The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is the main piece of legislation that sets out how we should manage our environment through the sustainable management of our resources, and encouraging us (as communities and as individuals) to plan for the future of our environment.
Following reviews conducted in 2020, and adding to the National Policy Statement for Urban Development released last year (that directs councils to make room for growth both ‘up’ and ‘out’), the Government is following through on a promise to reform the RMA. Environment Minister David Parker made the annoucement in early February that the current legislation will be repealed and replaced with three new Acts in this parlimentary term.
This action is taken as just one lever the Government can pull in addressing population growth, housing shortfalls and affordability challenges, water quality deterioration, diminishing biodiversity and the need for action on, and adaptation to climate change.
Reflective of the complex nature of what the legislation protects and the times we are in, the three new Acts will be:
· Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA) to provide for land use and environmental regulation (this would be the primary replacement for the RMA).
· Strategic Planning Act (SPA) to integrate with other legislation relevant to development, and require long-term regional spatial strategies.
· Climate Change Adaptation Act (CAA) to address complex issues associated with managed retreat and funding and financing adaptation.
Whilst there has been longstanding and widespread criticism of the cumbersome nature of the RMA including the costs and time involved in processing consents, it is important that we do not lose sight of what it set out to protect and the role we all play as kaitiaki for the environment. Goverment have had to balance out simplification and increasing certainty with environmental protection when drawing up the new Acts. Parker is quoted as saying “The new laws will improve the natural environment, enable more development within environmental limits, provide an effective role for Māori, and improve housing supply and affordability… Planning processes will be simplified and costs and times reduced.”
It all sounds promising, but what does it actually mean? What goes and importantly, when does it take effect?
For starters, simplication means a reduction in the number of planning documents – from over 100, to about 14. This is made possible with a stronger national direction and the introduction of a single combined plan per region. The NBEA will set out mandatory policies and standards for national environment limits, outcomes and targets, and these will filter into regional plans that are prepared by local and central government as well as mana whenua. The Government is working with a collective of Māori entities to strengthen recognition of tikanga Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi within the legislation. By working with these key groups and local government, the new Acts will focus on natural environment outcomes and better urban design will be pursued.
The SPA will enable improved decision making and investment by integrating functions under the RMA, Local Government Act 2002, Land Transport Management Act 2003 and the Climate Change Response Act 2002, and ensure smart infrastructure spend and development in the right places and at the right times.
The CAA, which responds to the effects of climate change, and is focused on managed retreat and its funding, will be progressed by the Climate Change Minister.
It’s clear that something future focused is urgently needed to remove restrictive planning whilst protecting the wellbeing of future generations. “Housing problems are a complex mix of demand, costs, financing, capacity and supply and there is no silver bullet. This reform will help by improving how central and local government plan for housing and urban development. This includes better coordination of future infrastructure with land use, development and urban growth”, says Parker.
But it is somewhat a case of hurry up and wait, with changes not coming into effect just yet. The NBEA is the focus, it is significant and complex, and will be progressed first with a select committee inquiry on the draft bill due mid-year, including a much anticipated replacement of Part 2 of the RMA.
It looks likely that the completed NBEA and SPA will be put to Parliament late 2021 and passed by the end of 2022.
In the meantime, the best step you can take is forming a strong relationship with your Environmental Planner. Of course, we say that being in the business of guiding clients through smart land development prospects and projects, but time and again, it has proved invaluable to clients, and they comment that the money is made and saved in early discussions and decision making with an experienced consultant.
More information about the reforms are available on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.
Contact BTW today with your land development and subdivision queries. Our Waikato and Taranaki Planning teams look forward to hearing from you.
You can also visit our Planning + Resource Consents page here