With the announcement of the formation of Crown Irrigation Investments Limited by Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy (‘IRRIGATION INVESTMENT COMPANY ESTABLISHED’ Beehive press release, 1 July 2013), the government has unashamedly put in place the machinery to tilt the regional planning playing field firmly in favour of economic development.
That focus on the prospect of thousands of new jobs, largely irrespective of the knock-on effects of irrigation on water quality and the life-supporting capacity of water bodies, fits hand-in-glove with the Minister for the Environment Amy Adams’ newly re-crafted Section 32 of the Resource Management Act. The new Section 32 (tweaked by the Select Committee) will require that:
(2) An assessment under subsection (1)(b)(ii) must--
(a) identify and assess the benefits and costs of the environmental, economic, social, and cultural effects that are anticipated from the implementation of the provisions, including the opportunities for
(i) economic growth that are anticipated to be provided or reduced; and
(ii) employment that are anticipated to be provided or reduced; …”
While Section 32 only requires an ‘assessment’ of the listed matters, and the eventual plan provisions must still work towards achieving sustainable management, the effect of these changes will be an inclination to favour planning approaches that provide for economic growth and which, as a convenient consequence, also do not reduce opportunities for economic growth.
With the government committing significant funding to irrigation projects on the back of an expectation that the anticipated economic growth and employment will be provided, we can expect to see the Minister of Primary Industries, in the guise of Crown Irrigation Investments Limited, wading into regional planning processes as a submitter. Expect them to be strongly advocating that a proper Section 32 evaluation should show that any planning approaches that limit access to natural resources, even if for sound natural resource management reasons, will cause a reduction in the full realisation of the 420,000 hectares of potentially irrigated land, and the accompanying employment opportunities and economic growth it brings with it.
The Department of Conservation has a key role in sticking up for the natural environment. The Department of Conservation’s legislated mandate includes to:
- Preserve (as is practicable) all indigenous freshwater fisheries and protect recreational freshwater fisheries and freshwater fish habitats;
- Advocate the conservation of natural resources;
- Promote the benefits of natural resource conservation to present and future generations
However, it doesn’t take a genius to see the conflict between the Ministry of Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation. One is striving for as much economic gain and employment growth as possible out of the total quantum of natural resources present, while the other is striving to ensure that the natural resources are preserved, protected and in all other cases conserved (i.e. used sparingly and responsibly). The conflict is already playing out in the non-protection of the critically endangered Maui’s Dolphin (“‘LACK OF EVIDENCE’ BEHIND NZ VOTE AGAINST MAUI’S AID”, Dominion Post, 8 July 2013)
The Department of Conservation has been involved in regional planning for many years as part of its advocacy function. But with the advent of Crown Irrigation Investments Limited, which does not have a legislated conservation bone in its body, we are likely to now see a government advocate in the regional planning mix plugging for outcomes that are at loggerheads with those of the Department of Conservation. But, and it is a big but, only one of those parties has a large pot of money and the political support of the National government leadership behind it.
So the scene is nicely set. One government agency with almost unlimited funds available to them going head to head with poor old DoC that lies financially bound and politically gagged on the floor. Add to the mix a growing preference for Boards of Inquiry, with their tight timeframes and one-shot-only lack of appeal rights, and the playing field is in the process of being well and truly tipped. With bold and brash government companies and ministries dominating high-cost, time-limited and resource-hungry plan making processes, the days of balanced and publicly accessible planning processes look to be another addition to the endangered species list.
Phillip Percy is a Perception Planning director who loves having lively discussions about current environmental topics.