Speech to Local Government New Zealand Rural and Provincial Forum 17 June 2022
Environment Minister Hon David Parker - Address to Local Government New Zealand Rural and Provincial Forum
17 June 2022
It is nice to be here today to discuss RM reform, recognising that you are the key implementers of the current and future systems.
I would especially like to thank the Local Government Steering Group, chaired by Toby Adams. Over the last year or so they have provided valued, robust, and independent advice. We have listened to what they have to say, particularly on local voice and agree with their advice. It is one of the most, if not most, important role of councillors and mayors.
Officials are continuing to work with the Steering Group. As we transition to implementation, the Steering Group will continue to play an important role.
This forum is a good opportunity to update you on progress, so thank you for this opportunity.
Over the last fifteen months we have considered the detail of changes to our resource management system recommended by Hon Tony Randerson QC and the expert review panel in their 2020 report. The Panel’s work in turn built on work done by others in civil society over the years, including reports from Local Government New Zealand, the Productivity Commission, the Environmental Defence Society, the Property Council, Northern EMA, Infrastructure New Zealand, and the Waitangi Tribunal.
There is a broad consensus that after 30 years as our cornerstone environmental and development legislation, the RMA is not working as intended.
You may have heard me say the current system takes too long, and costs too much. It has neither adequately protected the natural environment, nor enabled housing development where needed. It has delayed growth, increasing the costs of other investments. Implementation has sometimes been poor.
In the 2020 election we campaigned on implementing the Randerson Report. In February 2021, we confirmed we would repeal the RMA and enact replacement laws to achieve better outcomes for both our natural and built environments.
A Ministerial Oversight Group was convened with delegations from Cabinet to make decisions on the policy. It has been a huge task.
For the last 15 months a group of up to 14 Ministers has met every few weeks to review advice and make decisions on multiple policy papers. Essentially there were 17 cabinet papers containing more than 1000 policy recommendations. We are now considering the ever more detailed subsidiary decisions needed for unambiguous instructions to be given to those who are drafting the laws.
We intend to introduce the Natural and Built Environments Bill and the Spatial Planning Bill to Parliament in the 4th quarter of this year. The third Bill, the Climate Adaptation Bill, will be introduced in 2023.
Our focus is now shifting from development to implementation of the future system. Recent Budget funding has reinforced this.
We have learned from the past. The poor implementation of the RMA at the start almost guaranteed its failure.
Back in 1991, there was a lack of national direction on both environmental and development issues. There were no standard or model plans, or even model formats. There were years of delay for new plans, made worse by an underfunded Environment Court. The system then failed to respond to new challenges and opportunities, including cumulative effects like water pollution and shortage of house-building opportunities which have driven land prices sky high.
Our reforms will make the system more efficient by ensuring earlier strategic planning and consolidated plans across each region. Decisions at each level will be better supported by the planning hierarchy with a greater number of permitted activities, less re-litigation of underlying planning issues and fewer consents.
Reforming the resource management system is a Government priority and we have committed to repealing the RMA and enacting the Natural and Built Environments Act and Spatial Planning Act this parliamentary term.
Over the next few months, before the Bills are introduced, I will talk in more detail about the future system. Today, I will give you an overview, starting with the National Planning Framework.
National direction supports local decision-making by providing consistent direction on priority issues of national importance. Currently, national direction is provided by National Policy Statements, National Environmental Standards, National Planning Standards and regulations under section 360 of the Resource Management Act – 23 documents in all if you include the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement.
These 23 documents will be consolidated into a single, comprehensive framework called the National Planning Framework (NPF). This will provide direction and guidance to those developing Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) and Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) plans. This was a crucial, but missing ingredient when the RMA was implemented and we will start the new system a decade ahead.
We are transitioning existing national direction into the National Planning Framework, filling gaps where needed.
There is a perception that RMA processes are – in the Randerson Review Panel’s words – “…overly cumbersome and provide insufficient certainty for major infrastructure…”. The time taken to reach a decision on consent applications for infrastructure projects has increased by 150% for consents issued between 2010-14 compared to 2015-19 according to a report to the Infrastructure Commission.
We want the National Planning Framework to help decomplicate these issues for the benefit of local government, central government and the private sector.
The NPF will include infrastructure content which will provide much needed direction to regions on how to plan for and enable infrastructure in the Regional Spatial Strategies and Natural and Built Environment Act plans and resolve conflicts that arise.
