A (small) step closer to our replacement RMA

As we have previously reported on 30 July 2020 (see here), the Government is currently undertaking a comprehensive reform of New Zealand’s resource management system.  As part of the reform, the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) will be replaced with three new pieces of legislation, the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), Strategic Planning Act and Climate Adaptation Act.  This was the recommendation of the Review Panel tasked with reviewing the resource management system last year.

On 29 June 2021, Parliament referred an exposure draft of parts of the NBA to a select committee inquiry.  The inquiry is expected to take three months with public submissions being called for from the beginning of July 2021.

The NBA is the primary replacement for the RMA and will be an integrated statute for environmental protection and land use.  The exposure draft does not cover the full NBA Bill but provides an early look at several aspects including:

  • Preliminary provisions (e.g. some definitions);
  • Purpose and related provisions;
  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi clause;
  • High level framework for formulating environmental limits;
  • environmental outcomes;
  • High level framework for the National Planning Framework (NPF); and
  • High level framework for Natural and Built Environments Plans (NBA Plans).

The exposure draft largely implements the recommendations of the Review Panel and is at a very high level, leaving much of the important detail still to come in the full NBA Bill.  We have summarised our key observations from our review of the exposure draft below.

The purpose of the NBA has been strengthened in the exposure draft from the recommendations of the Review Panel.  The purpose of the NBA is to enable Te Oranga o Te Taiao to be upheld and to enable the use of the environment in a way that supports the well-being of present generations without compromising the well-being of future generations.

The concept of Te Mana o Te Taiao referred to by the Review Panel has been replaced with Te Oranga o Te Taiao.  Te Oranga o Te Taiao incorporates:

  • The health of the natural environment;
  • The intrinsic relationship between iwi and hapū and te taiao;
  • The interconnectedness of the natural environment; and
  • The essential relationship between the health of the natural environment and its capacity to sustain all life.

To achieve the purpose of the NBA, use of the environment must comply with environmental limits, promote outcomes for the benefit of the environment and any adverse effects must be avoided, remedied or mitigated.  Environmental limits will be prescribed through the NPF by the Minister for the Environment and can be qualitative as well as quantitative.

Significantly, all those with powers and functions under the NBA will be required to “give effect to”, rather than take into account, the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  We can expect further guidance on what Government considers this means in the full NBA Bill.

The NBA also prescribes environmental outcomes, which must be promoted through the NPF and in NBA Plans.  The shift from an effects-based approach to an outcomes-based approach for environmental and development objectives is significant.  The outcomes are wide ranging and described using varying language.  It will be interesting to see how they are developed and refined through the select committee processes to avoid uncertainty in their future application.  The role of environmental outcomes in guiding decision-making about resource consents, designations and other approvals under the NBA is expected in the full NBA Bill.

The exposure draft carries through the Review Panel’s recommendation for a significant reduction in planning documents, with only one NBA Plan per region (approximately 14 in total across the country) required to be developed by planning committees rather than local authorities.  NBA Plans will be required to include environmental limits, give effect to the NPF and be consistent with “regional and spatial strategies”.  There is limited detail yet on how the NBA Plans and regional and spatial strategies will be formulated.

The select committee’s terms of reference include five resource management reform objectives, including to improve system efficiency and effectiveness and reduce complexity.  The outcome of the select committee inquiry will inform further policy development on the NBA Bill.  The full NBA Bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament in early 2022 when there will be a second opportunity for public engagement.  We expect the most tangible input will come from the public at this second stage when there is more detail on the full regime and processes established by the NBA.

If you have any queries about the impacts of the reform process on you or your business, please contact our Resource Management Team.

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