A Summary of Conference Voices by James Baines
The 2015 Annual Meeting of the NZAIA was held in Wellington on 3 December, and dedicated to the memory of long-serving member James Newell. The purpose of the meeting was described in this way:
“Impact assessment has been a major environmental management tool in New Zealand since 1974, but has seen major changes since the introduction of the Resource Management Act and other legislation in recent times. Different forms of impact assessment, dealing with social, health, ecological, and other types of impact, are now in use. At the same time, impact assessment is used in a variety of decision contexts, not just for resource consents.
So the field of impact assessment is expanding and evolving, although in some respects practice in New Zealand may be falling behind international trends. At the same time, the recent financial and economic crises have seen governments in many countries looking at environmental safeguard processes more critically. New Zealand is no exception.
This year the meeting reflected on how New Zealand impact assessment is faring in these choppy seas.”
The meeting opened with some reflections by long-time SIA practitioner Nick Taylor who noted that the institutional setting for impact assessment (IA) in its various forms in NZ has seen gains and losses from time to time. Download the presentation by Nick Taylor and Michael Mackay to recall some of the outstanding contributions that IA has made in the recent history of NZ’s infrastructure development.
Richard Morgan, long-serving president of NZAIA questioned the current evidence base for quality and effectiveness of IAs in NZ, but usefully summarised the qualities that make for good IA practice. You will also find Peter Skelton’s presentation highlighting some key points from a legislative perspective and some signposts to the requirements for effective IA.
There is an increasingly diverse and specialised range of IA sub-disciplines which has evolved over time and continues to do so. Specialist topic presentations were well represented during the day; some covering existing practice and others looking toward future innovations. The specialist topics included Marie Brown speaking on bio-diversity and strategic environmental assessment, Martin Ward and Jane Murray on sustainability appraisal, Gillian Stewart on participatory innovations to social assessment, and Michelle Thompson-Fawcett challenging the validity of recent innovations in participatory approaches involving indigenous communities.
Duane Wilkins gave us all a tour-de-force presentation on tools and technology to support community-based environmental monitoring and impact assessment in the digital age – see his presentation for pointers to the use of GIS mapping and a range of Apps including MyTracks, PDF Maps, Kobotoolbox, MyMaps, Tourbuilder, Google Earth Pro, Photospheres, Streetview and other 21st century ‘tricks of the trade’. Judith Roper-Lindsay painted a graphic picture of the threats to NZ biological diversity – that’s the ‘not-so-clean’ and the ‘green’ in our country’s ‘clean and green’.
Hamish Rennie set out the conceptual foundations for linking impact assessments of various kinds in the Disaster Risk Reduction that is becoming an increasingly central focus in planning responses to climate change – and gave us his version of a current report card on progress.
Against a backdrop of dramatic and accelerating changes in population demographics, Mary-Jane Rivers reminded us of the power of community-led development where good impact assessment makes a difference through a combination of community engagement and thoughtful and relevant analysis – with several graphic examples and associated hotlinks.
The meeting drew to a close with reflections on the state of play in IA and professional practice issues that need addressing. Check out the summary file to see where these challenges lie and which challenges you might want to do something about in your own practice.