Archive | Ministry for the Environment

Marian Hobbs planning to be re-elected

Published: 2 August 2005

Environment Minister Marian Hobbs said on Monday “the Government is planning a range of national policy statements on electricity & telecommunications infrastructure, as well as new national standards for environmental health.”

6 weeks from an election and with no certainty as to who will form the next government, she might have been better to say Labour is proposing these things. But in fact the proposals are under way – major policy positions being put in place over the election period (though started earlier) which, you might have thought, is a bad time for civil servants to be putting party-directed policy in place.

Ms Hobbs said the Ministry for the Environment was developing the range of national policy statements & environmental standards in collaboration with other government departments, stakeholders & local government to ensure greater consistency of decision making throughout the country under the Resource Management Act. The proposed package of standards follows the introduction of 14 standards for air quality & toxic materials last year, the first in 13 years under the act.

“National policy statements & national standards are provided for under the RMA, but these powers haven’t been used until relatively recently. The review of the act has highlighted the need for the Government to look at a range of topics and provide help to councils making difficult decisions on projects that affect the whole country.

“National policy on contentious topics such as electricity generation should help to set a standard for construction & operation. Central government will work with local government to make workable standards,” Ms Hobbs said.

She said the range of topics to be looked at over the coming year could include electricity generation, electricity transmission, telecommunication facilities, land transport noise and the protection of rare & depleted indigenous vegetation. “The Government’s sustainable water programme of action could also lead to other standards being considered. One of the issues to be considered is whether to use policy statements or environmental standards, or even both for some of these topics.

“We will be releasing drafts progressively for discussion this year & next year, and the public will have the opportunity to have their say before we decide if they will become law.

“Land contamination is one standard being considered. While no one argues that we shouldn’t repair contaminated land, we need a national approach on what exactly ‘uncontaminated’ means. Work is also well under way to develop a standard that will give councils the ability to ensure that water entering a public water treatment plant from a catchment area is safe enough to be treated by that plant.

“The ministry has been working with local government, the Ministry of Health & technical experts to develop a proposed human drinking water source standard and will soon be going out to the wider public for their views.”

The Ministry for the Environment is also working with water & waste experts to develop a standard for biosolids, such as treated sewage sludge used as soil conditioners.

National environmental standards & policy statements are included in the ministry’s national Talk Environment Roadshow, scheduled for October.

If you want to comment on this story, write to the BD Central Discussion forum or send an email to [email protected].

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Survey on RMA processing takes year to produce

RMA handling mostly good, but when it’s bad…

The mixed result in the annual survey by the Ministry for the Environment of councils’ handling of Resource Management Act processes shows they have a long way to go before their overall performance can be considered remotely satisfactory.

The minister, Marian Hobbs, said yesterday there were improvements, but on one issue very close to the hearts of people trying to get projects through the consent process — time — you would have to raise a serious questionmark. For this survey, the fourth, is for the year to the end of June — 1999.

For the first time all 86 local bodies responded to the questionnaire, making the survey the most thorough so far. Some of the highlights, in the minister’s eyes:

82% of resource consents were processed within statutory time limits (up from 78% and 76% in the preceding two years).

40% of resource consent appeals to the Environment Court were upheld in their entirety and 42% were upheld, but with some conditions changed. Said Ms Hobbs: “This indicates that local authority decisions on resource consents are generally of a high standard.”

The survey showed only 55% of all publicly notified resource consent applications were processed within statutory time limits, down from 64% the year before.

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Hobbs sets strategic environmental direction shift

Environment Minister wants to favour clean, green business

Environment Minister Marian Hobbs said today she wanted to tilt the playing field in favour of environmentally friendly economic growth.

“The previous government had a ‘level playing field’ approach, whereas I am looking to tip the playing field in favour of clean, green business.

“I am also saying that we need to move beyond the ‘end of the pipe’ mentality to policies that decouple environmental damage from economic growth. That is, we need to move to smart growth; where we grow without the environmental damage.

“What do I mean by ‘end-of-pipe?’ At the moment we look at the effects of the discharge instead of examining whether we should have the discharge itself. Instead of just building secure landfills let’s also focus on reducing waste at source.”

“State of the environment” address

Ms Hobbs was giving her second “State of the nation’s environment” address, at a conference at Te Papa.

“In my view there is huge potential in promoting innovation and seeking economic growth that is environmentally sound and creates jobs.

“New Zealanders’ future prosperity is about smart growth, based on innovation and knowledge, and using and sustaining our natural assets. New Zealanders’ future health depends on safe water supplies, breathable air and strict controls on hazardous substances and organisms.

“The smart people we want to retain and attract want to live in a clean, green country. Investment in environment is therefore a strategic investment in our prosperity.”

