A curious thing happened last week. The government introduced to Parliament the first of two pieces of legislation to “reform” the Resource Management Act. That isn’t itself curious, what is, is that the Minister responsible, Amy Adams has not even put out a media release about the Bill.
Hard to fathom why, but if it is because she is ashamed, then she has every right to be. While there is innocuous and even possibly useful changes in the Bill, it gives a number of signals of the government’s on-going desire to centralise power away from communities, reduce public input and tip the scales away from sustainable development. You can read more about Labour’s concerns here. and here.
Nothing exemplifies National’s approach better than the proposal to change the rules around what Councils can do to protect trees. This might not sound like a huge issue, but it has a lot of history, and National is buying a fight that is as wrong as it is silly.
Essentially what the Bill proposes is that a tree protection rule in a council plan can only apply to a particular tree that is specifically identified in the plan, or a grove of trees that are located on the same or adjacent allotments. The effect of this is that Councils will not be able to protect species or types of trees. The inverse of course is that if a specific tree is not protected then it could be felled. Whatever a bureaucratic nightmare will ensue.
The history here is that the government tried to make similar changes in their 2009 RMA reforms. The good people of Waitakere took a case to the Environment Court that created a definition of “groups of trees” that saw blanket protection possible for bush clad areas. Greg Presland has a good description of the situation and a link to the Environment Court judgement, here.
The law change proposed this last week is directly aimed at overturning the Court decision. But more than that it is a further attempt (alongside the Local Government Act and other aspects of this Bill) to take away from communities the right to make decisions about how they wish their communities to look and feel. And for no good reason at all.
I am sure this will re-ignite the debate about the protection of trees, especially in West Auckland. From Labour’s point of view we will strongly oppose this provision. Trees are a vital part of our environment, in rural and urban settings. Moreover we have to call time on a government that is systematically reducing the power of communities to decide their own future.