New Zealand Law Society - Focus on Resource Management Law

Focus on Resource Management Law

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By Ceri Warnock and Maree Baker-Galloway
Reviewed by Helen Andrews

As the authors of this text acknowledge from the outset, the broad “sustainable management” purpose of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) means the Act, and regulations made under it, impact many aspects of our daily lives. From wanting to build that deck or house extension, to being affected by a proposed major public work, many people will be forced to deal with the RMA at some point. Consequently many lawyers will also need at least a passing knowledge of the Act during their careers.

Focus on Resource Management Law aims to introduce what can be a complex and dense subject area to both students and practitioners alike. By developing an understanding of the RMA’s basic structure, concepts, processes and tests, the authors seek to provide readers with a sound basis for learning about, and building confidence in, this area of practice. The book has therefore been written primarily with law and planning students in mind, and as a companion guide to their studies.

The text delivers on this objective. Structured into eight chapters, it begins with an appropriately concise, but sufficiently detailed background to the development and passing of the RMA. This is very important context for anyone wanting to truly understand, and properly apply, the RMA’s provisions. The remaining chapters then cover the main aspects of the RMA, being the:

  • “decision makers” (ie, the role of central and local government, the Environment Court, Board of Inquiry, and other special tribunals or constituted bodies);
  • RMA’s “purpose and principles” (otherwise known as ss 5-8, or Part 2 of the Act);
  • key duties and restrictions established in Part 3 of the Act;
  • process for making planning instruments including national environmental standards, national policy statements, regional policy statements and regional and district plans;
  • resource consent process (including by way of ministerial call-in, and direct referral to the Environment Court);
  • special planning processes and exceptions established under the Act, including for designations, heritage orders, water conservation orders and existing uses; and
  • various compliance and enforcement processes under the Act.

This outline follows the structure of the RMA itself, and makes it easy to find information on a particular topic. It also means the book provides full coverage of the resource management subject area, in the context of being an introductory/student companion text. The only further matter that could have usefully been included is the requirements and procedures of RMA hearings, be they before a council, the Environment Court, a Board of Inquiry or other consent authority. More practical guidance on the process for Environment Court appeals could also have been provided.

As its name suggests, the text is appropriately focused on the RMA. However, other related legislation (such as the Local Government Acts, Housing Accord and Special Housing Areas Act 2013, and Reserves Act 1977) is also highlighted or mentioned where relevant. Case law and statutory references are very helpfully, and clearly, tabled at the front of the book. Given the complex and often interrelated nature of RMA issues, these tables are often just as useful for locating information as the general index provided at the back of the text.

Somewhat unusually the authors do not use footnotes or endnotes, instead incorporating case and legislation citations into the body of the text itself. It will be interesting to see if this format is retained for any future editions. For a work aimed at students and practitioners, it may have been more appropriate to reflect the format that is generally required in practice. However, the approach taken to citations certainly has no impact on comprehension, with the book having a very clear, easy to read writing style.

Consistent with its student focus, the authors have provided an excellent blend of theory and practice. Key statutory provisions are outlined, and their practical application/meaning explained, including using case law examples where relevant. Particularly topical or developing areas of resource management law are also highlighted, providing readers with very useful background to all the main issues they are currently most likely to encounter in exams (and from clients!) Perhaps most helpfully for students in particular, each chapter ends with a problem question (with model answers provided), three issues for further discussion, and suggestions for additional reading. I would certainly have appreciated such a resource being available during my studies and early practice.

Given the ever-evolving nature of resource management law (the RMA has been subject to substantive amendment on almost a yearly basis since its enactment), the case law and legislation will of course become outdated over time. Indeed, some of the text has already been superseded by provisions from the 2013 RMA Amendment Act, which have recently come into effect. It would also be very useful for the text to identify the current date as at which the law is stated. That said, the book will clearly provide a very valuable introduction to this subject area for the foreseeable future.

Overall, Focus on Resource Management Law provides a much needed addition to resource management literature in New Zealand. It has been well crafted to complement the more comprehensive Environmental and Resource Management Law text, which is now in its fifth edition and has long been the staple “bible” of resource management practitioners and students. Focus on Resource Management Law is recommended as a “must read” for resource management law and planning students in particular. Our office copy has certainly, and very quickly, become a valuable research resource since it was received.

Focus on Resource Management Law, LexisNexis NZ Ltd, February 2015, 978-1-927248-74-4, 339 pages, paperback and e-book, $120 (GST included, p&h excluded).

Helen Andrews is a partner at ChanceryGreen in Auckland. She has over 15 years’ experience specialising in resource management and environment law. Her practice primarily focuses on consenting major projects across all industries, including roading infrastructure, renewable energy generation and retailing activities. She is a member of the New Zealand Law Society’s Environmental Law Committee.

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