RMA Bill may aggravate project delays

31 Mar 2005

The forest industry says costs and delays imposed by the Resource Management Act are among the reasons the industry is unlikely to meet its wood processing and job creation targets.

"We are therefore concerned that some proposed amendments to the Act may make the situation worse," says Forest Owners Association chief executive Rob McLagan.

In a joint submission to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee, the Forest Industries Council and the Forest Owners Association say the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill fails to deal with the fundamental flaws in the Act.

"The Act requires developers to get too many consents and there are too few nationally binding standards. The prolonged delays getting consents provide too many opportunities for arbitrary or politically-motivated decisions, as well as "rent-seeking" behaviour by submitters and local authorities alike," says Forest Industries Council chief executive Stephen Jacobi.

"The forest industry accepts the need for high environmental standards, but takes issue with the time and costs of defining them under the provisions of the RMA.

"Similar or even higher levels of environmental quality are being achieved overseas in time frames of months, rather than the years taken in New Zealand. This poses a significant disincentive for international companies whose investment is required to develop the nation?s capacity to process its steadily expanding forest harvest."

Mr Jacobi noted that 21 sawmills were under development in Australia and only three in New Zealand.

"It?s a score of 21 to 3 and I'm sure the RMA is at least partly to blame."

The forest, wood and paper industry accounts for 4 per cent of New Zealand's GDP. It is the third largest export sector with international sales in excess of $3.5 billion (representing 12 per cent of New Zealand's total exports), directly employs 26,000 New Zealanders and generates an estimated 100,000 additional jobs.

Since 1988, more than $4 billion has been invested in the industry's manufacturing capability, but much more is needed to process the increasing harvest coming forward from forests planted in the 1970s.

"While there is merit in some of the provisions in the current Bill, overall it will not help alleviate the fundamental problems with the RMA. Some sections will in fact make the current situation worse," says Mr McLagan.

In its submission, the forest industry says it is opposed to changes which will give local authorities greater discretion in the way in which consent hearings take place.

"The changes proposed seem to simply add more bureaucracy and delay to an already difficult process. The real cause of delay is the sheer volume of consents requiring consideration by both councils and applicants," he says.

"One important solution lies in setting more national standards to reduce the scope of discretion and hence reduce the number and complexity of consents."

To this end, the industry supports the minister for the environment being given the power in the Bill to request information or direct certain local government actions.

"The industry considers central government should exercise greater control and influence over the administration of the Act by local government rather than simply taking a policy role," he says.

Mr McLagan says the industry is opposed to provisions in the Bill allowing councils to over-ride the application of a national standard.

"Most councils are neither competent enough nor equipped to do this. Also Section 32 of the RMA, which is meant to require councils to dispassionately weigh the pros and cons of various options, has no teeth.

"These issues lie at the heart of the problems with the RMA and urgently need to be addressed. The Bill does not do this."

[ends]

For more information, please contact:

Rob McLagan, chief executive, NZ Forest Owners Association. Tel 04 473 4769 (w) or 04 237 9022 (h). Mobile: 0274 421 918 Stephen Jacobi, chief executive, NZ Forest Industries Council, Mobile 0294 725 502