Keynote Speech to the NZ Planning Institute Conference 2021


Nelson, Friday 26th March

 {The Minister spoke off-the-cuff with opening remarks reflecting on COVID-19 and the current context for the Government.}

As you know on 10 February we announced our intention to transform the ways in which we plan for and with our communities. Today I will give you an update on where we are with these resource management reforms.

I will also look at the other priority work programmes underway to ensure we continue to plan to supply housing, improve water quality and protect highly productive land.

The Environment is under pressure

There is broad consensus that New Zealand’s resource management system introduced by the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is no longer fit for purpose. (Although it does get unfairly blamed for some things that are not the fault of the RMA.)

Ecosystems are degraded, our waterways have been in major decline, biodiversity is diminishing, and over 4,000 of our plant and animal native species are now threatened. 

Urban development has struggled to keep pace with population growth.  Decisions under the RMA have entrenched amenity values ranking issues of taste too highly, holding up intensification and contributing to rapidly increasing land prices. New Zealand’s housing is now amongst the least affordable in the OECD.

The need to address these problems is urgent and at the centre is work to create a resource management system that’s fit for purpose, and protects and provides for the wellbeing of future generations.

A comprehensive review

In 2019, the Government commissioned an expert review of the resource management system led by retired Court of Appeal Judge Hon Tony Randerson QC. This was the most significant, broad ranging and inclusive review since the RMA was enacted. The review was primarily focused on the RMA, the interface of the RMA with specific legislation (Local Government Act, Land Transport Act and the Climate Change Response Act), and a new role for regional spatial planning. 

The review process was an opportunity to design a new system for resource management in New Zealand that delivers better outcomes for our environment, our people, our economy, and culture.

The Panel’s report, New Directions for Resource Management in New Zealand, colloquially known as the Randerson Report was published in July last year and it was distributed widely. We let is sit over the election period and parties took their own positions. I am hoping all of you here today have taken the opportunity to read this comprehensive and historic report – it is only 531 pages including appendices after all!

Reform of the system

This is once-in-a-generation opportunity to set up the resource management system in New Zealand for the next 30 years to safeguard the wellbeing of future generations. 

The Panel did a superb job, and we are using their recommendations as a platform for the reforms.    

They proposed three pieces of legislation which are:  

    • the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA)
    • the Strategic Planning Act (SPA)
    • the Climate Adaptation Act (CAA)

    We’re expecting to see the following significant shifts:

  • an integrated set of national direction that will help reconcile tensions between competing objectives.  This will now be called the National Planning Framework, and will include required outcomes and bottom lines
  • strategic long term planning
  • stronger collaboration across local government on their core planning functions. This will see the number of resource management plans reduced from over 100 to about 14
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution for boundary disputes in urban areas, and
  • we want stronger system oversight and accountability
  • a clearer role for Māori in plan development

The Panel proposed that any future system should give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and provide a clearer role for mana whenua in decision-making.     

These changes seek a clearer focus on protecting the natural environment values, rather than non-natural amenity values, which will help enable development within environmental limits. We will continue our efforts to improve housing supply.  

And we will better prepare to adapt to climate change and other natural hazards.

Overall, we want the system to become more effective and efficient, thus reducing costs and time. 

The Natural and Built Environments Act, which we are calling the NBA for short, will be the primary replacement for the RMA. This is the core piece of legislation providing for land use and environmental regulation.

It will include a focus on the positive outcomes to be achieved for both the natural and built environments, rather than just on managing the effects of an activity or development. (That led to what has been termed the “salami effect”, where a series of individual decisions with limited effects added up to a major  impact.) We are working through how we manage this without being so inflexible that it stops necessary infrastructure.

The proposed system of outcomes, limits and targets will be realised through a national planning framework which will provide a set of mandatory national policies, standards and regulations on specified aspects of the new system. 

Each region will develop one single NBA plan and these will be prepared by local government in partnership with mana whenua and central government.  The national planning framework will apply to these NBA plans.

There will be fewer NBA plans but they will be more directed to achieving outcomes. 

