New RMA Compliance Unit and Best Practice Guidelines

New RMA Compliance Unit and Best Practice Guidelines

I may not have a crystal ball, but the prediction I made in my last column - that the Government would seek greater enforcement of environmental standards has come true. Minister for the Environment David Parker has announced the establishment of a new unit to oversee compliance with the Resource Management Act (RMA) and to “improve consistency, effectiveness and transparency of council enforcement of RMA rules and decisions”. In short, we can expect more enforcement action to be taken across the country.

This seemed inevitable to me because reporting from councils had shown a very diverse approach to compliance, monitoring and the enforcement of environmental standards across the board. For example, it was recently reported that only one council gave no notice for effluent inspections. Some gave notice in writing within a relatively short time frame, whereas others asked the farmer to make an appointment with their officer. It also revealed that only some councils appeared to be willing and able to back up the monitoring with enforcement action. A lack of resources to do this is a significant issue.

It’s clear the new government intends to change that and back up its commitment to prioritise climate change measures and improve water quality with the introduction of this new unit. It has been allocated operational funding of $3.1 million over the next four years.

In addition, the Ministry for the Environment has just released (7 July 2018) best practice guidelines for compliance, monitoring and enforcement, available at www.mfe.govt.nz. The primary audience for these guidelines is council staff and representatives however, if an approach is inconsistent with those guidelines, it will, in my view, be up to the council concerned to show good and strong reasons to justify a different take.

There is benefit in standardising the approach to be taken to RMA compliance, monitoring and enforcement. What is the point in having rules or bottom lines if they are not to be enforced? Why should the same rule be enforced by one council and not another? Why should all the good work farmers do for the environment be ruined by one renegade operator who always seems to “get away with it”?

While the proof will be in the pudding, the new unit, along with these guidelines, should mean that councils will be better resourced to take action where necessary, and will be required to take that action in a principled and consistent way. As a lawyer, standardisation in this area should mean it will be easier to provide more accurate advice as to the likely consequences if land or water activities do not comply with the required standards.

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Disclaimer: This article should not be used as a substitute for legal advice tailored for your specific circumstances.

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Andrea Halloran

Position: Associate
Email: andrea.halloran@pittandmoore.co.nz
DDI: +64 3 545 6701