16 Feb 2017

Opposition to powers overhauled RMA would give Smith

7:31 am on 16 February 2017

There is overwhelming opposition to the new powers the Environment Minister will receive if the government succeeds in overhauling the Resource Management Act.

The powers will allow Nick Smith to override some local council decisions, and critics fear it will pave the way for the release of genetically engineered organisms.

Caucas run.

230 people have submitted feedback on the changes to the Resource Management Act, which will give Environment Minister Nick Smith, pictured, new authorities. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

From Fonterra to iwi to environmental groups, the overwhelming majority of the 230 submitters on the government's proposed RMA changes oppose the new powers Dr Smith wants.

The select committee report makes clear the minister will be gaining new regulation-making powers to override or prohibit certain planning provisions.

Fonterra said there was no need for this additional power to reside with the minister, while others told the select committee it amounts to a Henry VIII clause - allowing Dr Smith to overrule local democracy.

Labour's environment spokesperson David Parker said it was an enormous power grab and the public would have no right to appeal the minister's decisions.

"This is like going back to the old days where central government dictated to local authorities that we should have, for example, some of the dams we have in the South Island, which were both financial and environmental disasters."

Mr Parker said the government's aim is to undo a High Court decision - which found local councils do have the right to control genetically modified organisms in their areas.

But Dr Smith has a message for those who are worried about the new powers: "I say that the Resource Management Act is causing substantive compliance costs, confusion and holding back important projects.

"Our government's objective has been very much about these RMA reforms - reducing unnecessary bureacracy, reducing duplication - these (section) 360 powers are very important to being able to achieve this objective," Dr Smith said.

The National government has struggled to gain enough political support to make its desired changes to the RMA - failing last term, before resurrecting its plan in 2014.

At the start of this month Dr Smith told Morning Report the Māori Party was now fully onboard.

"Their support is rock solid about that important bill that actually delivers very important change for New Zealand."

But yesterday Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell indicated that was not quite the case.

"Our support is rock solid in terms of trying to find a way through the issues that we have concerns about.

In the end the government needs the numbers - they need two votes and we have those two votes and we've been working constructively with them and officials to try and find a space that we're comfortable with."

"But it's the detail that we need to worry about because simple words can make a hell of a big difference to legislation."

Asked about those comments Dr Smith said,"My discussions with the Māori Party will not be through Radio New Zealand".

The RMA bill is due to be reported back to the House for its second reading next week.