From the Chief Executive - Time for Local Government Reform

1/10/2014 12:00 a.m.

The overwhelming electoral mandate the Government received on 20 September should result in some long overdue progress on reforms aimed at improving local government.

Comprehensive Resource Management Act reform, removal of unnecessary regulatory rules, and a decision on the future governance model for Environment Canterbury have high priority.

In its last term the Government pushed through a number of changes aimed at reducing delays and costs associated with resource management decisions. The reforms were aimed at streamlining and simplifying the RMA. Among other things, the ability for some people to bring costly vexatious, frivolous and anticompetitive objections was removed.

However, National's plan to undertake further more comprehensive reforms to the RMA stalled last year due to party numbers and the nature of the mixed member proportional voting system that Parliament operates under. With the numbers the Government is now likely to move forward with its signalled RMA reforms.

Striking at the heart of the RMA there is a desire to see the Act's "… relevance and balance in regard to broader social, environmental, and economic outcomes" improved.

On an RMA efficiency and effectiveness level, National's local government manifesto refers to:

Clarifying "… the rights and responsibilities for consents in terms of notifications and objections, and who is considered an affected party."

"… not requiring consents where an activity has already been allowed through the planning process."

 "… reductions in regulatory requirements for minor and less complex projects, …"

And a "… a single resource management plan per district …"

Also directly aimed at enhancing efficiency and effectiveness, was the Government's announcement in July this year that it was accepting all but 2 of the 29 recommendations made by the Productivity Commission in May 2013 report – "Towards better local regulation".

Much of what was recommended by the Productivity Commission as a result of its inquiry into how to improve the regulatory performance of local government was in fact directed at Central Government. Government departments will be required to do more work to identify new Government policies and legislation that have unintended negative impacts on local government. The recent Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 with its required Local Approved Products Policy comes to mind.

One of the things the Government has already announced is a Rules Reduction Taskforce. The Taskforce's job will be to "… weed out pedantic and unnecessary rules that frustrate property owners and councils." It will be comprised of Central and local government experts, and specialists from the building and trades sectors. The Government wants it set up the end of October.

"A website will let people send in examples of frustrating or pedantic rules and the taskforce will hear submissions from the public on areas ripe for change."

Another piece of important work that well and truly stalled in the last term of Government was the promised review of the governance of Environment Canterbury. Government Officials had planned to start the 5 month review process back in March this year. That plan never got through Cabinet. A decision was made to wait until after the election before proceeding with the review.

From National's manifesto:

"Seek the public's view on the next steps for Environment Canterbury.

We are committed to seeing elections happen, but we do not want to lose the gains made by the ECan Commissioners. The options we will propose range from a return to full elections, to a mixed model of elected and appointed members."

Subject to Cabinet approval, Government Officials now plan for public consultation to begin as early as next month, carrying on into November, with review findings released in December.

Page reviewed: 16 Oct 2014 9:26am