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RMA REFORM TO GO AHEAD
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Yesterday, while most of the Country was following Donald Trump’s success in the American election, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith announced that the National and Maori parties have reached agreement on policy issues regarding the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill (‘the Bill’).

With the support of the Maori party, the much-delayed Bill will now be able to pass its second and third readings, bringing the Government one step closer to realising its reforms of the Resource Management Act (‘RMA’). While somewhat overshadowed by the American election, this is a milestone in RMA reform which should not be overlooked and will impact all owners and developers of land in New Zealand.

The Minister’s announcement is here.
 
The Bill in a nutshell

The Bill is the second phase of the Government’s two-part RMA reforms, and has been described by Dr Nick Smith as “the most comprehensive package of reform to the RMA since its inception 25 years ago”. When introduced on 26 November 2015, the Bill was over 180 pages and proposed amendments to the RMA, Public Works Act, Conservation Act, Reserves Act, and the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act. Kensington Swan released a series of Newsflashes about the Bill, which can be accessed here:

Key provisions in the Bill include:

  • National planning templates to standardise planning documents, improve consistency, and reduce timeframes
  • Faster plan-making processes, including truncated timeframes and new collaborative and streamlined options.  The Bill would also give decision-makers the right to strike out submissions on plans, policy statements and consents on specific grounds
  • A requirement for councils to invite iwi to form an iwi participation arrangement setting out how the council will engage with iwi in the plan making process
  • A new 10 working day time limit to determine simple fast track consents, and the ability to waive resource consent requirements for marginal or temporary non-compliance where effects are minor
  • Support for subdivision and residential development, including permitting some subdivisions and restricting third party appeals against many subdivisions and residential activities. The Bill would also require district and regional councils to plan for growth
  • Narrower notification requirements for specified types of resource consents
  • Changes to the Public Works Act to increase some heads of compensation for property owners and tenants following acquisition and to speed up some aspects of the compulsory acquisition process
  • The insertion of “the management of significant risks from natural hazards” as a section 6 matter of national importance.

You can read the full text of the Bill here.

The Bill had its first reading on 3 December 2015 and was referred to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee. Over 800 submissions were received, with concerns raised by diverse business and community interests. The Select Committee report-back date was extended several times and a report was due on 7 November 2016.
 
What changes have been agreed with the Maori Party?

Iwi participation arrangements in the Bill enable iwi and councils to enter into agreements on how iwi can be involved in resource management processes, and ensure that their perspective is heard and understood. Many iwi participation arrangements are already in place through Treaty settlements or good practice, but the effectiveness of existing relationships between iwi and councils varies across the Country.

The main changes the Government has agreed to make to the iwi participation arrangements are:

  • Adopting the dual name Mana Whakahone ā Rohe / Iwi Participation Arrangement;
  • Removing the requirement for local authorities to initiate arrangements – instead, iwi authorities may initiate one;
  • Extending the time for concluding a participation arrangement from 6 to 18 months; and
  • Adding guiding principles to arrangements covering working in good faith, transparent communications, commitment to meeting statutory timetables, minimising cost delays and recognising any Treaty settlement legislation.

What other changes can we expect?

Without a full Select Committee report there is no detail about what further changes will be made to the Bill. The Minister’s press release suggests we should expect to see:

  • Proposed regulation-making powers scaled back (they were one of the more controversial elements of the Bill);
  • Activities requiring regional consents excluded from the fast-track process;
  • A 5 year lapse period for unimplemented exemptions, to stop an exemption from remaining ‘live’ indefinitely if not implemented;
  • A 10 working day statutory processing timeframe for boundary activity exemptions in line with the new fast-track process;
  • Clarification that written approval is only required from the owners of the property to which a boundary rule applies;
  • Applicants allowed to ‘opt-out’ of a fast-track route if they want to;
  • Increases in the maximum infringement fees; and
  • The ‘National Planning Template’ renamed as ‘National Planning Standards’.

What’s next?

The Bill has now been referred back to the Select Committee, which has a hefty task ahead of it to work through the 500-page departmental report and refine the drafting of the Bill. Although the Government wants to progress the Bill as quickly as possible, it’s running out of time to pass the Bill before the end of this year. The Government will also need to consult the Maori Party on the detailed drafting of the Bill when it is reported back to Parliament to ensure that the Bill is consistent with the agreed policy.
 
Further information

If you would like to discuss the implications of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, please contact Nicky McIndoe. If you would like assistance understanding the iwi participation process, or with drafting an iwi participation arrangement, please contact Deborah Edmunds.

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Nicky McIndoe
Nicky McIndoe

Partner

Wellington and Auckland

+64 4 915 0818

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