The Press

Planning for a better future


You won’t find many people mourning at the graveside of the Resource Management Act (RMA) when it is finally replaced. Its death may come sooner rather than later. A report commission­ed by Environmen­t Minister David Parker has recommende­d repealing the RMA entirely rather than tinkering with it, and recommends two new laws that cover distinct tasks of the RMA. One would be a Natural and Built Environmen­ts Act (NBEA) and the other would be a Strategic Planning Act (SPA).

The proposed NBEA would balance environmen­tal and developmen­t plans at a regional level while the SPA would streamline national planning. A third law could cover implicatio­ns for climate change. A National Ma¯ ori Advisory Board has also been suggested.

The RMA has been widely perceived as a negative for years. As the report says, the act was narrowly focused on resisting the downsides of developmen­t rather than directing developmen­t in more positive ways. It became complex and timeconsum­ing to work with. ACT leader David Seymour spoke for many across the political spectrum when he said ‘‘the 900-page RMA is the biggest barrier to growth in New Zealand’’.

Arriving just weeks before the general election makes RMA reform the next government’s task. National leader Judith Collins has already signalled that she would kill the RMA within her first term if elected.

Parker is broadly in agreement. He pointed out that the RMA is now twice as long as it was three decades ago, and has become costly while failing to properly protect the natural environmen­t or guide the built environmen­t. Declining water quality, diminishin­g biodiversi­ty and unaffordab­le housing are all symptoms of its wider failure, he argued.

The report also helps the Government successful­ly outflank an opposition that has seen RMA reform as a priority and may have counted on its importance to the business community.

Support for the report, which was prepared by a panel led by retired Court of Appeal Judge Tony Randerson, QC, is wider than the business community who see the RMA as a handbrake on post-Covid 19 recovery. The Green Party welcomed the report in the hope that ‘‘environmen­tal laws with strong ecosystem bottom lines’’ could be balanced with affordable housing, green spaces and transport networks.

The New Zealand Ma¯ ori Council has joined the chorus urging lawmakers to tear up the RMA and start again. The council’s executive director Matthew Tukaki has claimed that ‘‘every Ma¯ ori community, marae and business has an issue with the RMA’’. Further tinkering will only add complicati­ons and delays.

Federated Farmers has been a rare voice of resistance. While agreeing with the majority that the RMA is ‘‘unwieldy and cripplingl­y expensive’’, it argues for reform rather than replacemen­t.

The RMA was reflective of a world in which developmen­t took priority over conservati­on, as University of Canterbury law professor John Hopkins explained. But while praising the new focus of the Randerson report, Hopkins warned that ambition must be matched by execution.

The new system will have to be better designed and implemente­d than the cumbersome RMA, which ‘‘began with noble intentions but never functioned as intended through a combinatio­n of legislativ­e flaws and poor implementa­tion’’. The lack of national management plans was one of those mistakes, Hopkins said.

If, as seems likely, the RMA is dropped after the coming election, it is vital that those who design its replacemen­t are capable of both learning from the past and planning for the future.

Arriving just weeks before the general election makes RMA reform the next government’s task.

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