lines.

In a speech to the Local Government environmental compliance conference this week, Sir Geoffrey Palmer says there is no case for weakening the Resource Management Act's protections.

Since it was introduced in 1991 many aspects of New Zealand's environment had deteriorated, he said.

Much the difficulty also stemmed from changes. Twenty-four years ago, the Act comprised 382 pages. In 2014 it had 827 pages but this year that was pared back to 682 pages.

The New Zealand approach appeared to be to keep changing the law without analysing if it was working or not, he said.

"Far too many of the changes to the RMA have been driven by anecdote, prejudice and interest rather than evidence."

The Act had also struggled because successive governments had failed to provide national policy statements and national environmental standards, which it was designed to incorporate.

Sir Geoffrey also said over the years ministers had increasing ability to interfere with the RMA, such as fast-tracking applications to boards of inquiry.

He was also highly critical of regional councils - which have a regulatory role - getting involved in irrigation projects.

"When a regional council itself becomes a developer, as happened in the Ruataniwha dam saga in the Hawke's Bay, this appears to raise serious conflict of interest problems that ought not to be tolerated."

Those apparent conflicts of interest and the government's policy of intensifying agriculture raised issues that needed attention, he said.

The government has been trying to again change the RMA but has been held up by a lack of backing from its support parties and concerns an increased weighting to economic development will put the environment at risk.

In September, Prime Minister John Key said changes would be introduce to parliament "relatively soon".