Government announces Resource Management Act overhaul

More, and potentially big, changes in the pipeline: Government announces Resource Management Act overhaul

Minister for the Environment Hon David Parker has announced a major review and overhaul of New Zealand’s resource management system, focused on the Resource Management Act (RMA).

The announcement is the second step in the Government’s planned reforms.  Step one, announced in November 2018, involves the introduction of legislation to address a number of either straightforward or pressing issues with the RMA.  Many of the proposed changes will “wind back” changes made by the previous Government in 2017.

Step two will involve a more comprehensive review focused on addressing a wide range of concerns with the nearly 30-year-old RMA, which Minister Parker describes as “underperforming” and “unwieldy”.  The review will build on current work across freshwater, climate change, urban development, biodiversity, heritage, infrastructure, and whenua Māori.  The Cabinet Paper outlining and assessing the options for reform is available here.

The end product?  Apparently, a revamped RMA fit for purpose in the 21st century that will cut complexity and costs, better enable urban development, and better protect the environment.

What will the review involve?

A Resource Management Review Panel (Review Panel), chaired by retired Court of Appeal Judge Hon Tony Randerson QC, will be established to undertake the review.  Draft terms of reference for the Panel are available here.

The broad aims are to improve environmental outcomes and enable better and timely urban development within environmental limits.  Key issues include:

  • Removing complexity in the RMA;
  • Increasing the effectiveness of national direction;
  • Strengthening environmental bottom lines and further clarifying Part 2 (which states the sustainable management purpose of the RMA), including whether it should remain in the RMA or be moved into a separate piece of legislation;
  • Considering whether to separate the RMA into two parts; one that deals with land use planning and the other with environmental protection;
  • Ensuring that Māori are appropriately recognised and have an appropriate role in resource management processes;
  • Improving the quality of plans and enabling faster and more responsive land use planning;
  • Creating a new role for spatial planning;
  • Recognising objectives for urban development and infrastructure networks and projects, and ensuring sufficient certainty for major infrastructure;
  • Responding to increasing climate change and natural hazards risks; and
  • Ensuring effective compliance, monitoring and enforcement.

While the review will focus on the RMA, it will also address the interface of the RMA with the Local Government Act 2002, Land Transport Management Act 2003, and Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act.  The review is not expected to recommend major institutional reform, but may touch on ensuring that functions are allocated to delivery institutions with the right incentives and capability.

Will the public get a say?

 The review will involve three phases of consultation:

  • Phase one will involve consultation about the scope of the review with a targeted group, including Māori, Local Government New Zealand, the Farming Leaders Group, several legal and planning organisations, the Environmental Defence Society, and other environmental and climate change groups. Following that, the Review Panel’s terms of reference will be finalised.
  • During phase two the Review Panel will engage with a wider group, including further iwi authorities and sector and environmental groups.
  • Phase three will involve broad, open engagement with the general public, following the development of more concrete reform proposals by the Review Panel.

When are we likely to see any changes?

 The Review Panel will be required to produce an “issue and options” paper by the end of October 2019.  The paper will be used to gather public feedback, which the Review Panel will consider in preparing its final report.  The final report is due with the Minister by the end of May 2020.

While it is widely accepted that the RMA needs review and reform, political agreement stops there.  Consensus on the scope and nature of changes is likely to be difficult, and is unlikely to be achieved in this electoral cycle.  In the meantime, National has indicated that it is undertaking its own reform work.  This is certainly a space to watch in the coming months.

If you have any questions or concerns about the proposed overhaul or the upcoming amendments to the RMA, how they may impact your existing assets or future plans, and how you can best get involved in the process, Lane Neave’s resource management team is happy to discuss.

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Josh Leckie, Annabel Linterman, Kelsey Barry

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