Forcing councils to contract out regulatory functions such as issuing resource consents is likely to cost the environment and the public, the Green Party said today.
When Environment Minister Nick Smith said at this weekend's National Party conference that he could force councils to contract out regulatory functions, he seemed to have forgotten that past experiences doing this very thing has been a disaster.
"We need environmental decision makers to operate in an open, transparent and democratically accountable way in order to protect our environment and the places New Zealanders treasure most," said Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage.
"There is a major concern that if private, profit-driven companies are to be involved in environmental regulation and making resource consent decisions about new quarries, irrigation takes, discharges, subdivision, marine farming and activities that affect land, water and the coast, protection of the environment will be at the bottom of the list.
"Contracting our regulatory functions will make councils less accountable to citizens for the state of the local environment.
"With the last week's series of disasters involving the privatisation of prisons, it doesn't make sense to be talking about privatising even more services that should be kept in public hands.
"In 2007, Queenstown Lakes District Council had to pay more than $3m to buy private company CivicCorp to bring its RMA consent processing and other regulatory functions back inhouse.
"CivicCorp was then the largest local government contracting company of its type in New Zealand.
"There had been long running disputes between QLDC and the CivicCorp about the company's poor performance and unacceptably high level of profit. Council had to bring its regulatory functions back inhouse to improve the services and so the council was able to carry out its statutory functions under RMA and other legislation.
"Forcing councils to privatise their regulatory roles is another attack on local democracy by having Ministers direct how councils should operate," said Ms Sage.