The long-promised review of the National Conservation Law is now underway.
The review committee met for the first time last week, receiving a presentation on the law and discussing the need for review.
One provision in the NCL dealing with environmental impact assessments has faced fire as an impediment to development.
“It’s not the case that every single project needs to have an EIA for us to understand what the implications are,” said Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie.
She said numbers back this up. Out of the more than 1200 applications considered, she said one half of one percent required an EIA.
“I think the numbers speak for themselves, the evidence is there,” said Ms. Ebanks-Petrie.
The latest ESO Compendium of Statistics shows planning approvals up more than 30% from 2013 when the National Conservation Law was passed through 2017. The value of planning approvals over the same time period increased by more than 75%.
“To be honest [the EIA provision in the NCL] hasn’t affected us in any way whatsoever,” said Davenport Development partner Paul Pearson.
Mr. Pearson said while none of his projects have necessitated an EIA, the possibility looms large over any developer’s application.
“I know developers who have been told you can’t build around that particular tree, you need to re-develop or re-design your whole site,” said Mr. Pearson. “That could be a big hit on your profit margin as well.”
And in development, like any other business, time is money.
“If you have an EIA and it takes 12 months to complete and you go backwards and forwards, that 12 months might make all the difference to your development, you might say it’s not worth it now,” said Mr. Pearson.
He said at the time the law was passed many in the development community were wary of the National Conservation Council’s EIA powers.
“It certainly came across at the time as very, very frightening,” said Mr. Pearson, though he admitted the evidence hasn’t borne this out.
“Very few of the applications have been slapped with an EIA, but at the time, that’s not what we all thought, for sure,” he said.
The 22-member panel plans to settle its terms of reference at its next meeting, and meet every two weeks thereafter.
When the review process is complete the committee must submit its findings to Cabinet within one month.