Wednesday, August 09, 2006

DOC and Development

In my post on Ian Ewen-Street and National, I noted that National's environmental credibility was undermined on its constant statements in favour of destructive development in national parks and DOC reserves. And true to form, today we have National criticising DOC's decision to deny a concession for Bay of Plenty Electricity to inundate part of the Kaituna Scenic Reserve for a hydro-power project. Their argument seems to be that it is only a small part of the reserve - just 1 or 2 percent - and therefore the application should have been granted. But it's just not that simple.

The process for granting concessions on DOC land is laid out in part 3B of the Conservation Act 1987. Under s17U, the Minister (or someone delegated power on their behalf) must consider the nature of the activity, its effects, possibilities for mitigation, and any public submissions, if called for. They may decline an application if there is insufficient information to assess the effects (a precautionary principle), or if there are no adequate or reasonable methods for avoiding or mitigating those effects. More importantly, they must decline an application

if the proposed activity is contrary to the provisions of this Act or the purposes for which the land concerned is held.

At this stage, it's worth noting that the area in question was a scenic reserve. The purposes for which such land is held are laid out in s19 of the Reserves Act 1977, and include protecting and preserving in perpetuity their intrinsic worth. The land can only be managed and administered for this purpose, and to retain its natural environment and beauty. It is difficult to see how flooding even a small part of such a reserve would not be considered to be contrary to that purpose.

The upshot is that DOC is legally required to reject these sorts or proposals (unless, somehow, there would be significant conservation benefits). If Don Brash has a problem with that, he should criticise the law, rather than the people who apply it.


Icehawk: I'd say that anyone lodging such an application is a fool - but DOC is required to process every application, no matter how dumb. And while yes, it would save everyone a lot of time if they told people early on that there was no chance of success, doing so invites judicial review for bias. So, everyone has to waste their time and money considering an application, when the end result is never really in doubt...

There's some specific features about this case which I'll get into later, but the chief reason applications take time is due to lack of staff. Its a lot quicker with low-impact, recreational stuff for the tourism industry, because their applications tend to be very similar with known issues, and DOC has taken specific steps to speed up the process for them. The rest - like the applications for dams and mines and airwalks - tend to be fiddly and raise unique issues, requiring time and attention. They could obviously process them quicker with more people - but National is opposed to that, apparently.

I should also point out that the delay in this case isn't entirely DOC's fault. BOPE was given a draft version of the report before christmas, and they seem to have played the Field game with it. An initial delay was due to their being slack in responding to the draft, and then there was a further delay due to the amount of feedback (and again, failing to deal with this properly invites judicial review). So they are in a sense the author of their own misfortune here.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 8/09/2006 11:27:00 PM

Hydro plays an important part in moving to more sustainable electricity generation, and I think we are sometimes to precious about the balance between landscape values and energy development. While a gas-fired generator in the Tauranga port area (for instance) would avoid all the landscape problems and be a shoe in for clearance, it would pump out CO2 and use gas reserves up.

I've no idea what the sites like, but the DOC seems to have no problem taking chunks of reserves to build carparks, visitor centres, etc. What's the difference between that and a bigger lake?

Posted by Rich : 8/10/2006 02:03:00 PM

Rich: I agree, hydro is important. Unfortunately, people keep trying to put the dams in dumb places. Though part of the problem also seems to be an attitude amongst businesses (and the national party) that public land exists primarily to be privatised for their private profit, rather than held for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

As for carparks and visitor centres, the answer is that they are specifically allowed by law. The point of having scenic reserves is so they can be enjoyed by the public, and so one of the principles of management for scenic reserves is (s19(2)(c)):

To the extent compatible with the principal or primary purposes of the retention and preservation of the natural or scenic values, open portions of the reserve may be developed for amenities and facilities where these are necessary to enable the public to obtain benefit and enjoyment from the reserve

Other types of reserves have similar principles, stronger or weaker depending on the purpose of the reserve. DOC has a guide here.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 8/10/2006 02:18:00 PM