The poll question from a major daily newspaper asked: Do you support the Government’s move making it easier to chop down and trim trees?

Within hours, hundreds had voted yes.  Not many had voted no.  I – as MP for Invercargill – was getting emails from Aucklanders decrying this alleged move (it only affects Auckland as they are the only area with general tree protection rules).  The result itself was not surprising, nor was the fact the paper had tried to polarize opinion around National’s changes to the Resource Management Act.

The changes, recently reported back to Parliament through the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009 , are designed to simplify and remove more of the frustrating barriers to growth whilst balancing our clean green ‘brand’.

It’s not just about giving people the right to chop down trees.  It’s about a number of different goals.

Most of the 167 proposed changes to the Act will go ahead, but we’ve made some important refinements in response to public submissions.

Significant changes include:

  • Strengthening the provisions to ensure the timely and efficient processing of resource consents
  • Limiting, rather than removing, further rounds of submissions on plan changes to ensure property rights are recognised
  • Strengthening the process for national consenting and national environmental standards.

These changes will cut red tape without compromising our commitment to the environment.  Phase II of the changes to the Act is more complex, requiring significant work on improved management of aquaculture, infrastructure, urban design and water.

There is also a major job to develop the scope, functions and structure of the proposed Environmental Protection Authority.

Also included is better alignment of the Resource Management Act processes with those of the Building, Conservation, Forests, and Historic Places Acts.

The Phase II changes will take a considerable amount of time and effort to ensure they are cost-effective and workable.

The changes are not about cutting down trees.  They are designed to redress the imbalance between over-zealous interpretations of the law while protecting our environment for the future.

On a similar note, did you realize the Department of Conservation administers 8,258,087 hectares (31%)of NZ’s total land mass?  As an avowed conservationist, I can see how preservationists (those who want to keep every single bit of the 31% preserved forever) might see mining on the conservation estate as bad.

However, my point of view is that we need to look at the balance.  What if 10 hectares was used for mining, returning a large amount of money to the Crown that could be spent on health, education, or further conservation?  It is also dependent on being able to extract the valuable mineral resource without damaging the integrity of the conservation estate.

No-one is ever going to allow mining in the middle of a public area like the Milford track.  But there are many areas where mining would hardly be noticed, and as long as the miners were involved in active mitigation of their effect of the environment, can it be such a bad thing to consider?