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The latest round of amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 (‘RMA’) was introduced to Parliament on 23 September 2019.

While the changes proposed are an eclectic set of provisions, they essentially have three objectives:

  • Reducing complexity, increasing certainty and restoring public participation;
  • Improving processes and enforcement provisions; and
  • Improving freshwater management and outcomes.

You can read a copy of the Bill here and we outline the key changes below.

Reducing complexity, increasing certainty and restoring public participation

The Bill unpicks a number of changes introduced by the round of amendments to the RMA in 2017 including:

  • Repealing the Minister for the Environment’s power to make regulations to prohibit or overturn rules in council plans that duplicate or overlap with other legislation;
  • Restricting the 10-working day fast track for land use resource consent applications to controlled activities;
  • Aligning the steps that apply to the preparation of national environment standards to those for national policy statements;
  • Repealing the provisions requiring local authorities to stop charging financial contributions (except in relation to any notices of requirement lodged by the Ministers of Education and  Defence);
  • Reinstating the presumption that subdivision is restricted unless permitted by a rule in a district plan; and
  • Removing the requirement that submitters’ appeals must be restricted to issues included in their original submission.

Significantly for homeowners wanting to do renovations to their houses, the Bill re-enables submissions and appeals for subdivision and residential activity applications in some circumstances. The aim is to increase public participation but the likely result will be longer processing times for simple resource consent applications in some cases.

Improving process and enforcement provisions

The proposed changes aimed at improving resource consent application processes include the following:

  • Applicants will be able to request the suspension of non-notified applications for up to 20 working days;
  • Consent authorities will be able to suspend processing to allow for administrative charges owed at lodgment or at notification to be paid; and
  • Persons exercising emergency powers will have 60 working days to apply for a resource consent (extended from the current 20 working day limit).

The enforcement measures under the RMA will also be strengthened by increasing the maximum infringement fees to $2000 for natural persons and $4000 for all other persons such as companies and trusts. Significantly, the Environmental Protection Authority will be given the power to take enforcement action under the RMA in an effort to enhance accountability and provide support for local government. The timeframe for enforcement will be extended from the current 6-month statutory limitation period to 12 months in which charges need to be filed for certain offences.

Improving freshwater management

The Bill proposes repealing the collaborative planning process introduced in 2017 and replacing it with a new fast-track plan making process for proposed regional policy statements or regional policy plans for freshwater. Councils will have until 31 December 2023 to notify changes to their regional policy statements to give effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and have until 31 December 2025 to make final decisions.

The Bill provides for the Minister for the Environment to appoint freshwater hearings commissioners chaired by a retired or current Environment Judge.  Hearing panels will be made up of two freshwater hearings commissioners, two accredited local councillors and an accredited person with understanding of tikanga Maori and mataurangi Maori. The panels will have enhanced hearings powers (including directing conferencing, mediation and allowing cross examination).

There will be merits appeals to the Environment Court where the panel’s recommendation is rejected by the relevant council and the ability to appeal points of law to the High Court and Court of Appeal, subject to leave being granted.

Next Steps

We will keep you updated on the progress of the Bill. The submission period is now open and it is possible to make submissions up until the 7 November 2019. If you would like to discuss the Bill or require assistance with your submission, please get in touch with Christina Sheard, Nicky McIndoe or Marija Batistich.



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