Parliament's Environment Committee has released its report on the Resource Management Amendment Bill, with a majority recommending that the bill be passed.
The bill is intended to be the first stage of proposed changes to the resource management system. The second stage will depend on a wider review of the resource management system that is currently under way.
The objectives of the bill are to:
- reduce complexity in existing RMA processes, increase certainty for participants, and restore previous opportunities for public participation;
- improve existing resource management processes and enforcement provisions; and
- improve freshwater management.
The bill would make two notable changes to the existing resource management system. New enforcement powers would be given to the Environmental Protection Authority, and a new planning process for freshwater management would be introduced. To achieve this, amendments would be made to the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017, plus consequential amendments to other legislation.
The bill was referred to the committee on 26 September 2019. The closing date for submissions was 7 November 2019 and the committee received and considered 385 submissions from interested groups and individuals. It heard oral evidence from 59 submitters at hearings in Auckland and Wellington.
The committee recommends amending clause 2(2) of the bill so that the regime would come into effect three months after the commencement of the bill. This would give councils more time to update their procedures.
Among other proposed changes:
- Clarification that, if the Environmental Protection Aauthority ceases an intervention, a local authority may also resume any enforcement action that the local authority had commenced prior to the EPA’s intervention.
- Inserting a definition of “freshwater commissioner”, which has been referred to as “freshwater hearings commissioner” throughout the bill as introduced. Freshwater commissioners are members of the freshwater hearings panel, but not all panel members are freshwater commissioners.
- Inserting new clause 46A to provide the Chief Freshwater Commissioner the power to extend the time frames stipulated in new clauses 37, 40, 50, and 51. To do so, a request must be made by the regional council or the chair of a freshwater hearing panel.
- Making it clear that a regional council must comply with a requirement by the freshwater hearings panel to provide it with a hearing report, if requested to do so.
- Inserting new clause 40A to clarify processes for pre-hearing meetings.
- As introduced, new clause 52 would enable a regional council to seek a variation to the freshwater planning instrument if it were to identify an error or omission in it. The Chief Freshwater Commissioner would decide whether to accept the variation, after considering the factors listed in the clause. The committee has recommended changes to the process for variations.
- Making it clear that there would be no avenue of appeal for submitters on a freshwater planning instrument to the Supreme Court. Clarifying that there would be appeal rights to the Court of Appeal on questions of law, if leave was given.
- Inserting new clause 54(1A) to clarify that a submitter could appeal to the Environment Court if a council decided to reject a recommendation of a freshwater panel that was outside the scope of submissions.
- Including in new clause 57 the ability for the Chief Freshwater Commissioner to split freshwater hearings panels into two panels, if the Commissioner thinks it appropriate in the circumstances.
- Amending those sections of the RMA to add “emissions reductions plans” and “national adaptation plans” to the list of matters that local authorities must have regard to when making and amending regional policy statements, regional plans, and district plans.
- Repealing sections 70A and 104E of the RMA, which would prevent allowing councils to consider emission reductions plans when making and amending regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans, and also recommend repealing sections 70B and 104F as these exceptions would no longer be relevant.
The National Party members of the committee did not support the bill.