Chance to leave a legacy with RMA

Every leader wants to leave a legacy to mark their time at the helm. Be they politicians, chief executives, sportspeople or school principals, everyone wants to be remembered as someone who made a difference.

New Zealand sport, business and education can point to many who will be remembered for their deeds, dedication and actions that have made New Zealand a better place.

Unfortunately, the roll call for politicians ‘who have made a difference’ would be short - with most of those  mentioned now deceased. Probably the last New Zealand politicians to leave a legacy were David Lange with his nuclear free policy and Roger Douglas’s economic restructuring of the 1980’s some 30 years ago.

There is an opportunity right now for someone else to step up to the plate and carve their place in history. How? By being the person that takes the Resource Management Act (RMA), that trailblazing piece of legislation of 22 years ago, and fashions it to the benefit of all New Zealanders.

It won’t be this year, as the Government pays lip service to the far-reaching changes that are required. Some would say that the RMA has been the most important piece of legislation passed in New Zealand in the last 20 years, yet the Government, in its last round of tinkering, gave a consultation period of only 22 days – that’s less time than Super Rugby coaches get to prepare for a season.

Hopefully, the Budget will reveal that the Government is indeed serious about this topic. It is definitely sitting in the too-hard basket, but legacies are made by those who successfully tackle the seemingly impossible.

Let’s not kid ourselves, this is not a piece of legislation that will be fashioned by one Budget or one election promise, it will take a great investment of time, co-operation and skill.

How difficult will it be? It’s like mixing black and white and coming out with a nice bright colour. For example, Greenpeace describes the Resource Management Act as a set of laws that’s designed to protect all that gives New Zealanders a unique quality of life and says the current Government plans to strip out the core principles– the bits that actually protect the environment and give people a say in what happens in their backyard – and rewrite laws to suit big business.

In the words of Environment Minister Amy Adams: “New Zealand’s frustration with the Resource Management Act (RMA) is rife. The way the RMA’s processes are operating is costing us all in time, money and lost opportunities. The systems have become cumbersome, uncertain and highly litigious. The money spent on having to fight to get ahead or to defend your position is money that our households and businesses are missing out on.”

And to be fair to the Minister, there are many who stand far to the right of her regarding the RMA.

So what do we want to see?

First and foremost, the RMA has to be cognisant of the economic factors that it influences. New Zealand is littered with examples where opportunities have been lost because the cost of getting an idea on to a working plan is just far too great. A contentious example of this is the $8.8 million Meridian Energy recently spent trying to gain resource consent for the Project Hayes wind farm, before pulling the plug in January 2012.

Unnecessary delays have seen investors, many from overseas – wanting to spend their money in this country, head elsewhere because it’s less costly, with fewer hoops to jump through and shorter delays. There must be a balance – the philosophies of Greenpeace need to be matched alongside those of the property developer –  but New Zealand cannot be held back by unreasonableness.

And we have to get the Government and local bodies working more closely together

To achieve legacy status, leaders need courage, stamina, brilliance and a great faith in their own convictions, as all elements will be shaken at some stage. For the RMA to be turned into something meaningful, it’s going to take this level of commitment from the Government.

Unfortunately, we are only tinkering at present – 22 days simply is not enough time for a full consultation, the fact there are 14,000 submissions is a pretty good indicator of the importance New Zealanders place on the proposed changes. Hopefully, there is a sign of further intent in the Budget, but we are not holding our breath.

Solve it, and the legacy is born.

Further enquiries, please contact:

Alastair Boult            
Grant Thornton New Zealand National Director, Government Advisory
T +64 (0)4 495 1724