The infrastructure chapter is expected to include a suite of nationally consistent planning and technical standards for infrastructure that should be used in all plans and for consenting decisions. For example, the chapter may list standards for erosion and sediment control. Councils will state which standard must be used but the need to have conditions in applications and consents will be avoided. We are working with the Infrastructure Commission (Te Waihanga) on this new infrastructure chapter to ensure it is robust and workable.
This will build on the Government’s moves to accelerate housing provision, and the infrastructure that supports it.
Spatial Planning Act
While the planning system will be supported and directed centrally through the National Planning Framework, it will be regionally determined and locally informed.
The SPA will enable and require long-term spatial planning at the regional level through the development of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs). RSSs will integrate planning across different legislative frameworks associated with the management of the natural and built environments. An obvious example is transport planning which needs early integration with land-use planning.
This is the first time there will be a mandatory spatial function across all regions in New Zealand. We have learned from those councils that have a spatial function in place.
Regional Spatial Strategies will see central government, local government, Māori and the private sector, work together to identify how their region will grow, adapt and change over the next 30-plus years.
Each RSS will provide long-term, strategic direction for integrated planning in the region, focusing on the big issues and opportunities facing the region. They will set out a vision, and objectives, to guide the region over the next 30 plus years, and be accompanied by a set of priority actions that will help to turn the vision into reality.
RSSs, for example, will identify areas appropriate for development, areas that should be protected or restored, and areas that are subject to constraints, such as sea level rise and other natural hazards. Transport and infrastructure corridors will be identified.
RSSs will provide direction for NBA plans and local authority transport and funding plans, and will inform central government investment decisions. Delivery of the RSS will be supported by implementation plans which provide direction to decision-makers. With greater emphasis on planning up front, and stronger, plans there will be greater clarity on what is permitted and what is not in the NBA plans. This will flow through to fewer decisions needing to be made at the consenting level.
Natural and Built Environments Act plans
Natural and Built Environments Act plans are combined plans covering both resource allocation and land use for a region. Over 100 regional policy statements and regional and district plans will be consolidated into around 14 plans, simplifying and improving the integration of the system.
There will be stronger guidance on consenting activity categories in the Natural and Built Environments Act to improve consistency for users and greater clarity on what is notified and to whom. NBA plans will be guided by both the National Planning Framework and the relevant Regional Spatial Strategy.
The process will be efficient and robust. It is designed to incentivise participants to provide their input at the earliest stages of plan development.
The Natural and Built Environments Act plan development process has an emphasis on early collaboration and comprehensive policy development, and a shift away from time consuming and costly appeals.
In a process similar to the Auckland Unitary Plan, Independent Hearing Panels (IHPs) will be appointed to consider submissions against the draft plan. If the joint committee accepts the recommendation, appeals will be limited to points of law.
The compliance, monitoring and enforcement regime will be in place upon enactment of the NBA with institutional arrangement developed in the next parliamentary term. The Natural and Built Environments Act will better enable regulators in local government to execute this role more effectively through enhanced cost-recovery provisions, higher maximum fines, a civil-enforcement regime, and a stronger ability to prevent environmental harm before it occurs and to stop it getting worse.
Role of local government
Local government will lead the new system with help from central government. Local government will control the development of plans through the joint committees and will continue to be responsible for consenting and for compliance, monitoring and enforcement.
Local government will control secretariat arrangements and will be responsible for ensuring that local voice is represented in the system through tools such as Statements of Community Outcome and other local community plans.
The Local Government Steering Group’s advice on local voice has been particularly valuable.
Local authorities and joint committees will have a responsibility to ensure that their Natural and Built Environments Act functions and processes are cost-effective. In practise this means timely, efficient, and consistent.
The effectiveness and efficiency of consents will be aided by the National Planning Framework and Natural and Built Environments Act plans, which we intend will be better drafted than some of their counterparts in the current system.
There will be fewer resource consents than required under the RMA.
We are reducing the number of activities categories from six in the RMA to four in the future system.
When it comes to allowing a particular activity, it will be yes (that is permitted), or probably (controlled), or a maybe (discretionary) or no (prohibited).
The use of RMA mechanisms to request additional information and evidence from applicants has contributed to the major increase in costs and timeframes for consents. Past amendments to the RMA have failed to adequately address the problem, thanks to a lack of accountability mechanisms. Responsibility for efficiencies will lie with elected councils and mechanisms to ensure they have proper control of their planning departments’ activities will be made clear.
