Transforming the resource management system: Opportunities for change


A Q&A on the Issues and options paper by Daniel Minhinnick (partner) Russell McVeagh, a valued sponsor of our 2019 Conference.

Q: The Issues and Options Paper covers a wide range of issues. Is this simply the next round of minor amendments to the RMA, or something more significant?

A: This certainly isn’t minor tinkering – nothing is off-limits. A discussion of this breadth and depth has been a long time coming.  It does pose an enormous challenge for the Review Panel to work through the range of issues in time to provide a final report to the Minister for the Environment by 31 May 2020.

Q: Turning to some of the key issues – one relates to whether we keep the RMA as a single act or split it in two. Would carving the RMA in two, with separate environmental and urban planning legislation, improve outcomes for both the natural and built environment? Or is the current, integrated approach more appropriate to achieve good outcomes?

A: One of the central pillars of the RMA is integrated management.  That was a significant change from the separate predecessor legislation – the Town and Country Planning Act and Water and Soil Conservation Act. Separating the environmental and urban planning functions of the RMA risks compromising the critical integration of these functions. The environment is not delineated neatly into the natural and built environments – they are inextricably linked. There is growing importance being placed on improving the natural environment within urban areas (such as urban waterways). A better approach is to work within the existing RMA framework to identify priorities in environmental protection.

Q: Another key issue relates to the RMA’s purpose and principles in Part 2. Is Part 2 of the RMA as it stands fit for purpose?

A: The purpose and principles of the RMA in Part 2 must set the direction for decision-making under the Act. There have been criticisms of the RMA for poor environmental outcomes in relation to both the natural environment and the built environment. The fault does not lie with Part 2 for the failings in relation to the natural environment – there is an overwhelming focus on the natural environment and the presence of environmental bottom lines. However, Part 2 fails to adequately address the challenges facing the built environment.  Part 2 needs to recognise infrastructure and growth in our cities. Consideration should also be given to the way that Part 2 balances the need for development and change within our urban areas with community expectations of a continuation of the status quo in terms of amenity values.

Q: Another rising trend has been the emergence of spatial planning. Is spatial planning our answer to greater integration between land use and infrastructure planning?

A: A conditional, yes. Spatial planning has the potential to play an important role in ensuring integration within the resource management system, with “potential” being the keyword here. There are certainly significant benefits for good spatial planning, particularly in relation to the integration with infrastructure planning and delivery. For spatial planning to be truly effective and fit for purpose, it has to be done right.  We need to be clear about what we mean by spatial planning. For example, giving considerable weight to spatial planning does not materially assist if the spatial plan is too high level or generic and does not outline clear outcomes. Secondly, there is a careful balance to be struck between the desire for certainty and the need for flexibility and dynamism. A potential risk with putting absolute faith in spatial planning is that it may preclude market-led initiatives. If spatial planning is done well, weight should be given to it. However, it would become incredibly ineffective if the spatial plan becomes a straightjacket that precludes dynamic decision-making to respond to changing circumstances.