RMLA News

Randerson report – an impression of how the new approach will change for the rural sector

 

Author: Shelley Chadwick – Rural / Primary Sector Knowledge Hub Leader

The Randerson Report has proposed the introduction of three pieces of legislation to replace the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). This article highlights changes proposed in the Report relevant to rural activities.

The Report recommends that the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) include a refocused purpose and principles section (different from the current Part 2), and also the inclusion of environmental outcomes to guide resource planning, with an expectation of an increase in the use of national directions for nationwide activities.

The new purpose and principles section is likely to contain a new provision applying a new term, which will require full consideration of the ‘biophysical limits’ of the environment; and also provisions requiring fuller consideration of Te Mana o te Taiao and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The environmental outcomes that look to be most relevant to rural activities include:

  • Sustainable use and development of the natural and built environment in rural areas.
  • Protection of highly productive soils;
  • Capacity to accommodate land-use change in response to social, economic and environmental conditions;

The Minister for the Environment will be required to identify specific features and characteristics to be covered by these outcomes for the natural environment. The Minister will also be responsible for the development of further national standards – which is an approach the Report recommends be used more often.

Over time we may therefore expect the ongoing development of further standards for other common rural activities – thus potentially requiring adoption of new on-farm practices in the same manner that the freshwater national standard and stock exclusion/grazing regulations did. Any new standards would need to be nationally relevant, so would most likely first look at the types of activities which occur in most or all regions, perhaps something like management of indigenous vegetation.

The Report suggests that regional councils should also have a greater ability to change existing uses in the natural environment (whether by existing use right or by resource consent), in order to respond to new or developing environmental issues. These directions and outcomes noted above support the possibility of a substantial reset away from presently accepted approach of ‘first in first served’ to resource allocation in the rural sector.

This means that the rules governing present land uses in the rural environment could be subject to more change over time – which is a shift away from the current expectation that present legal land uses can endure.  Four principles that have been identified in the Report to guide the development of a responsive system, include:

  • Sustainable use of resources (again);
  • Fairness and equity when changing existing uses (particularly where a resource is over-allocated);
  • Enabling transition time for existing users to make changes; and
  • Balancing a responsive system with a need for certainty of investment by resource users.

Generally speaking we anticipate that the ‘natural’ part of the natural and built environment, which is where rural activities are more commonly occurring, is likely to continue to become more clearly delineated from areas which are subject to development pressures.  Spatial plans will identify areas for development, and areas to be protected from development, with a long-term view.

This is an approach that can be seen in a number of current second generation district planning documents, so we would expect this to continue to evolve.

Regional specific content is likely to include identification of areas where significant changes in land use are required to reduce impacts of land use and development on lakes, rivers, wetlands, and the marine environment. Rural businesses will need to become fully aware of the impacts of their activities on the environment, particularly any long term impacts.

Over time, as the new planning directions become prevalent, rural land uses may need to be modified or selectively located to better reflect the biophysical limits within which they operate. Land use and management will need to be underpinned by a more scientific approach to be able to demonstrate a sustainable practice.

This will be difficult if there continue to be low levels of investment in research and scientific study of impacts of the many different farming practices on the land.