NBA plans must be consistent with the natural planning framework and regional spatial strategies. NBA plans, as now, will direct which activities do and do not require consent.

The Strategic Planning Act (SPA) will reduce uncertainty.  It will set strategic outcomes for how we plan to use or protect land and the coastal marine area. 

Central government, local government and mana whenua will together develop long-term regional spatial strategies in each region providing pathways towards future outcomes, developing regional spatial strategies to better integrate land-use and infrastructure. 

Under the SPA we will identify:

  • areas suitable for development
  • areas that need to be protected or improved
  • the main new infrastructure needed and other social needs such as hospitals and schools
  • areas that are vulnerable to climate change effects and natural hazards such as earthquakes.

This will assist development and infrastructure to be provided in the right places at the right times.

The regional strategies will set out what development capacity is needed to improve housing supply relative to population growth.

These regional strategies will help integrate functions under the NBA, Local Government Act 2002, Land Transport Management Act 2003 and the Climate Change Response Act 2002 to enable clearer and more efficient decision-making and investment.

They will not have details like zone rules. They are high level.  Essentially, for it to be in the SPA, it has to be able to be depicted on a map. 

The Climate Adaptation Act (CAA) will address the complex legal and technical issues around climate change and other natural hazards. These include addressing issues related to managed retreat from areas threatened with inundation and the funding and financing of climate change adaptation. This is being progressed by my colleague the Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw.

A More Effective Role for Māori

As mentioned, a key objective of the reform is to provide for a more effective role for Māori in the system.  We are looking to give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and stronger recognition of te ao Māori, including mātauranga Māori. Collectively the changes will represent a significant shift for the participation by Māori in the system, with the expectation that  Māori values, interests and aspirations for the environment can be realised. 

We are working collaboratively with several Māori entities on the policy development for the exposure draft of the NBA legislation.  We are mindful of the impact of this reform on treaty settlements so are talking with Post Settlement Governance Entities to ensure existing commitments in settlements are carried across in an acceptable way in the new legislation. I want to acknowledge my colleague, Associate Minister for the Environment Kiritapu Allan, for the work she is undertaking on this.

Local government has a key role in these reforms and the Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta is involved.

Elected representatives play a key role in giving the community a voice. Local government needs expertise and the technical knowledge of planning professionals turning local visions into reality.

It’s critical that local communities can shape the places they live, work, and play to support their wellbeing. Regional strategies and NBA plans will have to work, both to achieve national outcomes and at the local level to ensure the planning system delivers good outcomes for all communities.

Opportunities for engagement

This is complex work and one of the most significant public policy processes for decades. So where exactly are we in this process?

We have already begun drafting legislation based on the Randerson Report. I expect to have an early draft of key parts of the legislation – an exposure draft – ready to be referred to a select committee in the first half of this year. The draft will include the proposed purpose and principles, the Treaty clause, provisions enabling the National and Planning framework, and the National and Built Environments region-wide plans.

The select committee will report back to Parliament with its findings and any changes will be made before the full NBA is formally introduced into Parliament we hope later this year. This will be put through a full select committee process.

At the same time we are advancing decisions on the Strategic Planning and Climate Change Response Acts and we have set up an inter-agency board under the Public Service Commissioner to oversee the SPA. Its membership includes Environment, Housing and Urban Development, Transport,  Internal Affairs, Conservation, the Treasury, Te Arawhiti, Te Puni Kōkiri, Primary Industries, Business, Innovation and Employment, and Culture and Heritage.

We aim for the NBA being passed into law in by the end of 2022 and the SPA and CAA to follow in 2023.   

Transition to the new system

The proposed new system will be different from the RMA, and its success will depend on our collective capability and capacity to implement the new system. Your commitment to make this work is central to this.

We will need your input on how to make the new system work, and be willing to modify the tools and methods we use in the current system.

We want to hear your views on the new system through the select committee inquiry initially and then via the full select committee process. We need to focus on system efficiency; how we can create incentives for proportionate, perhaps more iterative, processes rather than excessively complex, long and expensive ones.

