Advocating for stronger direction on environmental protection and local voice

Changes are needed to draft legislation to replace the Resource Management Act to deliver better environmental protection and empower local voice.

That’s the underlying theme of our submission on the Natural and Built Environments Bill and the Spatial Planning Bill.

The Government released both bills for public feedback at the end of last year.

“We don’t dispute the need for change. In fact, like many others, we think the current system is overdue for reform because it isn’t delivering better environmental outcomes. It has also led to confusion and costly processes,” says Chair Peter Scott.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape how our towns, cities, rural and natural environments adapt to current and future challenges. But we have serious concerns about the direction and detail of what has been developed. It needs work if it’s going to balance the tension between development and environmental protection.”

We're well placed to help shape new regime

We operate at the coalface of delivery and Chair Scott says its submission on the bills draws heavily on three decades of experience developing and implementing policy.

“Our council administers the largest region in the country by area. Over time we’ve demonstrated our ability to innovate – for example, on freshwater policy and implementation including developing a tough but implementable planning framework through community collaboration and introducing Good Management Practice and Farm Environment Plans with industry.

“We’re also delivering on our Treaty obligations by developing our partnership with mana whenua, including successfully seeking a law change to enable Ngāi Tahu councillors to contribute as voting members of the Council.”

Key points in our submission

  • Local and representative voice: It is critical that any new system includes effective mana whenua, regional and local representation, so that local people get a say in local matters. A lack of appropriate mana whenua and regional council representation could result in poor environmental outcomes.
  • Limits, targets and exemptions: As a regulator, we are responsible for consenting, monitoring and enforcement. We feel there should be tighter controls on exemptions. The way the framework is set out in the Natural and Built Environment Bill could lead to further environmental degradation and harm.
  • Te Tiriti: We strongly support strengthened recognition of te Tiriti and ask that provision is made to uphold governance arrangements such as those enabled by the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Act 2022.
  • Links to other reforms: The bills do not make clear what the connection is between the various Government reforms and how they relate to each other. This should be made clear; in particular, stronger direction and connection is needed between the bills and climate change legislation.
  • Funding: Where iwi, hapū and councils are legislated additional responsibilities, there should be appropriate funding.
  • Consents expiry dates: Blanket expiration dates for consents would add further cost and delays for no environmental benefit. It also fails to recognise work undertaken by us and its communities in setting environmental limits and establishing freshwater planning frameworks for catchments in the region.

Our submission (PDF file, 1.02MB) was lodged with the Environment Committee on 26 January. It will be presented at the 15 February Council meeting.