New Zealand Law Society - RMA amendment bill passes without support of Peter Dunne and ACT

RMA amendment bill passes without support of Peter Dunne and ACT

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The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill has passed in Parliament

It passed without the support of the National Party’s two support parties, United Future and the ACT Party, but did gain the support of its third ally, the Māori Party.

The bill will amend the Resource Management Act 1991, the Reserves Act 1977, the Public Works Act 1981, the Conservation Act 1987, the Environmental Protection Authority Act 2011 and the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 “to create a resource management system that achieves the sustainable management of natural and physical resources in an efficient and equitable way.”

Significant provisions in the Bill include:

  • National planning standards to reduce complexity and cost,
  • Streamlined planning process to improve responsiveness,
  • Discretion for councils to exempt an activity from consents,
  • Strengthening of requirements to manage natural hazard risks,
  • New 10-day consent category for minor activities,
  • Requirements for council to free up land for housing,
  • Provisions to enable stock exclusion from waterways,
  • Provisions requiring decommissioning plans for offshore platforms,
  • More generous compensation for land required for public works,
  • Better alignment with other Acts like Reserves, Conservation and EEZ,
  • Collaborative planning process to encourage community-led solutions,
  • Improved Māori participation arrangements.

RNZ News reports the last part was pivotal in securing the support of the two Maori Party MP’s.

Environment Minister Nick Smith says the bill’s passing is a major milestone for the Government’s reform programme.

“The reforms in this bill will help increase the supply and affordability of housing, grow the economy with more jobs and higher incomes, support infrastructure investment and improve environmental management,” Dr Smith says.

“The RMA became law 25 years ago but since then it has become excessively complex and expensive. We currently have 80,000 pages of RMA plans and rules, or an average of 1,000 per council. The new national planning standards will hugely reduce the bureaucracy and the new streamlined planning process will speed up the time it takes to write replacement plans.

“These reforms will reduce the number of consents required by thousands. Councils will have a new power to waive the need for consents for minor issues, and a new 10-day first-tracked consent will be available. This boils down to things like homeowners wanting to build a deck having to consult only with an affected neighbour, and no consent being required for issues that involve minor or temporary rule breaches.

“This bill is pivotal to resolving New Zealand’s long-term housing supply and affordability problems. The cost of a section in Auckland has increased tenfold over the past 25 years, from $53,000 to $530,000, as compared to the threefold increase in the cost of building, from $120,000 to $360,000. The key solution is making sections easier to create and more affordable. This Bill introduces a specific requirement on councils to free up land, removes appeals on residential developments, reverses the presumption in favour of subdivisions and removes the double charging system of financial and development contributions.

“The introduction of natural hazards into the core principles of planning and consenting is critical to New Zealand lifting its management of risks from earthquakes and floods. This change was recommended by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch Earthquakes and I am appalled that on a day of floods affecting communities like Edgecumbe, opposition parties are opposing this sensible extension of councils’ planning responsibilities.

“The Iwi Participation Arrangements provisions will provide a better framework for councils to meet their existing consultation obligations. The provisions do not change councils’ decision-making rights on plans or consents. They simply provide a mechanism for councils to meet their obligations under sections six, seven and eight. Councils that have these arrangements are finding it is better to have iwi involved early in the process as it avoids delays and costs further down the track,” Dr Smith says.

RMLA welcomes certainty from Bill passage

The Resource Management Law Association (RMLA) says it welcomes the certainty that comes with the Bill’s passage through its final reading, and looks forward to its Assent and implementation.

However, the RMLA notes several remaining concerns.

"While the Bill’s passage relieves uncertainty created through the delays, and while its passing into law will unlock some of the potentially positive tools embedded within the Bill, such as the National Planning Standards, RMLA remains concerned that the Bill may not, in certain respects, achieve its objective of managing New Zealand’s natural and physical resources in an efficient and sustainable way," it says.

The RMLA says it had previously noted its concern that while the increased emphasis on national direction could achieve better alignment and integration across the resource management system, many of proposed changes were unnecessary and potentially introduced unintended costs, complexities and new opportunities for procedural challenges that would not assist in achieving robust and durable resource management decisions.

"Many of the processes, for example, remove or further diminish public participation and rights of appeal. It has not been demonstrated that the loss of these important checks and balances is outweighed by (or is proportional to) the benefits of the new processes, in terms of robust and durable resource management decisions," it says.