1 \section{Introduction}
3 According to the International Association for Impact Assessment,
4 public participation and transparency are two of the basic principles
5 applying to all stages in the impact assessment
6 process \parencite{principles}. As the ultimate purpose of
7 environmental impact assessment (EIA) is to inform decision-making in
8 a way that promotes sustainable development'\footnote{The actual
9 meaning of the fuzzy term \emph{sustainable development} is the
10 subject of continuing debate. In this essay it is used to describe
11 economic development that neither compromises ecosystem services nor
12 discounts shared community values. For a discussion of the term
13 \emph{sustainable development} see
15 it must ensure that the public has access to all information relating
16 to a proposal and ought to allow the public to participate in the
17 decision-making process.
19 In New Zealand, EIA is performed through the Resource Management Act
20 1991 (RMA), a comprehensive environmental management framework
21 governing the allocation and utilisation of natural resources and
22 controling adverse effects on the social, natural and constructed
23 environment. According to \textcite{sadler}, environmental assessment
24 under the RMA operates within the statutory planning and consent
25 system rather than as a separate procedure [and] applies explicitly to
26 projects'' \parencite[p 31]{sadler}. The consent system requires
27 project planners to submit an environmental impact statement (in New
28 Zealand this is called an Assessment of Environmental Effects or AEE)
29 in order to be able to obtain the resource consents needed for the
30 implementation of the project. As the AEE is prepared by the project
31 proponents (or assessors hired by them), the review of the scope,
32 accuracy and level of detail of a given AEE is of great importance to
33 ensure that decision-makers in the council have sufficient information
34 to make decisions that are sound from a socio-economic and
35 environmental point of view.
37 In an editorial of the Resource Management Bulletin entitled
38 `Improving environmental assessment under the RMA'', David Grinlinton
39 makes the following statement regarding the review of poor-quality
40 environmental assessments or potentially harmful proposals:
42 \begin{quote}
43 Councils often do not have the inclination to challenge an AEE,
44 particularly if the development may bring benefits to the region. It
45 therefore often falls to individuals or public interest groups to
46 grasp the thorn and challenge
47 them. \parencite[][pp. 110-111]{grinlinton}
48 \end{quote}
50 To discuss and evaluate this claim, we shall take a look at the
51 following subjects:
53 \begin{inparaenum}[\itshape(a)\upshape]
54 \item consultation in best practice EIA and under the RMA,
55 \item the process surrounding the submission of an AEE,
56 \item the decision-making process, and
57 \item the gap between planning and implementation of plans.
58 \end{inparaenum}