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GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCES TWO-STAGE RMA REFORMS
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Two-stage RMA reforms to start by reversing the previous government's changes

The Government announced yesterday a two-stage review of the Resource Management Act 1991 (‘RMA’) to initiate its long-signalled reforms. The Hon. David Parker as Minister for the Environment has said the RMA is “underperforming in some critical areas”, citing declining freshwater quality, inadequate climate change adaptation, and housing unaffordability.

The first of these two stages is set to commence early next year, with a bill to be introduced to Parliament which is intended to reduce complexity, increase certainty and introduce a number of “simple changes”.  The focus of this will be to wind back some of the previous Government’s 2017 amendments (particularly those which restricted submission and appeal rights), although some more general ‘tidy-ups’ are also proposed. This bill will include:

  • Repealing section 360D, which will reduce the powers of the Minister for the Environment to prohibit or overturn local plan rules;
  • Removing various sections that preclude public notification and appeals for subdivision and residential activity resource consents;
  • Repealing section 360G which extended the application of fast-tracking provisions;
  • Reversing the section 11 changes to the subdivision presumption (so that subdivision will require a resource consent unless a plans specifies otherwise);
  • Reinstating various financial contributions which were set to phase out under the 2017 amendments;
  • Allowing applicants to suspend the processing of non-notified consent applications;
  • Introducing the ability for councils to suspend the processing of resource consent applications pending payment of administrative charges;
  • Extending the time periods under section 330B to lodge retrospective resource consents for emergency works;
  • Enabling councils to review conditions of multiple resource consents under section 128 (this is targeted specifically at freshwater resource users);
  • Clarifying the legal status of deemed permitted activities under Part 3;
  • Increasing enforcement penalties for stock exclusion offences across sections 360 and 338; and
  • Clarifying who can be appointed as alternate Environment Judges under sections 249 and 250.

Most significantly there is a new proposal to introduce the ability to challenge Council notification decisions in the Environment Court and seek a declaration in lieu of judicially review, which has been the traditional recourse. While the draft bill is yet to be finalised or released to the public, once it is introduced to Parliament there will be an opportunity to make submissions on these changes next year.

The second stage is set to commence later next year and is intended to be a more comprehensive review of the resource management system. It will involve far wider consultation and will focus on five key areas:

  • Improving alignment across different pieces of resource management legislation;
  • Ensuring plans can be created, amended and implemented within a more reasonable timeframe while providing meaningful opportunities for public participation;
  • Improving the quality of decision-making;
  • Issuing clear national direction; and
  • Removing unnecessary complexity, in part by rationalising the multiple decision-making pathways which have proliferated since the RMA was originally passed in 1991.

The New Zealand Labour Party campaigned on an policy to convene a panel of resource management, process and public participation experts to evaluate the collective outcome of amendments to the RMA since it was passed in 1991. It was envisaged that such a review would tease out inconsistencies with other statutes, and lead to amendments to rationalise the processes under the RMA and repeal what were labelled as ‘objectionable changes’ made over the past 26 years. Whilst not explicitly stated, it appears that the second stage may encompass this review.

Stage two looks like it could be an ambitious plan and we’ll be watching carefully for what looks to be one of the more significant amendments to the RMA since its passage.

Further details can be found on the Ministry for the Environment’s website here.

If you have any questions about this topic, or any resource management issues we can help with, please do not hesitate to contact Nicky McIndoe, Christina Sheard, Marija Batistich.

This article was written by Joe Bergin, Solicitor, in our Environment and Planning team.

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