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Balancing Common Sense and Legal Process under the RMA: Protecting Communities and the Environment

By Anna Bensemann, Senior Planner, Baseline Group | May 18, 2023

When it comes to district planning, the fixed nature of rules often raises questions about their practicality. While it may seem unreasonable for a resource consent to be required for minor breaches, it is essential to consider the broader implications of such leniency. It is important to strike a balance between common sense and legal processes under the Resource Management Act (RMA), emphasizing the need to protect communities and environment.

The fixed nature of rules ensures consistency and predictability in decision-making processes. These rules exist to protect the environment, promote sustainable development, and safeguard community well-being. By setting clear standards, they prevent the accumulation of harmful pollutants and maintain the integrity of our ecosystems.

While it may be tempting to apply common sense to every situation, it is crucial to consider the potential consequences of deviating from established rules. Take, for instance, the example of an air discharge burning coal. If we allowed even a slight increase in pollution beyond the specified limits, the long-term impact on air quality could lead to severe health issues for the surrounding community. Similarly, a minor breach in wastewater discharge could result in foul odours and a compromised quality of life for residents.

By enforcing strict standards for various resource consent types, the legislation aims to prevent the gradual degradation of our environment and mitigate potential harm to human well-being. While some breaches may seem insignificant on their own, their cumulative effect can be detrimental. Adhering to the legal process helps maintain a healthy living environment for present and future generations.

Deviation from fixed rules, even in seemingly minor cases, can create a slippery slope where exceptions become the norm. This erodes the integrity of the resource management framework, leaving room for exploitation and unchecked environmental harm. By adhering to established rules, we maintain a level playing field and ensure that everyone operates within the same framework of expectations.

The legal process not only ensures adherence to rules but also promotes accountability and transparency. Through public consultations, hearings, and submissions, communities have a platform to express their concerns and influence decision-making. The legal process encourages a robust exchange of ideas, fostering trust and collaboration between decision-makers and stakeholders.

While fixed rules under the District Plan are essential, there is room for flexibility and common sense in certain circumstances. It is crucial to differentiate between minor breaches that may have negligible impacts and those that pose significant risks to the environment and public health. The resource consents process allows an assessment of each situation to consider the potential consequences, allowing for a balanced approach, upholding the well-being of communities.

Balancing common sense and legal processes under the RMA is a delicate task, but one that ensures the protection of our communities and the environment. While flexibility may be warranted in some cases, the fixed nature of rules is crucial for maintaining environmental integrity and safeguarding public health. Striking a balance between common sense and legal processes enables us to navigate the complexities of resource management effectively, ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future for all.

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