Many changes in the Government’s proposed reform of the Resource Management Act (RMA) could increase complexity and drive up costs to applicants and ratepayers, says Waikato Regional Council.
Making an oral submission on the Resource Management Reform Bill to Parliament’s Local Government and Environment Select Committee today, policy chair Paula Southgate said the council welcomed the intent of the reforms but cautioned that, if passed in its current form, they could lead to unnecessary confusion and cost.
“Waikato Regional Council has long called for a more streamlined, efficient and effective planning framework so we applaud the intent of the proposed reforms,” she said.
“However, we caution that the stated intent of some provisions may not be achieved as the proposed simple one-size-fits-all solutions will likely create unintended consequences, including extra costs for ratepayers and those seeking resource consents.”
The regional council said it was concerned about three areas: the proposal to restrict consenting timeframes to six months, section 32 cost benefit analyses and environmental reporting.
Cr Southgate said that in the majority of cases, the ability to extend timeframes allowed for quality decisions and better outcomes.
“The consenting timeframe changes do not appear to be based on evidence. Our council’s data clearly show that delays are generally sought by applicants, often to allow them to consult with affected or interested parties after lodging applications and then to consult with submitters after the close of submissions.
“We’re concerned that the new mandatory six-month window will strait-jacket both applicants and councils into a far more rigid timeframe which will not allow for the one thing that applicants want to achieve – a successful outcome without the expense of a hearing.”
While the council largely supports changes to the section 32 cost benefit evaluation, it is concerned that the new wording could be interpreted as negating unpriced aspects of the economy. This could mean effects on resources and the environment are not wholly considered.
“There are some things that are difficult to monetise but are of key importance environmentally and culturally. For example, it would be particularly difficult to put a dollar figure on significant taonga.”
Changes to information requirements had the potential to be positive but the way they were drafted in the Bill would see big hikes in costs because most applicants would be forced to hire professional resource management consultants to prepare their applications.
“Those with the deepest pockets might be able to meet the requirements, but the unintended consequence would mean smaller applicants are penalised,” she said.
“It’s difficult to see how the changes would reduce the cost of a resource consent application to an individual developer as the proposals are likely to at least double the current cost of this phase of an application.”