Will water related consenting get easier?
Some farmers, opting to wait and observe the government's actions before applying for consent, hope that changes will be made to simplify the process.
So, what has the new coalition government said it will do that may assist?
As part of their 100-day plan the Spatial Planning Act and the Natural and Built Environments Act have already been repealed. Work will now focus on amending the existing RMA with a goal of making it easier to consent new infrastructure and renewable energy and simplify consenting for primary industry. In the longer term, the intention is for the RMA to be replaced with new resource management laws that are based on enjoyment of property rights as their guiding principle. What this will look like remains unclear, but it is likely to mean less regulation and control on what can be done as of right.
The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM) will be replaced. This process is expected to take between 18 to 24 months and will include a full consultation process with all stakeholders, including iwi and the public.
National Environmental Standards on Freshwater Management will be replaced. The intention of this will be to better reflect the interests of all water users, putting the focus more on water use, rather than the current position of preserving and restoring water bodies where they are degraded.
The National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity will be reviewed, with a particular focus on reconsidering the mapping of Significant Natural Areas, which is a requirement under the current policy statement.
Pressure has been lifted on Regional Councils as the requirement for councils to implement freshwater plans by the end of 2024 has been extended to 2027. However, individual Councils may choose to carry on with the processes and general direction of change where they have already set this in motion.
What does all this mean?
Within the next couple of years, this may not make much difference. While the National Policy Statements and Environmental Standards are still “live”, applications will have to comply with their requirements and Regional Councils will have to implement them. Simply signalling that there will be changes makes no difference until the existing documents are either repealed or replaced. Federated Farmers have expressed their disappointment regarding the timeframes for change: they were hoping that these documents would be repealed. Given that this has not happened, any substantial and imminent relief on the consenting front seems unlikely.
In the medium term, there is certainly some light on the horizon that improvements will be made. There is now a good opportunity for progress to be made in cutting down the number of consents that are required and simplifying the consenting process. However, expectations in this regard should be limited. There will not be a return to the times where consents were gained by simply filling in a form. If anyone is waiting for this to occur, they may be waiting a long time!
Let’s hope that improvements do eventuate. Bureaucracy and red tape associated with securing consents has become excessive. This has led to significantly longer timeframes and higher consent related costs, without necessarily leading to meaningful environmental improvements. The sooner we can get back to making sensible, science-based decisions that effectively balance the needs of our communities and the environment, the better.