Sunday, November 28, 2010

Owen McShane: National Policy Statements Need Close Watching

A common complaint has been that the RMA was let loose on the Public without Government providing sufficient National Policy Statements to keep council on the straight and narrow. There is an old saying "Be careful what you wish for."

The Quality Planning web site announces that the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 (NZCPS) will replace the NZCPS 1994 on the 3rd December, 2010. The NZCPS 2010 sets out policies on coastal issues including protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes, planning for subdivision, use, and development, protection of biodiversity and water quality, and management of coastal hazard risks.

Until then, the NZCPS 1994 remains in effect. That does not leave much time for anyone to apply to do anything on the New Zealand Coastline. You can read the full statement here. Notice that this release is on the DoC website.

Policy three introduces the Precautionary Principle into the administration of the RMA and you can be sure this policy will be used to justify references to the precautionary principle into just about every chapter in your next District Plan.

Policy 3 - Precautionary approach:

• Adopt a precautionary approach towards proposed activities whose effects on the coastal environment are uncertain, unknown, or little understood, but potentially significantly adverse.
• In particular, adopt a precautionary approach to use and management of coastal resources potentially vulnerable to effects from climate change, so that:
• avoidable social and economic loss and harm to communities does not occur;
• natural adjustments for coastal processes, natural defences, ecosystems, habitat and species are allowed to occur; and
• the natural character, public access, amenity and other values of the coastal environment meet the needs of future generations.

This set of recommendations, which must be given effect to, in District and Regional planning documents should remind us why, in 2006, the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, confirmed its earlier recommendation on the Precautionary Principle:

We can confirm our initial view that the term ‘precautionary principle’ should not be used, and recommend that it cease to be included in policy guidance. … In our view, the terms ‘precautionary principle’ and ‘precautionary approach’ in isolation from any such clarification have been the subject of such confusion and different interpretations as to be devalued and of little practical help, particularly in public debate.

Policy 10 on reclamation and de-reclamation is equally scary. Just as well we got our foreshores at Auckland and Wellington built when we did.

Policy 10 - Reclamation and de-reclamation:

• Avoid reclamation of land in the coastal marine area, unless:
• land outside the coastal marine area is not available for the proposed activity;
• the activity which requires reclamation can only occur in or adjacent to the coastal marine area;
• there are no practicable alternative methods of providing the activity; and
• the reclamation will provide significant regional or national benefit.
How can any application for any activity – such as a marina, or a coastal resort – survive such assessment criteria.

There will always be an alternative area available outside the coastal marine area.

Did the Minister of Tourism really approve of this policy statement?

Numerous policies in this document overturn the common law position going back to Magna Carta, that when the Crown grants legal title to land near the Coast the Crown takes on the responsibility for protecting the land and its inhabitants from invasion and that includes invasion by the sea itself.

Now it seems that the Crown has absolved itself of such responsibility and insists than "nature must be allowed to take its course."

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