Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cutting down the trees

The National-led Government is moving to change the Resource Management Act in ways that may prove to be pretty dramatic. The move comes after a few high-profile cases in which the Act has been used to slow development projects. The Government’s goal is to reduce costs and delays for developers while, they say, still protecting the environment.

Among the more than 100 changes in the "Resource Management (Simplification and Streamlining) Amendment Bill" is one that especially caught my eye: The government proposes that local councils be stripped of the power to protect trees over a certain size (as many do), meaning that those councils would be powerless to prevent the clear-cutting of bush on private land, no matter how big the trees, nor to prevent removal of coastal pohutukawa trees, now that they’re no longer considered endangered.

Instead, National proposes to allow local councils to protect only those trees that are specifically mentioned in the councils’ District Plans. Some of those will be individual trees of historic or other importance, but councils will also be allowed to include “groups” of trees, but they fail to say how large a group can be.

This is a really bad idea. All the councils that make up Auckland have tree protection bylaws that are now at risk. The area where we live has a lot of large, old trees on private land that might be cleared to make way for development if this law change goes through.

The government is doing this at the insistence of the right wing elements of the National Party as well as their coalition partner, the ACT Party. Both of them want basically unfettered development, though ACT also denies climate change exists, so they’d see no problem in clear cutting trees.

Despite this particularly stupid proposal, not all proposed changes are bad: The Government plans to outlaw “vexatious” or anti-competitive uses of the Act. If enacted, this would prevent the supermarket debacle I wrote about recently. The centre left agrees there are things that need to be changed in the Act (though I doubt the left does). Our disagreement is with the government is over what and how.

This time, however, I’m not going to just complain about the actions of the National-led Government: Submissions on the proposed changes close on April 5, and I fully intend to make my first-ever submission to Parliament. But I’m also going to look at all the changes to the Act to make sure there aren’t other bad ideas contained within it. Expect to hear more about this in the weeks ahead.

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