Role of central government
Central government will provide oversight of the future system, integrated national direction and will play an active role in the development of Regional Spatial Strategies.
It will have an oversight role, alongside independent bodies such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and the proposed national Māori entity.
Role of iwi/hapū/Māori
The RMA failed to deliver on the opportunities the legislation theoretically provided for Māori.
The future resource management system will provide a more effective role for Māori locally, regionally and nationally.
Te Oranga o te Taiao is at the heart of the reforms, capturing the intergenerational importance of the health and well-being of an interconnected environment. This is important for all New Zealanders and includes the intrinsic relationship between people and the land.
The Randerson Review Panel recommended – and the Government agrees – that any future system should give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti, better recognise Te Ao Māori and provide a clear role for hapū/iwi/Māori in decision-making.
We are not pursuing co-governance, but Māori will have participants on the joint committees that will prepare Regional Spatial Strategies and Natural and Built Environments Act plans.
The reforms will also introduce a new tool called an “Engagement Agreement” which will be a simpler way for iwi, hapū, and other Māori organisations to agree with RSS and NBA Plan joint committees on how they will be engaged in plan development to incorporate local views.
This will help system users by making it clearer who needs to be consulted which is a big area of confusion in the current system.
The new centrally funded National Māori entity to be established will better enable Māori participation at the national level. It will have roles in monitoring Te Tiriti performance and providing input into the National Planning Framework.
How we are meeting reform objectives
The Government has set five objectives for the reform of the resource management system.
The first objective is to protect and restore the environment and its capacity to provide for the wellbeing of present and future generations.
Part 2 of the NBA covers the Act's purpose and principles.
The main focus of the RMA has been to manage adverse effects. Avoid, remedy or mitigate has in practise normally been mitigate without bottom lines. Cumulative effects have been poorly managed. By contrast, the Natural and Built Environments Act will focus on promoting positive outcomes for the environment.
The new Act seeks to improve the resource management outcomes in two main ways.
Firstly, by being much more explicit about having to make and comply with environmental limits and targets to protect and improve ecological integrity and human health.
Secondly, improving the system by recognising that the built environment needs to expand and change, so we need to focus on delivering better outcomes for the future, not just managing adverse effects on the environment.
The second reform objective is to better enable development within natural environmental limits.
At a regional strategic planning level, Regional Spatial Strategies will identify where development is needed.
Strong national direction, as set out in the National Planning Framework, will empower development within environmental limits. There will be chapters on urban development and infrastructure which in the coming weeks I will describe in more detail.
The Natural and Built Environments Act will set out environmental outcomes and identify limits. It will provide guidance on how to resolve conflicts and provide strategic direction.
The environmental limits will be mandatory. To avoid irreversible harm to the environment, the limits represent a line in the sand needed to avoid cumulative adverse effects. Targets will drive restoration and improvement of the environment where it is degraded.
These limits will protect ecological integrity and human health, including the quality of our fresh water, coastal waters, estuaries, air, soil, and biodiversity.
The National Planning Framework will describe the limits and targets, standards, and direction for the management of the coastal marine area. This is fundamental to enabling development without compromising environmental and community values in our coastal waters.
Preserving Māori rights and interests, particularly in freshwater, will be ensured.
We are increasingly challenged to manage resources within environmental limits. The way we allocate resources needs to improve now that so many have become scarce.
The Review Panel recommended that the principles of sustainability, equity, and efficiency underpin the allocation of scarce resources. The future system will aim to balance opportunities for new users with the interests of existing users, enabling the reallocation of scarce resources over time.
The Bills will provide mechanisms to ensure aquaculture growth while protecting important marine and biodiversity values. This includes identifying environmentally suitable locations for future marine farms. We need to ensure that marine farms can respond to the effects of climate change, and must overcome the repeated failures of the past attempts to allocate space.
The third objective is to give proper recognition to the principles of Te Tiriti of Waitangi and provide greater recognition of te ao Māori including mātauranga Māori.
The new resource management system will contain a stronger Treaty clause. Decisions made regarding the role of Māori in the new system will need to “give effect to” the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. This is stronger than the RMA’s current requirement to merely “take into account” those principles modelled on the Conservation Act.
Opportunities are provided for hapū and iwi participation, often coupled with consideration of the views of other Māori groups who represent rights and interests ‘at place’ such as marae, Māori landowners and takutai moana rights and interests' holders.
We will also uphold existing Treaty settlements, marine and coastal area (Takutai Moana) rights and their existing arrangements under the RMA.