Streamlining rules at end of list

Sixth on her list of six broad objectives to make the vision a reality was one to streamline rules and regulations, but without compromising the previous five.

She said the previous government’s approach was very much hands-off. “My approach is partnership underpinned by strong government leadership. It is not a return to centralisation.”

Ms Hobbs said she had asked the ministry to review four strategic areas over the next year:

Performance and monitoring : “I want to know how we monitor environmental results and performance of local and central government agencies, with the aim of providing incentives to councils and other agencies to meet the Government’s overall environmental objectives.”

Community action: “I will review how we promote environmental awareness and action in the community; so we can set up new long-term communication and education programmes.”

Business innovation and bio-economy: “I will create new approaches to business environmental innovation and seek alliances with key sectors who are willing to embrace a sustainable development; (ie the dairy industry).”

Environmental legislation and institutions: “I want better integrated waste and hazardous substances management under the Resource Management Act and Hazardous Substances & New Organisms Act (and I am willing to go ‘up the pipe’ to achieve this rather than stick slavishly to environmental effects); reduced litigation and alternative dispute resolution; new mechanisms for promoting national policy, consistency and standards; and alternative institutional models that will improve capacity and leadership at the national level.”In conclusion, I am signalling a strategic shift in direction. This means recognising the gap between the clean green image and reality.

“This means seeing environment as an economic opportunity not just a cost.”

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Hobbs says biodiversity statement has to be workable or it’s no good

National policy statement on indigenous biodiversity should be notified at end of year

Environment Minister Marian Hobbs has been mocked aplenty for her foot-in-mouth propensity. But in an address to the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society in Christchurch on 15 June, she advocated clear and simple language for a proposed national policy statement on indigenous biodiversity.

Among the essential ingredients she highlighted:

“First, the policy has to mean something. There is no point writing a national policy statement that is so woolly that nobody has any idea what to do with it.

“By definition, national policy statements are at the top of a hierarchy of policy documents prepared by central and local government under the Resource Management Act. The words have to be clear and direct and strong.

“Second, it has be flexible enough to allow councils some discretion on how best to achieve good biodiversity outcomes. Having a strong policy statement should not translate into prescription. I believe the national policy statement must give local authorities the power to decide how they will achieve the policies in the statement.”I expect that a range of methods would be considered by decisionmakers to achieve the provisions of the statement. These would probably include incentives, voluntary mechanisms, education, rules, the preparation of strategies and active management.

“Now I know that some of you hold strongly to the view that the national policy statement should make councils put in place rules protecting biodiversity. I fully expect that rules will be an important part of any council response. But I do not accept that central government is better placed than local councils to determine the most appropriate responses to local situations.

“Having a blanket requirement for rules removes any discretion or incentive for a council to develop its own solutions suited to its own biodiversity and its own community.

“There is also a risk associated with regulation if it provokes resistance and undermines goodwill from those who are prepared to change their behaviours voluntarily. Whether the risk is worth taking requires an assessment of likely acceptability and enforceability.”

Ms Hobbs said the policy statement should be notified around the end of this year and a board of inquiry would hear submissions.

More of Hobbs on the environment:

Hobbs details objectives on sustainable management
Hobbs sets strategic environmental direction shift

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Hobbs details objectives on sustainable management

Minister sets strategy for change

Environment Minister Marian Hobbs promoted her views on environmental change — Rio+10, the Resource Management Act and amendment bill, and the Environment Court — strongly in Christchurch this week at separate meetings.

One was a combined meeting of the Planning Institute’s and Resource Management Law Association’s Canterbury branches, and the other was to the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society.

This article runs extensively through her address to the planners and lawyers. It deals with her six broad objectives on sustainable management, four key areas she wants the Ministry for the Environment to focus on, resource management litigation, work being done on compliance and its costs, resourcing of the Environment Court, and changes which will arise from the Resource Management Act amendment bill.

“In my experience it is easy for those working with the act on a daily basis to get very concerned about timeframes and the latest court decision, while almost losing sight of why we have the act in the first place.

“We pride ourselves on our ‘clean green 100% pure’ image, but the environment is in trouble. Many of our urban beaches and streams are unsafe because of contamination from farm runoff, stormwater drains and sewage overflows,” she said.

