RMA Reforms Pass

The eagerly awaited Resource Legislation Amendment Bill ( Bill) passed its third reading 6 April 2017. The third reading comes 16 months after it was first introduced to Parliament in November 2015 and was the last hurdle to the National-led Government delivering changes to the Resource Management Act ( RMA), first discussed five years ago. Water New Zealand made submissions during the consultation phases of the legislation. Much of the Bill has no resemblance to what went into the House – select committee processes etc.

The Bill introduces a suite of changes to our key environmental legislation – from offshore environmental legislation through to the Public Works Act. However, the most significant changes that you are likely to see as a result of the passage of the legislation are changes to planning and national-level regulation under the RMA.

A number of the key themes in the Bill are likely to translate into changes to RMA policy statements and plans. The most well-signalled of these changes are those arising from local authorities’ new functions around ensuring sufficient development capacity in relation to housing and business land. Other themes include improving responses to natural hazards.

You can also expect to see additional regulations being made under the increased regulation-making powers under the RMA. Likely to be high on the Government’s regulation making agenda under these new powers will be the first set of national planning standards (aimed at achieving greater national consistency and easier implementation of national-level direction into local authority planning documents).

The Bill delivers more options around local authority planning processes (i.e. collaborative and “streamlined” planning processes). As a result, when, how and the extent to which, you will have the opportunity to be involved in planning processes will vary.

On the resource consent side, there will be greater restrictions on appeal rights, including no appeal rights in relation to consented ‘boundary activities’ (activities which only require consent because they infringe a rule relating to a property boundary), as well as subdivision and residential activities that are restricted discretionary or discretionary activities, and that are not part of a larger proposal that requires additional resource consents. There will also be a number of changes to Environment Court processes when appeals are made.

There will be additional controls on what resource consent applications can be publicly notified and some tightening of conditions that can be imposed on resource consents. There is now explicit recognition of decision-makers’ ability to consider proposals from developers to undertake activities with positive effects to offset the adverse effects of their proposals.

There are also a variety of changes which will make it quicker and more straight-forward to obtain RMA authorisation for smaller-scale activities with local effects. These involve a new fast tracked consenting track for certain non-notified resource consent applications, and special mechanisms for boundary activities and marginal breaches of plan rules.

Notably, the Government responded to criticism about some of the more controversial changes in the Bill by removing them. These include the requirement for consent authorities to record the relevant adverse effects of a proposal in its notification decision and the ability for consent authorities to disregard adverse effects when making a decision whether to notify a resource consent application, if those effects are taken into account in the objective and policies in the relevant plan.