The Government has set in motion a comprehensive overhaul of the Resource Management Act, which has successfully hindered clear decisionmaking since it was enacted in 1990.
Environment Minister David Parker unveiled the Government’s intentions on Wednesday. His key points:
- A review panel to produce a proposal for reform, including drafts of key legislative provisions, by mid-2020.
- Decision on whether a new urban development law is needed, separate from a law to manage natural resources
- In the meantime, changes to be put in place to give effect to a new freshwater national policy statement.
Retired Appeal Court judge Tony Randerson, who has extensive legal & resource management expertise, will chair the review panel.
In essence, the task is to design a cleaner resolution of the dichotomy between making money & preserving the environment.
Mr Parker said the Resource Management Act wasn’t working as well as intended: “It is unacceptable for this cornerstone law to be underperforming in a country that values protection of the environment while properly housing its people.
“Our aim is to produce a revamped law fit for purpose in the 21st century that will cut complexity & cost while better protecting our environment.
“While not the sole cause of the housing crisis, planning rules are partly to blame. Environmental outcomes have been disappointing. Freshwater quality has been going backwards.”
Amendments to the act since 1991 had added complexity: “It’s close to twice its original length, making the RMA more & more unwieldy to interpret, and hampering its effective implementation.”
Mr Parker said there had also been too little spatial planning in & around growing urban areas: “We need to create a system that better enables economic growth within environmental limits and which aligns the economy with the environment. Further ad hoc patch-ups & work-arounds are not the answer. We need a thorough overhaul of the law.”
He said a reform project initiated by the Environmental Defence Society with input from Infrastructure NZ, the Property Council and the Employers & Manufacturers Association (Northern) had highlighted the need for change & how to address it: “The review needs to address urban development, environmental bottom lines & effective – but not overly complex – participation, including by Maori.”
Also in scope is whether the crucial part 2 – or its equivalent – should sit in the RMA or in a separate piece of law. Part 2 sets out the principles & purposes of the RMA and sets the objective of “sustainable management”.
Mr Parker commented: “Subsequent legal cases have helped clarify what it means. We will take care not to unnecessarily discard those legal precedents.”
Meanwhile, he said the Government would press ahead with work to improve freshwater quality & urban development, protect highly productive land & indigenous biodiversity and reduce waste, “because these are urgent and cannot wait for the comprehensive reform plan”.
He said the Government would introduce a bill to amend the current RMA in the next few months to address urgent issues, pending the comprehensive rewrite.
Attribution: Ministerial release.