A lesson of the failures in RMA implementation in the 1990s is to ensure we can transition to a different system without unnecessary disruption.

My officials are already working on a transition and implementation plan at the same time as we work on the policy decisions and the legislative process.

The goal is to provide as much certainty as possible to local government about the transition pathway.

In the meantime, we cannot delay addressing our current environment and planning challenges.

Local government implementation of national direction on freshwater and urban development in my view is progressing well. Thank you. It will be transitioned into the new system. It is not a wasted effort.

Housing outcomes through reform

Improving housing outcomes is one of the key objectives for the reform.

Healthy and affordable homes are essential to our wellbeing and sense of belonging.      

Urban areas hold 86 per cent of our population and are where 99 per cent of our population growth occurs. Cities need to respond to population growth sustainably. Plans that anticipate and respond to growth and change can play a critical role in achieving our aims for housing.   

Housing problems are a complex mix of demand as well as costs, financing, infrastructure, capacity and supply. You will be aware that on Tuesday we set out the Government’s far reaching plans for both demand side and supply side measures to address housing issues.  The planned reforms will also help address some of these issues.

A more effective and efficient system will provide more certainty and a simpler, less costly decision-making process to support housing developments, enabling new homes to be built more quickly. 

Better strategic planning will help align infrastructure investment by central and local government and the private sector to help ensure it is provided at the right place, at the right time. Infrastructure is integrated with land use planning, development and urban growth.

Reform is part of the suite of actions the Government is taking, including changes to how infrastructure is financed. Our housing programme has us now building more homes than any Government since the 1970s, and the measures we announced this week will help with demand and supply.

National Policy Statement on Urban Development

An important but often underrated part of our plan to meet the demand for houses is the National Policy Statement on Urban Development, which was gazetted last year.  This ensures New Zealand’s towns and cities are well-functioning urban environments that meet the changing needs of our diverse communities. It removes overly restrictive barriers to development (such as the rules requiring the provision of car parks) to allow growth both ‘up’ and ‘out’ and a focus in urban areas on locations that have good access to existing services, public transport networks and infrastructure.

Officials at MfE and the Ministry for Housing and Urban Development are currently focused on supporting the implementation of this NPS and monitoring progress being made. The NPS-UD is a good example of how we are preparing the old system for transformation to the new.

Essential Freshwater package

We have work proceeding on protection of highly productive soils and biodiversity. I won’t cover those today, but I will talk about our work on freshwater.

The Government’s goal for freshwater is to stop further degradation, show material improvements within five years (of 2017) and restore our waterways to health within a generation.

Achieving this is complex and requires significant effort in both rural and urban areas. Our NPS and NES are now in place. Te Mana o te Wai is reinforcing a clear hierarchy to guide the management of freshwater, starting with the protection of the health and wellbeing of waterbodies, then the essential needs of people before enabling other uses of freshwater.    

I recognise that considerable effort and resource is going into making these changes work in practice. The public is overwhelmingly on your side, so keep it up. I am pleased to see collaboration between regional councils divvying up some of the tasks. MfE are ready to help, as are the Freshwater Commissioners created in last year’s RMA amendment.

On allocation

We indicated in our election manifesto that we will work to achieve efficient and fair allocation of freshwater resources, having regard to all interests including Māori, and existing and potential new users.

Water is a valuable and strategic asset and gives us an important competitive advantage. The way we allocate freshwater will affect the prosperity of future generations. It’s got to be fair.

With increasing demand, over-allocation and the challenge of climate change, the current ‘first-in, first-served’ approach allied with near automatic rollover, is no longer suitable.

Working with Treaty partners and key stakeholders, we have the opportunity to make meaningful and lasting change.

Expectations for Planners

Finally, I want to end by thanking NZPI for their contribution to the Randerson Review.  You have provided valuable insights and your continued participation in the development of the system is crucial.

I know you will engage closely with the exposure draft of the Bill. It is important to consider how practice will need to change to support the proposals. I am interested in your views about institutional incentives which could help or hinder -- in councils, at central government and inside your own profession.

Happy to take your questions.