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Amy Adams

28 February, 2013

RMA discussion document launched

Environment Minister Amy Adams has today announced proposals for a revamp of the resource management system to make it easier to use, increase certainty and predictability, attract investment, reduce unnecessary duplication and cost, whilst continuing to protect the environment.

“Around New Zealand frustration with the Resource Management Act (RMA) is rife. The way RMA processes are operating is costing us all in time, money and lost opportunities. The systems have become cumbersome, uncertain and highly litigious,” Ms Adams says.

“The money spent on having to fight to get ahead or to defend your position is money that our households and businesses are missing out on.

“The impacts of this are real - delays and uncertainties means potential new jobs are not being created, houses are more expensive and communities have no idea what to expect in their neighbourhoods.

“Fundamentally, the proposed reforms are about providing greater confidence for businesses to grow and create jobs, greater certainty for communities to plan for their area’s needs, and stronger environmental outcomes as our communities grow and change.

“In most cases, this is not about whether a particular project can or cannot proceed, it is about the time and cost to reach that decision.”

Since 2008, the Government has made significant progress to the way the resource management system works, but there are still areas for improvement to make the RMA simpler, less costly and more effective.

For this reason, the Government has today released a discussion document that proposes to make a number of improvements to the RMA across planning, consenting and appeals.

The reform package questions the respective decision-making roles of central and local government, and that of the court system, and considers how processes can be more proportionate to the activities involved.

The reforms within the package are divided into six core objectives:

  • Greater national consistency and guidance
  • Fewer, better resource management plans
  • An effective and efficient consenting system
  • Better natural hazard management
  • Effective and meaningful Māori participation; and
  • Working with councils to improve their RMA service performance

“The proposals are designed to encourage more proactive planning for community needs up front, rather than the consent-by-consent planning that has become prevalent in many places.

“Taken together, the proposals will streamline and improve decision-making at every level.

“The RMA is now 22 years old. It was an innovative approach at that time, focused on enabling growth as long as environmental bottom lines were met, but it has not lived up to its full promise. While the RMA has many strengths, it is in need of an overhaul.”

For a copy of the RMA discussion document go to:
http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publicati=ons/rma/improving-our-resource-management-system.html

Below is an overview of the six core objectives within the reform package.

Greater national consistency and guidance:

As a general principle, central government should provide very clear direction for matters that are nationally important, where decisions reconcile nationally-significant values, or where consistency outweighs the value of local specificity.

Local government should play a key role in decision-making where there are local circumstances that demand a more site or community-specific approach, where the costs and benefits are localised or where the local authority is best placed to make the decision.

The courts, especially the Environment Court, have an important role to play in interpreting and applying policy, and safeguarding the rigour of planning and consenting processes and the quality of outcomes. The judiciary should not be placed in the position of having to determine values or policy – this role should be played by publicly-accountable, elected representatives.

These proposals would amend Part 2 of the RMA by updating the matters identified as being nationally important. Mechanisms for providing national direction to councils would also be amended to improve their clarity and effectiveness.

These changes would increase certainty for councils and the public on matters that are important across New Zealand (i.e. from a national perspective) and how to take them into account in resource management decisions at a local level.

Central government would provide clear direction on important contemporary matters such as housing affordability and natural hazards.

The intent would be to improve the clarity and predictability of the system and reduce costly re-litigation of national matters at a local level.

Fewer and better resource management plans:

These proposals would combine all the planning instruments in a defined area into an easy-to-use format that would provide applicants with a one stop shop for the planning rules that affect their properties and activities.

Under this approach, a national template would remove unnecessary inconsistency in current rules and improve the ease of understanding and usability of plans.

Planning would be future focused, making provision for important matters such as housing affordability, infrastructure development and urban growth management, and would be developed using a process designed to facilitate better public participation in the early stages of plan development.

District and regional councils would be able to choose, where appropriate, to group together and jointly prepare a single integrated plan for each district or area.

Changes would be made to appeal provisions to encourage effective participation in the development of plan content while retaining the role of the courts as a safeguard for procedural rigour, natural justice and the quality of outcomes.

The proposal includes an option of adopting a more collaborative process for the development of the single plan.

This would encourage communities and businesses to actively engage early in the process, result in better integration of regional and district policies and rules, reduce
reliance on litigation and ultimately reduce the time and cost associated with developing and using resource management plans.

More efficient and effective consenting:

Under the current system, consenting requirements are often out of proportion- especially for those activities that have reasonably minor effects.

The proposals in the discussion document would introduce a simple 10-working-day time limit for processing straight-forward, non-notified consents accompanied by a proposed national requirement for some types of application to be processed without notification.

A new process is proposed to allow an “approved exemption” from consent requirements for technical or minor rule breaches.

Additional proposals are to limit affected parties’ opposition to the specific effects that projects will have on them, amend the scope of potential submissions and appeals on consents, introduce the potential for an alternative crown body to undertake consent-processing functions in areas facing particular growth management pressures, and provide consenting authorities tools to prevent land banking.

The proposals would also improve the transparency around consent processing fees, place some sensible constraints on the scope of conditions councils are able to place on consents and reduce the costs associated with the Environmental Protection Authority’s nationally significant proposals process.

Better natural hazard management:

Taking lessons from Canterbury, the discussion document includes proposals aimed at providing greater national consistency and guidance to improve the way that natural hazards are planned for and managed.

Under the proposals, provisions would be made to ensure the risks of all natural hazards can be appropriately considered in resource consent decisions.

These proposals would improve the resilience of communities and businesses to natural hazards and reduce the costs to communities of natural hazard events.

Effective and meaningful iwi/Māori participation

The discussion document includes proposals aimed at clarifying the role of iwi/Māori in plan-making processes and enabling more effective iwi/Māori participation in the resource management system more generally.

These proposals would encourage councils and iwi/Māori to proactively seek local solutions early in resource management processes, which would help reduce the time, costs and uncertainty of the status quo, and reduce the risk of litigation.

Working with councils to improve practice:

These proposals would provide more effective guidance on the development of best practice and would require councils to publically report on their service performance in relation to the resource management accountabilities.

Under the proposals, a standard approach across local authorities would enable more effective benchmarking of performance between councils.
 

  • Amy Adams
  • Environment