The Changing Face of Resource Management Legislation

The Changing Face of Resource Management Legislation

Since 1991, the Resource Management Act has been the “oracle” of environmental legislation and has been the basis of our planning framework in New Zealand. The Government has recently confirmed its plans for a comprehensive overhaul of the resource management system. This will represent the biggest change in environmental law in a generation and the changes will touch on virtually all projects across Tonkin + Taylor.

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) has been the primary piece of legislation governing the management of the environment in New Zealand. It has been through multiple reviews and has received criticism for being a clunky and confusing piece of legislation. At the same time, there is broad agreement that the RMA has not achieved what it set out to do in regard to environmental protection or the enablement of development. 

In 2019, a Resource Management Review Panel was established by the Government. The Panel released in 2020 a comprehensive report setting out its recommendations to repeal and replace the RMA. Following on from this review in February 2021, the Government announced a major reform package, largely picking up on the recommendations of the Review Panel. The changes include the repeal of the existing RMA and the replacement of it with three new Acts. These will be the new statutes that govern development and environmental protection in New Zealand. In summary, these Acts are:

  • Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) – this will be the key piece of legislation replacing the RMA and will provide for land use and environmental regulation. The proposed purpose is to promote the quality of the environment to support the wellbeing of present and future generations and to recognise the concept of Te Mana o te Taiao (the mana of the environment).
  • Strategic Planning Act (SPA) – this Act is proposed to facilitate a long-term strategic approach to planning. Long term regional spatial strategies will be required, including identifying areas that are suitable for development; areas that need to be protected; areas that need new infrastructure and areas that are vulnerable to climate change/natural hazards.
  • Managed Retreat and Climate Change Adaptation Act (MRCCAA) – this Act is proposed to support New Zealand’s response to the effects of climate change. It will address the legal and technical issues associated with managed retreat.

The intention of the change is to improve the natural environment and enable more development within environmental limits. The changes are also proposed to simplify planning processes and reduce costs and timeframes, better recognise the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and provide increased recognition of te ao Māori (the Māori worldview). It remains to be seen as to whether the legislation will be able to achieve some of these lofty goals.

Timing-wise, the Government has announced that in June 2021 cabinet will agree on an “exposure draft” of the NBA and then refer it to a select committee inquiry; the SP and MRCCA Bills will be developed in a parallel process. In December 2021 the NB Bill will be introduced into Parliament.  Mid-2022 will see consultation on the draft Strategic Planning Bill and possibly the Managed Retreat and Climate Change Adaptation Bill. The intention is that the NBA will be passed and enacted by the end of 2022 and the SPA and MRCCA passed and enacted by 2023.

There will be opportunities to participate in the select committee processes. 

Key takeaways:

  • The reforms are intended to improve the resource management system in NZ, however, the detail is not yet decided upon – including, for example, the process of resource consenting under the NBA.
  • The proposed legislation is a shift in thinking and brings in an “environmental bottom lines” approach as opposed to the current “overall broad judgement” approach.
  • Real focus on strengthening the recognition of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi and providing a stronger role for Māori in decision-making.
  • Move away from just managing adverse effects to more outcome-focused planning.
  • There is a requirement for combined plans for each region (reducing the number of district/city plans from over 100 to approximately 14).

If there's anything regarding the RMA, or the upcoming NBA, SPA or MRCCAA- get in touch with Andrea Brabant, Technical Director - Planning.