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Changes to RMA a challenge for councils

Significant changes to the Resource Management Act will provide challenges for councils, Environment Waikato’s Regulatory Committee heard this week.

While many of the amendments introduced amount to little more than clarification of the current law, a number of provisions, especially regarding notification, made a major change to consent administration and decision-making.

The amendments include complete changes to notification, introducing a “limited notification” provision which meant notice need only be given to people considered adversely affected rather than the public.

Programme Manager Mark Brockelsby said councils had to decide who they regarded as being affected. It also formalised the discretionary application of the “permitted baseline” test in deciding if effects of a consent were minor or if someone was adversely affected. This would reduce notification costs, because no public notice was required, and may focus the process on the specific issues.

Cr Lois Livingston said while it would cut out the step of “every man and his dog” needing to be informed, people would complain that they found out about an issue second hand. Chairman Jim Howland said the Council would be open to challenge every time it decided to limit notification.

Mr Brockelsby said the new amendments also made provision for councils to determine that applications were incomplete and return them to applicants, which might mean changes to Environment Waikato’s Resource Use Group procedures. The quality of applications was improving over time – about 20-30 percent of applications used to be rejected for incomplete information but that number was now greatly reduced.

Lapse periods for people not using their consent have been extended from two years to five. While this was an improvement it could pose a problem where someone had locked up a resource without using their consent for that long, Cr David Peart said.

Parties joining appeals now have to give notice within 30 days of the notice of appeal and were now subject to the award of costs, which was a significant improvement. Mr Brockelsby said it would avoid situations such as the Hampton Downs landfill, where Environment Waikato only became aware of parties joining the appeal very late.

The Council would have a difficult transition period because it would have to run parallel processes for about a year to accommodate the changes, he said.

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