The West Coast Regional Council says proposed new laws to replace the Resource Management Act (RMA) will erode local democracy and demote the Treaty of Waitangi.
The council has strongly criticised aspects of the first of three new statutes set to reform resource management in New Zealand: the Natural and Built Environments Act.
In its submission on the ‘exposure’ draft of the bill, the council says ratepayers are likely to pay heavily for the cost of change.
The draft proposes that the Minister for the Environment – rather than local councils – will set environmental limits for each region, applying a precautionary approach.
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A planning committee will be appointed – rather than elected – for each region to draw up the relevant plans, made up of one person from each local authority, manawhenua and the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Decision-makers would have to “give effect to” the principles of the treaty, rather than just take them into account, as the RMA requires.
The council says the draft undermines good local governance.
“The proposed planning committee is undemocratic, and … manifests a conflict of interest.
“At present, council staff draft plans; the hearings chair is independent, and elected local councillors scrutinise process, set policy and make regulatory decisions.
Instead, the proposed planning committee would be making judicial decisions on the legal and policy framework, plans and their implementation.
“The entire structure erodes the … separation of powers, whereby those who make the law do not rule on it,” the West Coast council says.
It also objects to the appointment of a DOC representative on the all-powerful planning committee, and the risk of imposing universal environmental limits.
“Displacing one weka on the West Coast will not have a severe environmental impact, but it could have different impacts up in, for example, Hamilton.”
Matauranga Māori should be used to set such appropriate limits in each region, the council suggests.
The terminology in the draft is also vague and defective, it says.
“What do terms like ‘protect, restore and improve’ mean when large areas of the natural environment on the West Coast are already pristine?”
The council supports the Government’s intent to improve recognition of Māori and the Treaty of Waitangi in resource management.
But it says the bill has effectively ‘demoted’ the treaty by giving it a stand-alone clause and excluding it from mention in the bill’s fundamental purpose and principles.
Regional council chairman Allan Birchfield said the current bill took power away from local communities and handed it to the Government.
“We’re getting more like North Korea every day – with centralised control of everything. There will be little left for elected local bodies to do, the way it’s going.
“Wellington will call the shots, and we are expected to rubber-stamp everything and charge our ratepayers more for the privilege.”
The Natural and Built Environments Act along with a new Strategic Planning Act are both expected to be introduced to Parliament early next year and passed before the end of the parliamentary term.