31 Mar 2015

Smith still confident on RMA changes

6:11 pm on 31 March 2015

The Environment Minister Nick Smith is confident the Government will still be able to bring a revised bill to alter the Resource Management Act before Parliament this year.

Nick Smith at caucus run this morning.

Nick Smith Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Dr Smith said the New Zealand First leader Winston Peters' win in the Northland by-election meant it was "back to the drawing board" for the proposed legislation.

He said the Government will have to negotiate more with its support partners - Act, United Future and the Maori Party - in order to progress the bill.

"The signal I would give is that the by-election and the change in the numbers in parliament mean that it is going to be more difficult, that it is going to take longer.

"But I remain very committed to the reform programme and I also remain confident that we're going to be able to bring a bill to the house this year. The exact timing of that, there's more discussions that need to occur to be able to give you an exact timetable on that," he said.

The Government had already withdrawn the proposals once before because it could not get support.

Mixed support

The Maori Party said it supported 90 percent of the proposals to change the RMA, but it would not agree to anything that put the environment at risk.

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox was aware that her party was in a strong position, and had already held talks with the Environment Minister, Nick Smith.

"We were already willing and discussing what the proposed changes to the RMA might look like, and you know what, actually 90 percent of them are quite good and some of them have been strengthened, but the pivotal pieces that we won't be able to and will not support is putting the environment at risk for the sake of economic benefit to the country."

Marama Fox.

Marama Fox. Photo: SUPPLIED

United Future leader Peter Dunne said a lot of time had been wasted already.

"I accept it's frustrating for the Government but it's been frustrating for those of us that have been saying, 'look there's a broad area of agreement around process changes, why not just proceed with those and forget the area where you can't get agreement'.

"The frustration has been the wanting to adopt an all or nothing approach, which I think has just caused these delays."

Executive director of the Environment Defence Society Gary Taylor said the fact that the Government had to talk to more parties was a good thing.

"It actually makes it more likely that there will be at least bi-partisan and hopefully multi-partisan support for the changes that do go through and as a consequence the RMA will cease to become a political football and will get a bit more stability in our planning process and decision making processes."

The main bone of contention had been the changing of the sections six and seven of the act - which contained environmental bottom lines.

The former and current Environment Ministers have argued those sections had to be changed in order for the main thrust of its plans - to address housing affordability - to get through.

But the President of the Resource Management Law Association Martin Williams said that was not the case.

"The machinery's there within the act to place greater emphasis to the priorities of interest to the minister around natural hazards, the urban environment and land supply so I don't think that the sections six and seven reforms - personally, I don't think they are essential."

Mr Williams said despite that he understood why the Government wanted to amend those parts of the law.

"It's wanting to send a strong signal right at the front end of the act that the balance between environmental and economic imperatives hasn't settled in the right place to date so it is of the view that this should be made clear right at the front end of the legislation for the future.

"My point is that is that I think that that question of emphasis can be given through national policy direction and that there are provisions in the act to enable the Government to do that."

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