DCC up in arms over Bill

David Benson-Pope
David Benson-Pope
Members of the public will need to pay for costly consultants if they want a say on development if controversial changes to the Resource Management Act are passed.

Dunedin City councillors yesterday took issue with this and other changes proposed in the Government's Resource Legislation Amendment Bill - which reforms the Resource Management Act (RMA) - with Cr David Benson-Pope slamming the Bill as ‘‘poisonous'' and an attack on democracy people should be ‘‘very concerned'' about.

Cr Benson-Pope made the comments after yesterday's meeting of the planning and regulatory committee, of which he is chairman, where councillors settled on a submission which raised concerns about the Bill.

He highlighted three main areas of concern councillors and council staff had about the Bill and was particularly worried it would remove people's right to participate in the RMA process.

The concerns outlined in the council's submission come after other organisations, including Forest & Bird, expressed opposition to the changes.

‘‘The more people look at it, the more they get disturbed by it and I think those concerns are completely justified.

‘‘I think it's a pernicious piece of legislation,'' he said.

‘‘Lots'' of parts of the Bill restricted or removed people's rights to object to resource consent applications, including a provision requiring hearing panels to strike out non-expert evidence.

That would remove a resident's right to have a say on applications unless they had the money to pay for expert evidence.

‘‘You would have to think this is all weighted in favour of those that have the bigger chequebooks,'' Cr Benson-Pope said.

Another clause removed certain appeal rights.‘‘Those sort of things are exactly the opposite of what councils are required by other legislation to do - to consult with the community and involve people.

‘‘It's an insult to people's right to participate in these processes.''

The Government had ‘‘a bit of a fixation'' with the RMA being a problem, but reducing participation was not going to fix anything, Cr Benson-Pope said.

‘‘It's actually going to make things worse because people are going to be more alienated.''

Councillors and council staff were also concerned about the ‘‘complete lack of detail'', which made it difficult for the council and other organisations to comment on the Bill.

‘‘It's hard to second-guess what's in [the Government's] mind because they are not telling us.''

There were also worries the changes would add to council costs, which included a proposal to increase the amount councils have to pay when buying properties under the Public Works Act.

At present, councils had to pay $2000 on top of the purchase price to compensate people when making compulsory purchases of properties with homes on them. This would increase to up to $50,000 if the Bill was passed in its present form.

Cr Benson-Pope said the level of concern was highlighted by the unanimity of councillors at yesterday's meeting when it came to agreeing on what should be in the council's submission, which was due by 5pm yesterday.

This meant council staff had to spend the afternoon urgently making the changes to the draft submission requested by councillors, so it could be sent away before deadline.

Cr Benson-Pope said this was less than ideal, but it would be signed off by Mayor Dave Cull before the deadline.

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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