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This article discusses some of the more interesting developments for environment and planning during 2018. Of particular interest will be the introduction of climate change legislation and the continued development of current, and likely development of new, national policy instruments.

Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA)

Mana Whakahono-a-Rohe or Iwi Participation Agreements

In 2018 we hope to see the development of Mana Whakahono-a-Rohe or Iwi Participation Agreements, which were introduced by the 2017 amendments to the RMA. These can be entered into between local government and iwi authorities to provide how iwi authorities will participate in resource management and decision-making under the RMA. [1] Such an agreement would ensure iwi participation in plan changes and the development of regional policy statements. This will hopefully clarify the approach for local authorities to take in the development of key documents under the RMA, and inform its direction for consultation where considering applications for consent.

Any further amendments to the RMA?

So far the new Government has not announced any amendments to the RMA and we don’t anticipate any in the immediate future. As noted in our post-election update last November,[2] we expect the Government’s initial focus to be on greater enforcement of the existing RMA provisions and on developing a number of new national policy instruments (likely relating to indigenous biodiversity, natural hazard management, climate protection and adaptation to climate change, onshore oil and gas prospecting and exploration, and sustainable urban form). This focus is already evident in the Ministry for the Environment’s (MfE) updated workstream discussed below.[3]

Compliance, monitoring and enforcement

From late February, MfE plans to consult on its draft best practice guidelines for compliance, monitoring and enforcement under the RMA. The guidelines have been developed with input and support from an oversight panel and local council representatives. Users of the RMA, such as farmers and infrastructure providers, as well as stakeholders in RMA consenting processes, should provide feedback to ensure the guidelines result in a workable and fair outcome. 

National direction – National Policy Statements and National Planning Standards

Work is continuing on those national direction instruments already introduced, and no doubt the new Government will introduce additional National Policy Statements or National Environmental Standards during 2018 as a way of implementing its environmental priorities.

The 2017 amendments to the RMA introduced ‘National Planning Standards’, which were intended to install a level of uniformity to council plans and policy statements and also allow the Minister to insert policies and rules. The first set of Standards must be approved in 2019 and MfE will consult on these in May this year (roadshow dates will be announced in early March).

The Government is moving to strengthen standards for water quality through amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM). A detailed work plan with a particular focus on sediment, wetlands and estuaries, more water sensitive land use, stronger compliance, monitoring and enforcement, and science that supports good decision making, is underway. Swimability standards will continue to be part of the NPS-FM.

The Biodiversity Collaborative Group is continuing with its work on the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity and will make recommendations to Government in September 2018. The Group is drawing on expertise from government departments, tangata whenua, landholders, infrastructure providers, environmental groups and others.[4]

Climate change

Climate change will be a big issue for 2018 and is one of the new Government’s priorities. It requires both the consideration of how to reduce emissions and the consideration of how New Zealand manages and adapts to a changing climate. 

The Government has signalled its intent to introduce a Zero Carbon Bill in 2018, with the aim of setting an emissions reduction target for 2050; and establishing an independent Climate Change Commission. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment signalled earlier this month [5] that the Bill should:

  • contain at least one greenhouse gas emissions target and a requirement for it to be met
  • require the Minister for Climate Change Issues to set and meet carbon budgets
  • establish a Climate Change Commission as an independent Crown entity, and
  • require the Minister for Climate Change Issues to prepare proposals and policies in response to the setting of a carbon budget that would enable the budget to be met, and to prepare responses to annual progress reports of the Climate Change Commission

In the meantime, an Interim Climate Change Committee will progress key issues for climate change policy in New Zealand, such as agriculture and renewable electricity, engaging with key stakeholders and the wider public from mid-2018.[6]



May and June 2018

Consultation on the scope of the Bill

August 2018

Cabinet consideration of policy

October 2018

Bill introduced to Parliament


Select Committee process and enactment

New Zealand’s recent extreme weather events are already being linked to a changing climate. Local government entities have responsibilities under the RMA to prepare and respond to the impacts of climate change. MfE provides information on dealing with these impacts and the new edition of Coastal hazards and climate change: Guidance for local government was published in December 2017.[7] The report provides guidance to councils on how to manage and adapt to the increased coastal hazard risks posed by climate change and sea-level rise.

As councils deal with this issue, we will see stricter planning controls in the coastal area. Developers and infrastructure providers with assets close to the coast or seeking consent for future projects may be affected by these tighter controls and benefit from being involved in local government planning around this issue.

Recent case developments

It’s only February, but there are already a few interesting Court decisions on the horizon.

The Court of Appeal recently considered an appeal against the High Court decision R J Davidson Family Trust v Marlborough District Council [2017] NZHC 52. The High Court had applied the Supreme Court’s reasoning in EDS v NZ King Salmon [2014] NZSC 38 – which was previously confined to plan changes – and held that in most cases there is no need (or ability) to refer back to the purpose and principles contained in Part 2 of the RMA when determining an application for resource consent. This decision has resulted in some uncertainty about the application of Part 2 in planning and consenting decisions. In a previous article on the High Court decision [8], we noted that the outcome of this case will be important for resource consent applicants (and submitters), and parties making submissions on RMA plans or policy statements.

Another proceeding of interest is the appeal to the High Court against the Environmental Protection Agency’s grant to Trans-Tasman Resources of marine consents for offshore mining in the South Taranaki Bight. This appeal is scheduled to be heard in April 2018 and the High Court’s decision will provide useful guidance in relation to marine consent applications under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012.

Please contact us if you would like further information on any of the above or advice on how these matters affect your business.

Thanks to Barbara Dean, Associate, for the preparation of this Newsflash.


[1] Click here to read our article published on 21 April 2017

[2] Click here to read our article published on 7 November 2017 

[3] MfE last week provided an update on its work streams:

[5] Environment Committee The report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, “Stepping stones to Paris and beyond: Climate change, progress and predictability” (2 February 2018) at 2

[8] Click here to read our article published on 8 February 2017 



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