The new resource management system will ensure the Crown’s settlement obligations for aquaculture are met. To ensure this, we’ve established a series of requirements that ensure that the aquaculture settlement is actively provided for through strategic planning.
The fourth objective is to improve system efficiency and effectiveness, reducing complexity while retaining appropriate local democratic input.
Key here will be the way the interlocking mechanisms of the National Planning Framework and Regional Spatial Strategies help resolve conflicts.
As I have mentioned, we believe significant gains will come from the resource management system being more efficient and effective.
Transparency and accountability will be built into the new system.
There will be regular reporting to Parliament on the performance of the system and legal requirements for central government to respond to national reports on the state of the environment and on how the system is working.
Local authorities will play crucial roles, preserving and improving ways to ensure community input and local voices in the system.
They will support community engagement to make sure Regional Spatial Strategies and Natural and Built Environments Act plans enable local place-making and take into account significant community views through local governance and decision -making arrangements. The way councils choose to do this will be less regulated.
Councils will make appointments to the joint committees who will be developing the Regional Spatial Strategies and Natural and Built Environments Plans.
There is also potential for cross-regional and sub-regional sub-committees.
I want to make sure local government is responsible and accountable for an efficient system. Elected members will have the responsibility to ensure their planning departments operate efficiently and effectively and will be given the tools to do so.
The new system will create significant efficiencies in development, enabling New Zealand to reach its potential for growth. The system is shifting the focus from complex and litigious consenting processes to stronger upfront planning, clear limits and targets, involving people early for effective planning, and streamlined consenting. Alternative dispute resolution processes will be enabled.
Rest assured the effort to implement existing national direction will not be wasted. That would be inefficient. Work is underway in many domains – freshwater quality and land supply are important examples. This will transition into the new system.
The reform’s fifth objective is to better prepare for adapting to climate change and risks from natural hazards, as well as better mitigate the emissions which contribute to climate change.
There is a pressing need to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change. Much of this is done through charging for emissions under the ETS and through complementary measures outside the RM system. The RM system will also have an important role.
On adaptation, the National Planning Framework and Regional Spatial Strategies will identify areas that are at risk of sea-level rise and other natural hazards and require an appropriate response.
The Climate Adaptation Act is expected to be introduced to Parliament in late 2023 with elements of it consulted on recently as part of the draft National Adaptation Plan. It will address the complex technical, legal and financial issues associated with managed retreat. The managed retreat framework will reduce or avoid exposure to intolerable risk and enable people to relocate assets, and activities, away from areas at risk from climate change and natural hazards within a planned period of time.
The interlocking mechanisms of the National Planning Framework and Regional Spatial Strategies will work to help resolve conflicts.
Transition and implementation – Budget funding
Last month’s Budget provides $179 million over four years for implementation of resource management reform.
This will ensure funding to help complete the National Planning Framework, the first Regional Spatial Strategies and NBA plans, and the National Māori entity.
As the shortcomings in RMA implementation show, funding an efficient transition to the new system is crucial to delivering a system which has shorter timeframes, lower costs and better outcomes for New Zealanders.
To make implementation easier, we will work with several councils to develop the first full Regional Spatial Strategies and Natural and Built Environments Act plans which will serve as a model for subsequent strategies and plans.
We will apply the lessons learned to the wider roll out of the system. They will provide practical templates for other regions to use, reducing unnecessary cost and variations between plans.
We hope to identify the first regions we will work with on the model Regional Spatial Strategies and Natural and Built Environments Act plans in the next couple of months.
In addition to the model project, there are 3 other key work programmes in the Transition and Implementation area. Firstly, the transition to the new system, that is how the system will operate during the transition and when the new system tools, strategies and plans will come into force, and how.
I am also very aware of the pressure councils are under and that local government will be working in the current system for some time while the new resource management system is established. A project looking at culture, capability and capacity within the system will help to ensure participants can transition successfully into the new system.
Finally, we are also looking at how digital technologies can improve the performance of the system.
I encourage people and groups who have a stake in the system - local government, the infrastructure and development sector, environmental NGOs, Māori and professional bodies like the NZPI and RMLA - to start thinking about how the new system will be implemented.
Implementation matters. It is the difference between success and repeating the mistakes of the previous system.
This is a significant reform. We want you to engage in the Select Committee process so we can produce robust legislation that is fit for purpose for the next generation. We can then shift our focus fully on to the implementation of the future system.