Broad objectives

“This vision is my contribution to the whole-of-government pursuit of sustainable development. I am pursuing six broad objectives to make this vision a reality:
To motivate and empower people to own the problems and the solutions

To reduce risks to people and the environment, for example hazardous substances

To promote environmentally friendly economic growth — economic growth doesn’t have to mean environmental degradation

To cement a close working relationship with local government and iwi

To forge a strategic alliance with clean, green business to promote
sustainable development, for example the energy savings in The Warehouse

To streamline rules and regulations (without compromising the above) so they’re owned and understood, and not something left to lawyers and planners.”Ms Hobbs said she wanted the Environment Ministry to look closely at whether the whole system “is operating in a way that will help us deliver on these broad objectives.Four focus points for ministry

“There are four key areas I want the ministry to focus on:

Performance in environmental management: I want to know how we can best
monitor environmental results and the performance of local and central government agencies. We need to look at how we provide incentives to councils and other agencies to meet the Government’s overall environmental objectives

Promoting community action: I want to examine how we promote environmental awareness and action in the community, so we can set up more effective long-term communication and education programmes.

Business innovation: I want to create new approaches to encourage environmental innovation in business. We need to look at how we can ‘tip the playing field’ for those players that are willing to embrace sustainable development.

Environmental legislation and institutions: I want better-integrated management of waste and hazardous substances under the Resource Management Act and HSNO — hazardous substances and nonorganic organisms — (and I am willing to go ‘up the pipe’ to achieve this rather than stick slavishly to looking at environmental effects).”Minister wants less litigation

On the areas the RMA legal & planning industry knows most about, she said this: “I want less litigation and more alternative dispute resolution.

“I want new mechanisms for promoting national policy, consistency and standards.

“I also want to think about alternative institutional models that will improve capacity and leadership at the national

“I am signalling a strategic shift in direction. It means recognising the gap between the clean green image and reality. It means seeing environment as an economic opportunity not just a cost. It means working both from the bottom up (which I had already begun through Rio+10 and similar community awareness programmes) and from the top down (through stronger leadership, promoting best practice, developing more standards and reviewing the institutional capacity to deliver these things).

“So that’s my broad vision for the environment.”

Ms Hobbs also made this point: “To a very large extent New Zealanders’ cultural identity is intertwined with our landscape, our outdoors lifestyle, and our perceptions of the quality of our environment.
People want to be involved in thinking about our environment and its essential connection with our quality of life.”

She said the Resource Management Act played a key part in her vision for the environment.

Ministerial group on compliance costs

“A group of six ministers has recently been established to consider compliance cost issues and the Resource Management Act. There are a number of government initiatives currently in progress, which relate to the act:

The Resource Management Amendment Bill

The ministerial panel on business compliance costs set up by the Minister of Commerce

Resourcing of the Environment Court

Ministry for the Environment work on
best practice and monitoring.”The essential purpose of the ministerial group on resource management is to look at the Resource Management Act from a broad whole-of-government perspective. There are, of course, several different government departments each with their own purpose, which can sometimes pull in opposite directions.”The key here is the pursuit of sustainable development — considering the Resource Management Act and social, economic and environmental issues all together.

“The ministerial group is therefore seeking solutions that are not just the best for the environment, or conservation, or commerce, but for all New Zealanders. This will help promote innovation and economic growth that creates jobs and at the same time is environmentally sound.”

Act fundamentally sound

Ms Hobbs said the Government considered the Resource Management Act was fundamentally sound, was keen to reduce compliance costs but not at the expense of sound environmental protection and community participation.

“We do not support the introduction of contestable resource consent processing, mandatory hearings commissioners on request, and direct referral of consents to the Environment Court.

“This is because they would compromise environmental outcomes and reduced opportunities for public participation (and the extent to which they would reduce time and costs is always debatable anyway).”

Amendment’s introduction may be delayed

The Local Government & Environment Select Committee presented its report in Parliament on 8 May, but Ms Hobbs said the timing of debate on it was uncertain — maybe late July or August.

“It was envisaged that the amendment act would come into force on 1 October 2001, but this might have to be extended depending on how long it takes for the bill to get through the House.”

Changes to improve use of act

Ms Hobbs said the Government was committed to providing more national guidance in the form of national policy statements and national environmental standards. “The select committee’s recommendations will facilitate this, and help to address criticism that the act has been implemented inconsistently across the country.”

Among changes proposed to improve implementing the act:

The default period for the lapsing and cancellation of consents has been extended from two to five years

The list of matters a consent authority must consider when making a decision on a resource consent application is simplified (which should hopefully reduce the length of decisions on resource consents and judgments from the Environment Court)

The minimum lease term qualifying as a subdivision is extended from 20 years to 35 years.

A time limit is introduced for territorial authorities to approve a survey plan of subdivision (within 10 working days)

Local authorities will be allowed to send out a summary of their decisions rather than having to send out a full copy of the decision

Rules in proposed plans that have reached the point of being beyond challenge will replace corresponding rules in the old operative plan

There will be an increased ability for local authorities to delegate powers, duties and functions to employees.Critics should look at own performance, says minister

“There have been some complaints that the amendments to the bill sought by industry and other applicants to reduce costs and speed up processes were dismissed by the select committee.

