Faster, cheaper, better - once in a generation RMA reforms

  • Less red tape, lower costs, shorter approval times for new homes and infrastructure projects
  • Condensing more than 100 RMA plans into 16 regional plans
  • Better environmental protections through new limits and targets, improved national direction and effective implementation, including support for councils
  • Planning for positive outcomes – not just managing adverse effects
  • New standardised consent conditions, fewer bespoke consents
  • Fast-track referrals to consenting panels
  • Applicants and councils can rely on the Te Puni Kokiri list of Māori groups that need to be notified about plans and development proposals
  • New system will deliver between $2.58 and $4.90 in benefits for every dollar spent
  • Consents estimated to cost 19 per cent less
  • System to be phased in region by region, to ease transition

Environment Minister David Parker has welcomed the faster, cheaper and better resource management system ushered in with the third reading of the Spatial Planning and Natural and Built Environment Bills today.

“The new system is a once in a generation change that will protect and, where necessary, restore the environment, while enabling development within environmental limits,” David Parker said.

“The new Bills replace the 30 year-old Resource Management Act. Despite regular tinkering by successive governments, the RMA was failing to either protect the environment or enable sensible development. The RMA had great potential – it just didn’t work the way it was supposed to.”

David Parker said the new resource management system has been five years in the making, following calls for fundamental change from all sides. It was supported by numerous reports from business, environmental and other interests, and was based on a major expert review panel study chaired by former Court of Appeal Judge Tony Randerson KC.

The Environment Committee received around 3,000 submissions, with 94 per cent supporting the thrust of the reforms. Many submissions made sensible and practical suggestions for improving how the new legislation will work in practice.

The changes included giving more effect to local democracy through statements of community outcomes and improving planning and consenting provisions, notification, designations and fast-track.

The Committee of the Whole House stage made additional changes such as further flexibility when implementing freshwater farm plans and removing the 5MW threshold for hydroelectricity renewals.

“The list of Māori groups currently maintained by Te Puni Kokiri now becomes an authoritative code that local authorities and developers can rely upon,” David Parker said. “The list can be updated, but will be valid at the time of use. This will provide greater certainty for everyone, removing the risk of objections being raised by interests whom others were not previously aware should be notified.

“The successful fast-track referral process, introduced as a temporary Covid recovery measure, will be reintroduced for infrastructure and regionally significant housing projects.”

David Parker said the consensus for fundamental change is clear.

“Everyone involved in this process essentially agrees on that. Until recently, even our political opponents in the National Party did as well. But now that the election is upon us, they’ve changed their tune.

“When explaining themselves in Parliament, the only justification National has for their flip-flop is that the new laws have many pages and will take time to interpret and implement.

“Of course they will. This is system change – you can’t do that with a bit of fiddling around the edges. That’s what successive governments have been doing for years.

“In the five years to 2019, council fees increased by 66 per cent for non-notified consents, and 124 per cent for notified consents. Processing timeframes rose by up to 50 per cent.

“Consenting for mid-sized infrastructure in New Zealand represents 5.5 per cent of total project costs, compared with a range of just 0.1 to 5 per cent in European Union countries.

“A cost-benefit analysis commissioned by the Ministry for the Environment estimates that, over 30 years, the new system is expected to deliver between $2.58 and $4.90 in benefits for every dollar spent. System users will enjoy a 19 per cent reduction in costs, or around $150 million per year. The holding costs of delay also reduce.”

David Parker said the RMA has failed to deal with cumulative effects including degrading water quality and increasing climate emissions. The new system will require positive outcomes for the environment, housing and infrastructure.

He said the new resource management system will be phased in over time, but some changes will take effect immediately. The new system will go live region by region, and central government will give extra help to councils that go first.

“The poor implementation of the RMA at the start almost guaranteed its failure. We have learned from the past and we know we can’t afford to repeat this mistake.”

The next steps involve consultation on the transitional National Planning Framework, which draws together existing national direction under the RMA and new content designed by the Infrastructure Commission.