Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright is warning proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) give the Environment Minister broad and potentially far-reaching powers.
Submissions on the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill closed yesterday and Dr Wright recommended that several amendments not go ahead.
Some good changes were suggested, such as adding natural hazards into the legislation, the commissioner said.
She also empathised with concerns around housing consents and the intent to speed things up and simplify them.
But Dr Wright said much of what was suggested was too broad and open-ended.
In several cases, this was driven by concern about affordable housing but that would be better dealt with through a national policy statement rather than wide-ranging changes to the RMA, she said.
A proposal for a national planning template, in which central government would be allowed to specify objectives, policies, methods and other provisions rather than councils following a standard template, was among her concerns.
Dr Wright said that amendment appeared to allow central government to include any kind of direction within the template, which could not be challenged by the Environment Court.
A lot of the changes relied on what the Environment Minister might think was reasonable, which the commissioner said was subjective.
She recommended against proposals to allow the minister to permit a specified land use if it was reasonable, to stop councils making unreasonable rules that limited residential development, and to remove existing unreasonable rules that limited residential development.
Dr Wright also took issue with proposed streamlined planning processes that would not allow appeals to the Environment Court.
She said this would mean no legal oversight of those processes, and she recommended that submitters be given the right to appeal to the Environment Court.
Notification of resource consents
New criteria on the notification of resource consents has also raised flags.
The RMA currently requires the public to be notified of resource consents with potential adverse effects on the environment that are likely to be more than minor.
One clause would allow the Environment Minister to decide whether certain activities needed to be publicly notified or not at all.
It would also allow the minister to effectively exclude certain people, or classes of people, from making submissions.
Dr Wright said this was quite extreme, and the amendments went too far in stopping people having their say on important environmental matters.