Forestry seeks major changes in RMA review

4 Jul 2004

The forest and wood processing industries are calling for a major shake-up of the Act which regulates the effects of industry on the environment.

The forest and wood processing industries are calling for a major shake-up of the Act which regulates the effects of industry on the environment.

"We speak for a sector which is utterly committed to sustainable resource use, so we are not looking for environmental standards to be relaxed," says NZ Forest Owners Association chief executive Rob McLagan.

"But what we do need is a law which allows industries to invest in New Zealand at reasonable cost and with a degree of certainty. This is not happening under the Resource Management Act (RMA) which is failing to meet its objectives."

The association and the NZ Forest Industries Council (NZFIC) have made a joint submission to David Benson-Pope, the minister responsible for a government review of the Act.

They are calling for a centralised system of environmental regulation to replace at least some of the provisions of the RMA.

"We have regional and district councils making decisions about issues which they are often ill-equipped to deal with," says NZFIC chief executive Stephen Jacobi.

"Decisions with national implications are made by local politicians. This results in multiple hearings, inconsistency, needless expense and delays.

"A single pool of expertise sufficient to assess risk and set standards will result in higher quality standards."

The forest and wood processing industries have worked with local government on two major initiatives to improve the efficiency with which RMA has been applied to forest growing and wood processing.

The first was a code of best practice for the regulation of forest harvesting. It set standards which could be written into council plans, to create a straight forward process for foresters seeking resource consents to harvest.

The second, developed as part of the government's Wood Processing Strategy, was a draft code of practice for wood processing industries.

"In neither case has local government moved to use these draft standards to reduce the vast discretion which is at the centre of concerns about delay, complexity, duplication, rent seeking behaviour, and total cost," says Jacobi.

"Little of the $3 billion in new investment we sought through the Wood Processing Strategy, and necessary to process the increased wood harvest in New Zealand, has been attracted to these shores. Most of the increase is leaving in unprocessed form.

"All New Zealanders should be concerned about this and recognise the role of the RMA and its administration by local government in this outcome."

McLagan says the time has come for major reform of both the Act and the means by which it is administered.

"The government's proposed fine-tuning of the Act will simply not result in the changes needed to drive the economy forward, while protecting the environment. This is the last chance for the government to show that this is a genuine attempt to review the Act for the benefit of all New Zealanders."