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Environmental Betterment over Fines
Is it time to move away from the money-go-round approach to fining councils for breach of the RMA ?

Across New Zealand municipal storm and wastewater systems are under significant pressure. This is a result of population growth, increasing demand and outdated infrastructure and a lack of available funds to allocate towards maintenance or upgrade. Given the inherent design of many of these municipal systems, which were often inherited from the former Ministry of Works, there is a risk of overflow, with resulting adverse effects on valued resources (rivers, lakes and the coastal environment). This brings the prospect of prosecution.

Over the past two years, a number of district council prosecutions have made their way through the courts, with varying approaches taken to sentencing. Although imposing fines for breaches of the RMA continues to be the standard approach, the courts have been open to considering different forms of sentence which seek to reduce the potential for future breaches, or which are directed at environmental betterment.

This presentation will outline the current approach to sentencing under the RMA and provide a case study of several recent prosecutions of district councils, including the approach taken to imposing sentence and key observations made by the courts.

The session will then present an argument, for discussion, that councils should, where possible, seek to avoid the ratepayer money-go-round that eventuates when fines are ordered to be paid to the prosecuting regional councils. Instead, environmental betterment projects over financial penalties should become the priority. While no immediate overhaul of the sentencing regime would be required to realise this goal, it would represent a shift for both prosecuting and defendant councils, and potentially a more practical and efficient approach for local government.


Wednesday 7th December, 11:30am


Mike Wakefield
Senior Associate, Simpson Grierson


Mike is a Senior Associate in Simpson Grierson's local government and  environment group, based in Christchurch. 

He specialises in regulatory matters involving the Resource Management Act, local government legislation and building and alcohol issues.  Mike frequently appears before the Environment Court and High Court in relation to a range of proceedings, including resource consent and planning policy appeals and mediations, declaration and enforcement proceedings, and judicial review.


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