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Resource voice may be lost

The government says two new resource planning acts that passed into law earlier this month will cut red tape and better protect the environment, but councils are concerned about maintaining a local voice in decision-making.

The Spatial Planning and the Natural and Built Environments Acts, which weigh in at a combined 895 pages of legislation, will replace the 897-page Resource Management Act 1991 [RMA].

The two acts will govern how buildings, roads, and other infrastructure are consented and built.

They will govern how people and structures interact with the natural environment and, in some places, detail how damaged environments will be restored.

Environment Minister David Parker said the reforms will lower costs, shorten approval times, remove red tape, and improve environmental outcomes.

Parker said the RMA failed to deal with cumulative effects, including degrading water quality and increasing climate emissions.

He also said council consenting fees and wait times have increased dramatically in the past five years.

The more than 100 local plans under the RMA will be condensed into 16 regional programmes.

Under the RMA, Wairarapa’s three districts have been governed by the Wairarapa Combined District Plan, which is due to expire in ten years.

Once that expires, Wairarapa’s districts will join the Wellington regional plan.

Carterton District Council [CDC] chief executive Geoff Hamilton said he is concerned about the role small communities like Carterton will play in regional planning committees.

“With CDC having only one seat on the committee, the voices of communities like Carterton will get lost. This is something we’re working through with the government,” Hamilton said.

One red tape problem with the old RMA is that any affected party could appeal decisions, he noted.

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] planning manager Russell O’Leary and Masterton District Council [MDC] regulation manager Steven May both said they are still considering how the changes will affect council services.

Both said they expect to receive further information in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, council advocacy organisation Local Government New Zealand [LGNZ] is taking a cautious approach to the new laws.

LGNZ policy and advocacy director Grace Hall said regional plans will better align the efforts of councils with central government to support community wellbeing and growth.

However, Hall shares Hamilton’s concern that local voices could be diminished.

“The reform’s reshaping of local government’s roles and responsibilities in decision-making is likely to sideline the distinct local voices of each New Zealand town, city, and region in decisions about their unique places,” Hall said.

The reforms were wide-ranging and poorly understood by the public, she noted.

“For months, we’ve advocated for transparent communication from the Government regarding the reform’s implications.”

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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