OECD report highlights importance of RMA reform

  • Nick Smith

New Zealand’s ranking in a just-published report as 28th of 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in terms of the burden to the economy due to environmental policies highlights the importance of reforming the Resource Management Act, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“New Zealand is generally very well ranked as a good country in which to do business and create jobs, but this report highlights real problems in our system of environmental regulation. We scored the worst when it came to administrative burdens, with the highest alongside Israel, Canada and Iceland. This is because of the high number of contact points and applications required by businesses to comply with our Resource Management Act,” Dr Smith says.

The report – which was publicly released on 8 November by the OECD’s Working Party on Integrating Environmental and Economic Policies – investigated whether environmental policies matter for productivity growth and looked at administrative burdens, direct impediments to competition and policy evaluation.

“This report highlights that high environmental standards do not have to mean high administrative costs. Many countries had more stringent environmental policies than New Zealand, but had far less costly administrative systems. We need to heed the advice from the OECD to find ways to reduce our environmental policy red tape and improve the business friendliness of our bureaucratic procedures.

“Fixing the Resource Management Act so as to address these very real administrative problems while maintaining high environmental standards is a huge challenge. The core problem is that we have different rules for thousands of different types of activities across 164 regional and district plans, requiring too many consents per year.

“Our first phase of reform has delivered significant benefits in enabling major projects to be processed far more efficiently, in reducing the number of required consents per year from 50,000 to 35,000, and in speeding up consent processing. The second phase needs to simplify and standardise plan-making, make greater use of national regulatory tools and find pathways to resolve minor issues more efficiently.

“This second phase of reform will involve the most significant changes to the Resource Management Act since its inception 25 years ago. We need to take the time to get it right. The plan is to have a bill ready for introduction in the first half of 2015.”