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Making local voice heard over the roar of reforms

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Making local voice heard over the roar of reforms    

We’ve seen huge growth, subdivision and development in Central Hawke’s Bay over the last five years. We’ve also completely reviewed our District Plan, which embeds local priorities in our development rules.  

The mechanism that governs all this is the Resource Management Act, one of New Zealand’s most important laws. It governs what can be built where, when, and how. We have four Councillors who are qualified RMA Commissioners – Councillors Aitken, Burne, Greer and Taylor. They’re well-versed in how the current process works (and sometimes doesn’t!) 

Over the decades, by the admission of successive Governments, the RMA has failed. The Minister for the Environment, David Parker said in November: “The current system is broken. It takes too long, costs too much and has not adequately provided for development nor protected the environment.”  

Closer to home, as our district has grown, these sentiments are echoed across the board. Developers feel like the resource management process is too slow, and the community can feel excluded. It's a lengthy, frustrating and expensive process to review our District Plan.  

Now, after years of unsuccessful attempts to reform, amendments and reviews, the Government is proposing two new pieces of law to replace the RMA. (A third one dealing with climate adaptation will come later.)  

The Government introduced these Bills to Parliament immediately before Christmas and has called for submissions by midnight on 5 February, giving an extremely narrow window for submitters to digest the nearly 900 pages of legislation and prepare feedback.  

Thanks to hard work by our Council officers over the holiday period, at our 26 January Council meeting we approved a draft submission. It lays out our concerns about the role of local communities to shape the place they live in and have a say in the decision-making process. 

We welcome some parts of what the Government has proposed, including the introduction of a spatial strategy at regional level, connecting natural resources of water, land and infrastructure across the whole region.   

But we remain concerned about the how the needs of Central Hawke’s Bay will be acknowledged and met.  

These two new draft laws propose (among many other things) removing local powers for setting development rules, instead consolidating them into regional structures and increasing the level of central direction that Councils will have to enforce locally.  

This is concerning. In short, it’s not clear how the new legislation is going to make for more robust decision-making for our community, and development that is easier, cheaper and better for our environment, which is what Minister Parker is aiming to achieve.  

We’ve formally requested the opportunity to speak to our submission in front of the Select Committee - literally making Central Hawke’s Bay’s voice heard in Wellington.    

I encourage anyone who is interested in the reform of the Resource Management Act to check out the NZ Parliament website and consider making a submission to the Natural and Built Environment Bill / Spatial Planning Bill.  

In other business last week, we were thankful to see more hard work from Council staff pay off as they brought back a budget for 2023/24 that reduced the rates increase from 15% to an average of 8.9%. It’s still a significant increase, but far closer to reflecting the 6.5% projected in our Long Term Plan.  

We’re going to be talking to you during March and April about your thoughts on options outlined in this draft budget, including deferring the introduction of rubbish wheelie bins, and how we may increase our contributions to emergency event funding for our roads.  

Emergency events are, of course, top of mind right now. We saw Auckland swamped last Friday by its wettest day in history, causing widespread devastation, flooding, and fatalities.    

Our thoughts go out to Aucklanders now embarking on a massive clean-up, noting that this kind of extreme weather event can – and probably will - happen anywhere as the effects of climate change start to bite.  We have seen it ourselves, with extensive damage across the Central Hawke’s Bay roading network right now.  

So I'll close by noting a crucial step we took at last week’s meeting: to enshrine climate change thinking as one of our key focus areas for this triennium and beyond.   

Kia kaha, Tāmaki Makaurau!  

1 February 2023

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