Democracy by invitation --- new RMA proposal

: Guy Salmon
 

A new way to solve the kind of planning stalemate that has been seen Auckland get bogged down with its Unitary Plan is being promoted by the Government.

The proposal --- in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill – would allow people affected by an environmental decision to get together and “collaborate” to reach a consensus on how to proceed.

The explanatory notes to the Bill say: “The collaborative planning process encourages greater front-end public engagement, which will produce plans that better reflect community values and will thereby reduce litigation costs and lengthy delays.”

The method has been trialled by the Land Water Forum, which was set up in 2008 to reach a consensus on both water quality issues and also how to allocate it.

It is made up of 68 organisations, including five river iwi, conservation and recreation groups and agriculture, hydro and other development organisations.

It was a mixed success.

Though the Forum reached agreement on water quality, it did not agree on water allocation or iwi rights.

Even so, the Forum’s Chair, Alastair Bisley endorsed the process when he appeared before the committee.

But he warned that anyone who underwent a collaborative planning process was putting themselves in the way of an enormous amount of work.

“It’s repetitive, exacting and a lot of people only do that if they think that it’s going to be effective and listened to,” he said.

The members of the collaborative panels would be appointed by local authorities but would be required to include at least one iwi representative.

A Public Policy Professor from Lincoln University, Ann Brower,  called this “democracy by invitation” and questioned whether collaborative planning was a truly democratic process.

“Anytime you take power away from the ballot box your are diluting democracy,” she said.

After the collaboration process is finished, the local authority must establish a review process which allows a wider range of submitters to participate and then can either accept or reject the plan and then there are some rights of appeal to the Environment Court.

Veteran environmentalist and member of the Land and Water Forum, Guy Salmon, said that it what it came down was that you were asking people to compromise.

“And if you are asking them to compromise with each other they have to have some confidence that if they shake hands on a deal, it’s going to stick and isn’t going to be overturned a but later by the regional council or the Environment Court,” he said.

And so he proposed that the review panel which undertook the review should go back to the “people in the collaborative governance room” so that the group had a chance to re-establish its consensus after considering what people outside the room had to say.

They would then come to a fresh consensus that would become the final consensus.”

Otherwise, he said the final decisions would be taken by the Review Panel.

Inside a Committee Room at Parliament, this may have sounded like abstract political theory but the reality is that the legislation has the potential to alter radically the way Councils go about establishing their regional plans.

Therefore, some of the practicalities of the proposed legislation were dealt with in some detail by submitters.

Mr Salmon was one of several submitters who warned that who was admitted into the collaboration was critical.

“When the Land and Water Forum came up with the process it was a bit naïve of us really to think that here would be an effort to exclude people from the collaborative stakeholder groups.

“What’s actually happened is that some regional councils have done just that so some of the leading environmental organisations like Fish and Game have simply been shut out of the process and this has had a very detrimental effect on their confidence.”

He said that the people around the table should be representing somebody outside the room.

“They should be representing large representative organisations like Federated Farmers, Forest and Bird, Fish and Game and iwi authorities so that the people at the table actually have to report back to somebody else and take them with them and if they make a compromise it’s something that the whole organisation is will9ijg to accept.”

Green MP Eugenie Sage as worried about the same democracy issues as Anne Brower.

She asked about the relative balance between the Council and the Collaborative Group.

“The collaborative group has no elected mandate,” she said.

But Mr Salmon said the Council still had the power of final approval of the plan.

“To make collaboration work elected politicians do have to relinquish some of their power but not the final power to say yes or no.”

Counsel for Forest and Bird, Sally Gepp said the organisation was “cautiously neutral” about collaborative planning.

‘This really is an experiment and it should be seen in that light,” she said.

Ann Brower

Ann Brower

Ann Brower was more sceptical than that and she said that overseas studies had shown collaborative planning did not work for rivers and waterways.

She said that was because for collaborative planning to work there couldn’t be effects on people who weren’t involved in the process --- “so no downstream effects, no flow on effects.”

When he introduced the new legislation last November, Environment Minister, Nick Smith, indicated that he saw collaborative planning as par of a package of messages designed to deal with what he called the “cumbersome processes” of the Resource Management Act.

