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Repealing The RMA

Mason Reed explains why the Resource Management Act’s days are numbered, regardless of the outcome of the election.

By: Mason Reed

1 September 2020

There has been a lot of talk over the past five or six years regarding the Resource Management Act (RMA) and its adverse effect on development projects.

The debate has become political, with various political parties (in particular National) proposing to overhaul the act. In fact, National attempted, but failed, to get a Bill through Parliament in the last year of their government, to do just that.

Recently, Labour have announced that they intend to repeal the RMA, if they are voted back in for another term. It’s likely that National will do the same, if they get into government. No matter how you slice it, the RMA’s days seem numbered.

Being an engineering and surveying ncompany, we are very familiar with the RMA, as a lot of what we do involves preparing reports in support of applications for resource consents. Given the recent discussion regarding the RMA, I thought it would be a good time to discuss the act.

What Is The Purpose Of The Act?

The RMA was first introduced in 1991. The purpose of the act is to “promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources”, by:

(i) managing the use of our natural and physical resources; and

(ii) avoiding, remedying, and mitigating adverse effects of activities on the environment.

At the time, it was revolutionary, and integrated a lot of existing laws relating to the management of water, air and land.

Why Is It Being Repealed?

The act is now considered to be out-of-date (being some 30 years old) and there’s the perception that it makes development difficult and expensive (it has even been blamed for causing the housing crisis). One of the major criticisms is that it can result in significant delays to developments, particularly if parties object to the proposed development. This “objection” tool has been used in the past to delay projects, to the benefit of a competing party (and not necessarily for the benefit of the environment). For example there have been documented cases where one supermarket will object to an application of a competitor (as is their right under the RMA), to delay the competition from entering the area.

What Will The New Laws Look Like?

Labour has announced that they intend to repeal the act, and replace it with two new laws, the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA) and the Strategic Planning Act (SPA). The NBEA will set national standards for what the Government would like to be achieved with regard to resource management.

The NBEA would also look to create a combined plan. Currently individual territorial authorities prepare their own individual policy statements and district plans. The NBEA would combine these into 14 combined plans.

The SPA relates to planning matters, and would set a strategic direction for how land would be used in the next 30 years. It should be noted that the Greens are non committal to any wholesale changes to the RMA. So, the nature of any changes to the RMA, under a Labour/Greens government, is not reliably known.

National are also proposing to replace the RMA with two new laws; the Environment Standards Act (ESA) and the Urban Planning and Development Act (UPDA). The strategy from National is to remove the environmental matters from other planning issues, and to address them with two separate laws.

Although the RMA has copped a lot of flak lately, its purpose is important, and it is unlikely that any new laws will fundamentally change this requirement.

For this reason, it is likely that any new laws will need to take account all of the existing matters in the RMA and also will likely need to take into consideration additional matters (that were not well covered in the original RMA), such as climate change and more meaningful iwi consultation. That being the case, it is difficult to see how the consenting process, will become any easier.

It should also be noted that drafting and bringing into law new legislation to repeal the RMA would be a complex and time-consuming exercise. It is unlikely that any new legislation would be introduced until late 2023. I am also sceptical whether any new legislation to repeal the RMA, when it is eventually brought in, would have the desired effect of significantly expediating the consenting process. We wait with interest, to see how the next government will tackle any repeal of the RMA, and if the end product matches the rhetoric.


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