RMLA carves out RMA pinch points

Following the government’s release last year of its agenda of priorities, A way forward for national direction, RMLA conference delegates attending the Ministry for Environment’s session at last year’s Matauranga Maori conference were given the opportunity to comment directly on topics they believed most needed a government response; and to flag priorities for future consideration. The diversity of views expressed at the workshop yielded insight into issues practitioners face in the resource management system, that could benefit from a national response.

Fresh water management, urban development, biodiversity, soil contamination and natural hazards were flagged by our members as areas demanding a continued priority focus within the current agenda. Meanwhile, in keeping with the theme of the conference, future potential priorities flagged by RMLA members included a national response to address iwi interests in resource planning, such as integration of iwi management plans in resource management processes, as well as tikanga and matauranga Maori, improving Maori heritage protection, and wider use of joint management agreements between councils and iwi, among other issues outlined below.

Within the government’s existing agenda, freshwater management was flagged as the top priority. Comments focused on consistent and supported implementation of the NPS Freshwater management and the National Objectives Framework, as well as ongoing issues with water quality and allocation, iwi rights and interests in water, and difficulties providing for water storage. Several RMLA members also suggested a national approach to the issue of groundwater – whether through the existing NPS or another instrument such as an NES.

A number of RMLA members identified urban development as a key priority for greater national direction. Comments highlighted the need for increased housing supply in some areas, issues with providing for urban development through conventional planning processes, Maori interests in housing, difficulties freeing up land for development, spill-over growth that fragments land in peri-urban and rural areas, and linkages with infrastructure development including ‘soft’ infrastructure (such as education and recreation).  Participants differed on the issue of urban design and intensification, with most emphasising the need for guidance to encourage more compact urban form and but a few opposing strong urban design controls.

Natural hazards were also consistently chosen as a priority topic. Comments suggested national-level guidance on how local authorities should approach risk assessments, private property rights, coastal erosion and sea level rise, mapping hazards and promoting public understanding of risks. RMLA members called for greater coordination between local, regional and national government, including response to significant events.

A number of RMLA members prioritised biodiversity as a key area for national direction. They underscored issues with regional-level management, on-going biodiversity loss, and a mismatch between where costs and benefits fall and where decisions are made.

The planned amendments to the NES for contaminants in soil were also highlighted as a priority. RMLA member comments focused on the cost of implementing the current NES and inconsistent interpretation by different councils.

Looking ahead 

With regard to future priorities, a number of other themes that were the subject of multiple comments and suggestions for national-level guidance included:

–        A range of issues related to infrastructure, including urban infrastructure, transport and energy

–        Issues with providing affordable / community housing

–        Inconsistency and cost involved with planning for natural character, landscapes and features

–        Environmental effects of agriculture

–        Cost and duplication of regulation for historic and cultural heritage

–        Support for regional and rural development

–        A desire to see climate change mitigation incorporated into resource management decisions

–        A range of issues with the management of the Coastal Marine Area and Exclusive Economic Zone

–        The interface with the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996

MfE says that comments from RMLA members on the Government agenda priorities for national direction have already been passed onto the relevant working groups. The forward agenda of national direction is expected to be updated in late 2016.

MfE has noted that while no further discussions of national direction priorities are planned at this stage, RMLA will be informed of changes in Government priorities for national direction, as well as any future opportunities for RMLA members to provide input.