So the Committee has been given a huge challenge – to develop legislation for what is essentially an informal process. Drawing the line between practicality and the ideal will be a challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new way to solve the kind of planning stalemate that has been seen Auckland get bogged down with its Unitary Plan is being promoted by the Government.
The proposal --- in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill – would allow people affected by an environmental decision to get together and “collaborate” to reach a consensus on how to proceed.
The explanatory notes to the Bill say: “The collaborative planning process encourages greater front-end public engagement, which will produce plans that better reflect community values and will thereby reduce litigation costs and lengthy delays.”
The method has been trialled by the Land Water Forum, which was set up in 2008 to reach a consensus on both water quality issues and also how to allocate it.
It is made up of 68 organisations, including five river iwi, conservation and recreation groups and agriculture, hydro and other development organisations.
It was a mixed success.
Though the Forum reached agreement on water quality, it did not agree on water allocation or iwi rights.
Even so, the Forum’s Chair, Alastair Bisley endorsed the process when he appeared before the committee.
But he warned that anyone who underwent a collaborative planning process was putting themselves in the way of an enormous amount of work.
“It’s repetitive, exacting and a lot of people only do that if they think that it’s going to be effective and listened to,” he said.
The members of the collaborative panels would be appointed by local authorities but would be required to include at least one iwi representative.
A Public Policy Professor from Lincoln University, Ann Brower,  called this “democracy by invitation” and questioned whether collaborative planning was a truly democratic process.
“Anytime you take power away from the ballot box your are diluting democracy,” she said.
After the collaboration process is finished, the local authority must establish a review process which allows a wider range of submitters to participate and then can either accept or reject the plan and then there are some rights of appeal to the Environment Court.
Veteran environmentalist and member of the Land and Water Forum, Guy Salmon, said that it what it came down was that you were asking people to compromise.
“And if you are asking them to compromise with each other they have to have some confidence that if they shake hands on a deal, it’s going to stick and isn’t going to be overturned a but later by the regional council or the Environment Court,” he said.
And so he proposed that the review panel which undertook the review should go back to the “people in the collaborative governance room” so that the group had a chance to re-establish its consensus after considering what people outside the room had to say.
They would then come to a fresh consensus that would become the final consensus.”
Otherwise, he said the final decisions would be taken by the Review Panel.
Inside a Committee Room at Parliament, this may have sounded like abstract political theory but the reality is that the legislation has the potential to alter radically the way Councils go about establishing their regional plans.
Therefore, some of the practicalities of the proposed legislation were dealt with in some detail by submitters.
Mr Salmon was one of several submitters who warned that who was admitted into the collaboration was critical.
“When the Land and Water Forum came up with the process it was a bit naïve of us really to think that here would be an effort to exclude people from the collaborative stakeholder groups.
“What’s actually happened is that some regional councils have done just that so some of the leading environmental organisations like Fish and Game have simply been shut out of the process and this has had a very detrimental effect on their confidence.”
He said that the people around the table should be representing somebody outside the room.
“They should be representing large representative organisations like Federated Farmers, Forest and Bird, Fish and Game and iwi authorities so that the people at the table actually have to report back to somebody else and take them with them and if they make a compromise it’s something that the whole organisation is will9ijg to accept.”
Green MP Eugenie Sage as worried about the same democracy issues as Anne Brower.
She asked about the relative balance between the Council and the Collaborative Group.
“The collaborative group has no elected mandate,” she said.
But Mr Salmon said the Council still had the power of final approval of the plan.
“To make collaboration work elected politicians do have to relinquish some of their power but not the final power to say yes or no.”
Counsel for Forest and Bird, Sally Gepp said the organisation was “cautiously neutral” about collaborative planning.
‘This really is an experiment and it should be seen in that light,” she said.
Ann Brower was more sceptical than that and she said that overseas studies had shown collaborative planning did not work for rivers and waterways.
She said that was because for collaborative planning to work there couldn’t be effects on people who weren’t involved in the process --- “so no downstream effects, no flow on effects.”
When he introduced the new legislation last November, Environment Minister, Nick Smith, indicated that he saw collaborative planning as par of a package of messages designed to deal with what he called the “cumbersome processes” of the Resource Management Act.
So the Committee has been given a huge challenge – to develop legislation for what is essentially an informal process. Drawing the line between practicality and the ideal will be a challenge.

 







 

 

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