It’s official - Minister for the Environment David Parker confirmed yesterday that the Resource Management Act (RMA) will be repealed and replaced with three new laws during the current parliamentary term. The three new Acts will be:
- Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) – the main replacement for the RMA, which will cover land use and environmental regulation
- Strategic Planning Act (SPA) – to enable integration with other legislation relevant to development as well as requiring long-term regional spatial strategies
- Climate Change Adaptation Act (CAA) – to support New Zealand’s response to climate change
Minister Parker has stated that “The new laws will improve the natural environment, enable more development within environmental limits, provide an effective role for Māori, and improve housing supply and affordability.” There is a clear focus on housing problems. The Cabinet Paper states that New Zealand’s housing is now amongst the least affordable in the OECD.
Minister Parker proposes to base the reform on the Resource Management Review Panel’s (also known as the Randerson Report) recommendations which were released in June 2020, with refinement in some places. Importantly, it is proposed that the Review Panel’s purpose and supporting provisions of the NBA are adopted.
The process and expected timing
It is proposed to advance the NBA first through a ‘special process’ due to the significance of the reform. An exposure draft, which will contain the main structure and proposed headings of the full NBA, would be the subject of a select committee inquiry before legislation is formally introduced to the house. The exposure draft is expected to be released in mid-2021 for consultation, before it is introduced to the House at the end of this year. Minister Parker intends the NBA to be passed by late 2022. The SPA and CAA will be developed alongside the NBA but will not go through the same special process as the NBA.
Due to the scale and pace of the policy decision making required, Minister Parker is recommending that Cabinet establish a Ministerial Oversight Group with delegated decision-making powers to advance the exposure draft NBA, including policy details and consultation material.
The Government is working with a collective of pan-Māori entities on key elements of the NBA, and further engagement with the newly formed Māori collective is proposed after development of the exposure draft NBA. The Māori Collective was formed in late 2020 with the purpose of engaging with the Crown on Māori rights and interests in freshwater and resource management reform.
Minister Parker seeks agreement to three initial in-principle policy decisions needed to proceed quickly (noting these can be revisited later as result of engagement and the select committee inquiry):
- The purpose and supporting provisions of the NBA. The purpose and supporting provisions is proposed to shift away from focussing on individual adverse effects under the RMA to biophysical limits and outcomes. It is also proposed to include the concept of Te Mana o te Taiao (‘the mana of the environment’) in the purpose of the NBA;
- Establishing a new mandatory set of national policies and standards to support the setting of biophysical limits, outcomes and targets specified in the NBA (“the National Planning Framework”). This builds on the Review Panel’s recommendations to retain the current form of national direction; and
- Consolidating district and regional plans, to replace the over 100 existing plans with 14 “Natural and Built Environment Plans” across New Zealand. The objective is for planning under the NBA to be based on strong national direction and integrated planning with regions, but some rules can still be decided at a local level.
It comes as no surprise that reform of the RMA is being progressed this parliamentary term. The Government seems to be up for the challenge and is planning to put a lot of effort and resources into it. The exposure draft approach is not widely used, but is entirely appropriate here, where draft legislation will benefit from testing at an early stage, and where the impacts of new legislation will be wide-reaching and enduring. This is legislation which many aspects of the community will have a view on.
There is widespread agreement amongst resource management practitioners, and much of the public, that a simpler resource management regime is needed. However, there will not be widespread agreement when it comes to balancing the interests of different stakeholders. Reform of New Zealand’s environment and planning law is a once-in-a generation opportunity to set ourselves up for future success. Now is the time for critics of the RMA to suggest solutions which will benefit us all, and the generations who will come after us.