RMLA welcomes long-awaited law reforms

The Minister for the Environment, Hon. Nick Smith, today introduced to Parliament detailed reforms to environmental legislation that he says will support economic growth and housing development.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill encompasses changes to the Resource Management Act, Reserves Act, Conservation Act, Public Works Act, Environmental Protection Authority Act and EEZ and Continental Shelf Act and aims to reduce costs and delays to planning decisions though reduced bureaucracy, reduced rights of appeal, greater national consistency and enhanced legislative cohesion.

Reduced bureaucracy is intended to be achieved through measures such as easier consenting for simple consents, national planning templates, alignment of RMA, Conservation Act and Reserves Act processes and increased regulation-making power to direct councils to fix consenting fees, permit certain land uses and prohibit plans from duplicating or overriding functions of other Acts, such as the Building Act, for example.

Increased Māori participation

Key changes include requirements to allow for greater Maori participation in planning and consenting decisions at various points. In this regard, Iwi have the discretion to enter into “Iwi participation agreements” with councils, in addition to other measures.

Changes to plan making

The long anticipated national planning templates are enabled by the Bill, along with the requirement that Minister produce the first planning template within 2 years of the amendment Act taking effect.

Two new plan making processes are proposed to be added as options for Councils, in addition to the standard process for plan-making. These include a “streamlined’ option and a ‘collaborative’ option.

The streamlined plan making option will require Ministerial consent at the start of the process, as well as on the final plan.  The streamlined option must involve consultation and submissions, but need not involve a hearing – the council and the Minister will have the ability to design a fit-for-purpose process.  There would be no right of appeal on a plan decision from the streamlined process, only the right to Judicially Review the decision.

The collaborative plan making option will involve both a collaborative process prior to notification, as well as the standard submission and hearing process, and introduces reduced appeal rights.

Changes to consenting:

The bill contains a set of changes to simplify and speed up consenting for small or minor consents.  A 10-working day limit for simple applications is included.  Certain activities that technically require consent will be treated as permitted activities.  For example if consent is required solely due a breach of proximity to boundary rule and the directed affected neighbor provides consent, the activity will be treated as permitted.  Similarly if there is only marginal or temporary non compliance, the activity will be treated as permitted.

The requirement to notify affected parties is narrowed by the Bill.  There is also a new ability for a decision maker to strike out submissions for plans, policy statements and consents (at the first instance hearing) on specified grounds.  For resource consents specifically the Bill makes it mandatory to strike out submissions that are not supported by evidence or facts.

In respect of consent conditions, there are proposed amendments to section 108 to tighten up and narrow what can be imposed.  Financial contributions are to be phased out over 5 years.

Decisions on applications to subdivide, and applications for residential activity in residential zones (defined) will only be able to be appealed if the subdivision or residential activity are non-complying.  Decisions on applications that are in respect of boundary proximity breaches only can not be appealed.

Court powers:

In addition to reduced appeal opportunities for some plan and consent processes, the Bill gives the Environment Court new power to direct councils to acquire land (where planning provisions have rendered land incapable of reasonable use and placed an unfair and unreasonable burden on the landowner).

It is also proposed that the Court can direct mandatory participation in Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Process alignment:

The Bill tries to address some of the duplication in process between the RMA, Reserves Act and Conservation. With respect to the Reserves Act there is an attempt to create a joint decision making process.  With respect to concessions under the Conservation Act, the key provisions are amended so that they align more closely with resource consent processes and timeframes.

Other notable changes include:

  • New section 6 matter of national importance ‘the management of significant risks from natural hazards’ (*this is the only change to Part II)
  • Sections 30 and 31 amended so it is a function of regional councils and territorial authorities to ensure sufficient residential and business development capacity to meet long term demand
  • The function of regional councils and territorial authorities to manage hazardous substances is removed
  • Amendments to Public Works Act to make land acquisition process and compensation fairer and more efficient

RMLA President, Maree Baker- Galloway, welcomes the Ministry for the Environment’s announcement: ‘After a long period of uncertainty regarding the scope of potential reforms, the RMLA welcomes the Bill.  There are a range of significant procedural and process related changes in the Bill that could have a material impact on the effectiveness of the RMA and other Acts, which will be of great interest to the members of the RMLA and the community in general.” 

“The RMLA looks forward to being involved in shaping the suite of changes and will be canvassing RMLA members for comments in the preparation of its feedback submission to the Select Committee’, she adds. 


For media enquiries, please contact:

Rikki Stancich

Communications and Sponsorship Manager

Tel – 022 369 9116 | E – rikki.stancich@rmla.org.nz

About RMLA:

Founded in 1992, the Resource Management Law Association (RMLA) is a multi-disciplinary membership organisation Association with over 1100 members including lawyers, planners, environmental managers, scientists, engineers, architects, local authority and central government officers. The RMLA seeks to promote within New Zealand an understanding of resource management law and its implementation; excellence in resource management policy and practice; resource management processes which are legally sound, effective and efficient; and which produce high-quality environmental outcomes.