Resource management reform update

The Resource Management Amendment Act 2020 (Amendment Act) received the Royal Assent on 30 June 2020.  The Amendment Act is the first stage of the Government’s proposed reforms to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).  The second stage involves a comprehensive review of all functions and processes under the RMA.

The COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020 (Fast-track Act) received the Royal Assent on 8 July 2020.  It is the Government’s temporary means of addressing the serious economic and social disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by promoting employment growth and supporting investment certainty across the country.

In this article we provide detail on two key aspects of the Amendment Act and an overview of the Fast-track Act.

Resource Management Amendment Act 2020 – freshwater management and climate change

The Amendment Act introduces a freshwater planning process that will be mandatory for regional councils to follow when developing regional policy statements or plans.  The intent of this new process is to assist councils to meet the 2025 deadline for implementing national direction under the new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPSFM).

Professor Peter Skelton CNZM has been appointed as Chief Freshwater Commissioner and Alternate Environment Court Judge Craig Thompson as Deputy Chief Freshwater Commissioner.  They are responsible for convening freshwater hearing panels to hear public submissions on freshwater planning instruments.

When preparing freshwater planning instruments, councils must notify and seek public submissions.  The instruments will then be referred to the Chief Freshwater Commissioner and then a hearing panel to make recommendations.  If a council accepts the panel’s recommendations, appeal rights will be limited to questions of law.  If a council rejects the panel’s recommendations, decisions can be appealed on its merits.

These amendments repeal and replace the existing collaborative planning process.  They are part of a broader freshwater reform package also involving the new NPSFM and a National Environmental Standard for Freshwater.  More information on the broader reforms is available here.

The Amendment Act also removes the current statutory barrier for consent authorities and regional councils considering the effects of greenhouse gas discharges on climate change when making decisions on discharge or coastal permit applications and regional planning rules concerning the discharge of greenhouse gases.  This is intended to bring the RMA in line with climate change policy under the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act (Zero Carbon Act).

Sections 61, 66 and 74 of the RMA have also been amended to require local authorities to have regard to any emission reduction plans and national adaption plans made under the Zero Carbon Act when making and amending regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans.

However, these amendments will not come into force until 31 December 2021 at the earliest, to allow time for emission reduction plans and national adaptation plans to be prepared and come into force under the Zero Carbon Act and for national direction (likely in the form of a national policy statement or national environmental standard) to be promulgated as to how councils should deal with climate change effects and mitigation in their decision-making under the RMA.

COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Act 2020

The Fast-track Act is intended to promote employment growth and the certainty of ongoing investment across New Zealand, to support the country’s recovery from COVID-19, while continuing to promote the RMA’s purpose of the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.

The Fast-track Act is intended to speed up the consenting and designation process for eligible infrastructure and development projects.  It is a short-term intervention for a period of two years after which it will be repealed.

There are 11 Government-led projects already specified in the Fast-track Act.  These include rail, ferry, roading, housing and water projects.  These projects will be referred directly to expert consenting panels to set appropriate conditions.  Former Chief Environment Court Judge Laurie Newhook has been appointed as the convenor of the expert consenting panels.

Applications can be made for private and public projects that will be considered by the Minister for the Environment.  The criteria for consideration of projects include economic benefits, social and cultural wellbeing of current and future generations, whether the project will progress faster using this process, adverse environmental effects, and public benefits.  Qualifying projects will then be referred to expert consenting panels.  There is a strict timeframe for decisions and there are no notification requirements, no guaranteed hearings and any appeals must be on points of law.

While the Fast-track Act will provide an alternative and faster consenting process for eligible projects, many of the same considerations under the RMA will apply, and the RMA will remain the primary legislation to manage the built and natural environment.

If you have any queries about the impacts of the legislation on your or your business, or would like more information about whether you might be assisted by the fast-track process, please contact a member of our Resource Management team.

Resource Management team

Josh LeckieAnnabel Hawkins (née Linterman), Kelsey Barry, Mia Turner

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