“However, the statistics reveal that 95% of applications are processed as non-notified, and about 82% of all resource consents are processed on time.

“This suggests that the vast majority of consents are processed reasonably smoothly — many business delays are in fact the result of poor understanding or practice on the part of applicants and their advisors. Changes to the act won’t solve such problems.”

Backlog won’t fall quickly

Ms Hobbs said the Environment Court backlog had grown since 1994, when 506 matters were awaiting the court’s determination, as councils got their new-style district plans to the point where they could be challenged.

“This is when we start to see the workload entering the court exceeding its disposal capacity. As at the end of last month, we had reached the point where there were 2988 matters on the Environment Court’s books, 1861 (62%) of which were plan references.

“In spite of their best efforts, the Environment judges have been swamped by this workload to the point where more matters are entering the court than are being disposed of. Last year, for example, 1270 new matters were registered and 1195 were heard or otherwise disposed of. This was a big improvement on the year before, when there were 2263 new matters and only 1380 disposals.

“These figures translate into cases having to spend unreasonable lengths of time in the court system. The Department for Courts has stated that the average disposal time for matters in the Environment Court has risen from eight to approximately 24 months.”

The announcement last week of a new permanent judge appointment will take the number of Environment Court judges to nine, two more than at the start of the year. An extra $2.1 million will also be spent to provide more hearing time and increase judges’ backup team providing research and case management.

“This will help significantly to reduce the length of the delays. It won’t, however, address the backlog problem overnight.

System settling down

“To a certain extent, we have to accept that many of the reference matters in particular are tending to be very complex and lengthy and also very reliant on the resources that the local authority has available to inject into reference disposal. Many councils simply wouldn’t have the cashflow available to them to go any faster even if there was unlimited capacity in the Environment Court.

“Another theme emerging from the present batch of references is that it is usually necessary to deal first with the major ‘principal setting’ reference cases, followed only then by the more numerous ‘particular issue’ or ‘site specific’ cases.

“To be truly effective and durable, it is also necessary that the extra resources be complemented by in-depth research into the extent, nature, causes and costs of the delays.

“That the delays are multi-faceted and interconnected is evident from factors such as the amount of hearing time lost through late settlements, the unavailability of legal counsel, and the ability to confine a case to the genuinely relevant issues. It is fundamental that our response to the delays is not based on perception or superficial analysis.”

One amendment which will increase the Environment Court’s workload is the proposed shift of notification appeals to be heard there instead of the High Court, through its judicial review procedure, which Ms Hobbs said was “expensive and time-consuming for all the parties involved. This is a significant impediment to a challenge of a notification decision.”

The amendment bill also removes the requirement for all parties to have to consent to an environment commissioner hearing a case without an environment judge present. She said the use of commissioners, in place of judges helped the court deal more quickly with minor matters.

More of Hobbs on the environment:

Hobbs says biodiversity statement has to be workable or it’s no good

Hobbs sets strategic environmental direction shift

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Government introduces RMA implementation package

Limited notification to be allowed

Environment Minister Marian Hobbs announced moves to improve implementation of the Resource Management Act & reduce compliance costs, as part of the Government’s business compliance cost response package.

Cabinet has approved the package. Final funding will be determined during the budget round.

Ms Hobbs said RMA projects with a high priority were:

Development of a voluntary accreditation system & training programme for councillors undertaking RMA functions

Development of guidance for working with Maori on resource management issues, including the establishment of iwi contacts databases, guidelines on charging & timelines

A quality assurance programme for best practice in resource consent processing & plan development within local authorities.More changes to bill

Ms Hobbs said there will be further changes to the Resource Management Amendment Bill currently before the House.

These would:

Remove proposed appeal rights to the Environment Court on notification as it could overload that court. Appeals will remain in the High Court.

Permit limited notification of resource consent applications for activities with minor effects. Of the 2500 notified consents/year, many were notified only because of potential effects on neighbours. Ms Hobbs said councils would be less inclined not to notify applications if the limited-notification option was available.Ms Hobbs said she wanted to strike a balance between reducing compliance costs and maintaining good environmental protection & meeting the needs of communities.

“Councils’ RMA performance has improved steadily over recent years, but we believe introducing several new measures will assist them further. In saying that, these changes do not absolve business of responsibility. It’s a two-way street and business must do its part to ensure that a good outcome is achieved.

“Delays cost everyone both in time and money and the additional measures will be welcomed by environmentalists & developers alike.”

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