Monday, April 27, 2009

A project of national significance

The Manawatu Standard had a major scoop on Friday, uncovering evidence that the Minister for the Environment's call-in of the Turitea windfarm proposal did not meet "national significance" criteria. The project - an ordinary mid-sized wind farm contentious because it was being built in a reserve - was called in in December, ostensibly as a "project of national significance". But the Minister was advised before making the decision that it met only two of the eight criteria in the law: it involved more than one district, and affected our international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. The former is usually uncontentious - plenty of projects (including several previous Manawatu wind farms) cross district boundaries, and local authorities handle it by holding joint hearings; the latter, as MfE noted, "is true of all proposals for the use and development of wind farms". But rather than take his ministry's advice that it was a local project which could be handled locally, Smith called it in because it was

consistent with my intention to amend the RMA to provide for priority consents for larger-scale infrastructure.
In other words, local democracy was trampled so the Minister could show the business community his desire for "reform". Our rights as citizens to control local development came second place to the Minister's ego.

Hopefully Smith will be forced to answer some tough questions about his decision-making process in Parliament tomorrow. Meanwhile, we might all want to consider what this tells us about National's RMA reform plans, and how low it is setting the bar for call-ins. This is, as noted above, an ordinary, mid-sized windfarm. If this makes the threshold, then so does pretty much every major project, and local government will have no control whatsoever. Instead, decisions on local matters will be made in Wellington, and local communities will be left out in the cold.