Local Government Magazine
Last Word

In support of elected representatives

By Dennis Bush-King, group manager, environmental assurance, Tasman District Council. Dennis’ views are a personal reflection and do not necessarily represent the views of Tasman District Council.
Would parliamentary members be happy if Parliament was to delegate powers of drafting and enacting statutory legislation to an appointed panel of legal and other experts? 

Most likely not. as it is important that our Parliamentary elected representatives scrutinise legislation that impacts on our nation. After all, that is one of the reasons they are elected.

Why then, should it be any different when plans are prepared under the Natural and Built Environments Act, and also the Strategic Planning Act? These plans are subordinate legislation prepared for, and with, the communities that are affected by them. Such planning instruments can have wide-ranging regulatory effect. 

Local authority elected members are elected to represent and promote the interests of the district or region over which they serve. They should have oversight of the natural and built environment policy settings, and any associated legal instruments, which affect those communities they serve.  

The proposed legislation which seeks to replace the Resource Management Act transfers the plan-making responsibility to an appointed panel in what is very much a technocratic, rather than a democratic, process. Local authorities will have to still meet the costs of this process and yet there will be no accountability back to the electorate.

The experience of plan making under the Resource Management Act (and even its predecessor legislation) has not always been easy, but elected representatives have had oversight of the scope and content of plans. 

They have been able to question and probe advice offered and gain an appreciation of how the subordinate legislation will work, who and what interests will be affected, and whether the outcomes sought are achievable and fit for purpose.

One of the objectives of the reforms is to introduce system efficiencies, less complexity, while retaining appropriate local democratic input. From what we have seen so far, the reform package completely fails in this respect.

If local government is to continue playing an important role in place making, including setting a planning framework to manage the way in which our land, water, air, and coastal resources are enjoyed, used, developed, or protected, then it is critical that decision-making, at least to the point of public notification of a planning instrument, stays in the hands of elected representatives. The concept of independent hearing panels to weigh up the advice of officials and submitters, which can be a time-consuming task, should be a decision also left to elected representatives, but if this was to be mandated, the hearing panels’ recommendations should also rest with elected representatives.

Given the outcome of planning decisions affect how our public resources are allocated – and also the scale, form, and direction of land development that needs to be serviced by infrastructure (which needs to be paid for) – elected representatives are the people who should be accountable. Technocrats, and even bureaucrats unless given appropriate delegations, do not have the accountability to defend these types of decisions, especially when costs are imposed on communities.

The old saying of “no taxation without representation” resonates and could be extended to “no regulation without representation”. Our local government structure is currently based on representative democracy where elected representatives are empowered to make decisions in the best interests of the communities they represent. Denying them the opportunity to discharge these obligations when it comes to making planning instruments under the Natural and Built Environments Act, is a retrograde step. LG

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