Resource Management Act Reforms 2015

Monday December 7, 2015

The Resource Management Act Reforms

On 26 November 2015, the Minister for the Environment, Hon Nick Smith introduced to Parliament the second phase of the resource management reforms.  The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 comprises changes to the RMA, Reserves Act 1977, the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012, the Environmental Protection Authority Act 2011, Conservation Act 1987, and the Public Works Act 1981.  The reform includes over 40 individual proposals aimed at improving the current resource management process and seeks to provide stronger national policy direction. 

The key changes of the reforms are summarised below.

Maori Participation
The Bill allows for greater Maori participation in planning and consenting decisions.  Iwi will have the option to enter into ‘iwi participation agreements’ which will provide opportunities for councils and iwi to discuss and agree on ways in which tangata whenua may participate in the planning process.  This is a statutory obligation that aims to improve iwi engagement in plan development. 

Plan Making
The Bill provides for the creation of a national planning template to provide consistency to council plans across the country.  The template will set out the structure, format and standard content for all plans in New Zealand.  This will provide consistency, not only between local planning documents, but also in the interpretation of similar rules.  As a requirement, the first planning template is to be produced within two years of the Amendment Act coming into effect. 

The Bill also introduces two new plan-making options – the streamlined planning process and the collaborative planning process. 

The streamlined planning process requires Ministerial consent at the start of the process, as well as Ministerial approval on the final plan.  This will reduce the need for ‘ad-hoc law-making’ in certain circumstances, where previously the Government has had to pass special legislation because existing planning processes would have been slow to address urgent matters.  This was the case for both Auckland and Christchurch. 

The collaborative planning process involves a cooperative approach encouraging those with different views to work together to resolve resource management issues.  This aims to reduce costs and delays in the present plan making process by better reflecting community values. 

Consents
The current consents process is lengthy, costly and uncertain.  To remedy this, the Bill introduces a 10 working day time limit for determining simple applications (such as constructing a fence on private property).  Councils will also have the option to waive the requirement for consent for minimal or temporary non-compliance where the effects on others are minimal. 

The Bill refines the requirement to notify affected parties.  For example, there is a new section which limits who is to be considered an affected person in the case of an application that is limited notified.  For example, in the case of a boundary adjustment the persons eligible to be considered affected are only the owner or occupier of any allotment with an affected boundary. 

Affordable Housing
The reforms aim to respond to New Zealand’s increasing demand for housing.  The reforms will reverse the presumption that land may not be subdivided unless subdivision is expressly allowed by a national environment standard, district plan rule, or resource consent.  The Bill provides that subdivision will be allowed, unless it is restricted. 

Other Acts
As some activities under the RMA require permissions under other Acts as well, the Bill aims to provide a consistent process for applications that involve the RMA, the Reserves Act and Conservation Act, and avoid the unnecessary duplications in those applications.   For example, the Bill aligns the processing of notified concession applications under the Conservation Act with notified resource consent timeframes. 

Other changes
Other significant changes include:
•    Inclusion of a section 6 matter of national importance: “the management of significant risks from natural hazards.”
•    Amendments to sections 30 and 31 RMA to make it a function of regional councils and territorial authorities to ensure sufficient residential and business development capacity to meet long-term demand.
•    Removal of the functions of regional councils and territorial authorities to manage hazardous substances
•    Removal of financial contributions from the RMA (within 5 years). 

After the Bill has its first reading, it will be referred to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee for consideration, where there will be an opportunity for the public to have their say. 

To read the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 and for more information click the following link to the Ministry for the Environment’s website: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/rma/rma-reforms-and-amendments/about-resource-legislation-amendment-bill-2015

This article was written by Alex Godinet, Solicitor, Holland Beckett, Tauranga.