The Press

Ambitious plan to reform RMA

The latest review urges totally new ways of planning. But will it come with too hefty a price tag, asks Caroline Miller.

- Dr Caroline Miller is an associate professor in the School of People, Environmen­t and Planning at Massey University.

If the recommenda­tions of the Resource Management Review Panel are accepted, we will see a new commitment to the wellbeing of present and future generation­s, while recognisin­g the concept of Te Mana o te Taiao (the health and wellbeing of the environmen­t).

This review of the Resource Management Act also recognises that New Zealand is a largely urban nation, and there is greater commitment to directly addressing the complex issue of achieving good quality and environmen­tally informed urban developmen­t.

Comprehens­ive and wide-ranging changes are being proposed, with the RMA replaced by two new acts: a Natural and Built Environmen­ts Act, and a Strategic Planning Act. The first would focus on enhancing environmen­tal quality, essentiall­y what the RMA set out to do. The second would promote the strategic integratio­n of functions across the resource management system through developmen­t of regional spatial strategies.

The Government announced a comprehens­ive review of the RMA in July 2019 to deal with an increasing­ly dysfunctio­nal act. The review panel, chaired by retired Court of Appeal judge Tony Randerson, QC, was required to report on how to improve environmen­tal outcomes and better enable developmen­t within environmen­tal limits.

Central government is also to have a much greater role in the new resource management system, through the use of targets including environmen­tal limits or standards. This creates a stronger role for the existing RMA National Environmen­tal Standards (NES) and National Policy Statements (NPS), which central government has started to use in earnest only in the past 15 years or so. These will be expanded and integrated to form a single document.

Water allocation and management, a contentiou­s area already slated for reform, is likely to be a focus of such involvemen­t. There is also to be more direction from central government on how these issues are to be reflected in all plans produced under the new acts, which seems to predicate a stronger role for the Ministry for the

Environmen­t or an expanded Environmen­tal Protection Authority.

Treaty principles get greater recognitio­n

A National Ma¯ ori Advisory Board will be created, presumably to ensure the Te Mana o te Taiao pillar of the legislatio­n is achieved. There is also an ongoing commitment to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi remaining a mandatory part of all planning and decision-making.

As in the past, central government will have a stronger presence in the planning system, to ensure greater uniformity. There seems the potential for greater central government involvemen­t to crowd out or limit the involvemen­t of communitie­s in shaping the planning and management of their local environmen­t.

The most significan­t changes are in what plans will be needed, what those plans will address, and who will make those plans. The panel believes regulatory plans need to be simplified and integrated.

The most challengin­g aspect of the proposed reforms is surely the new Strategic Planning Act. It will require the creation of a high-level regional spatial plan for developmen­t which is ‘‘consistent with the purposes of the Natural and Built Environmen­ts Act, Local Government Act and Land Transport Management Act, national direction, the national adaptation plan under the Climate Change Response Act and relevant government policy statements’’.

Its constructi­on will require councils and mana whenua to work together to produce a plan with a higher degree of integratio­n than has ever been achieved in existing plans.

Under the Natural and Built Environmen­ts Act, councils will have to produce a single regulatory plan that will reflect national directions and the regional spatial plan. Hearings for such plans will, as with the Auckland Spatial Plan, be in the hands of an independen­t hearings committee.

There is also a clear intention to settle developmen­t standards and potential disputes through the plan hearing process, reducing the number of consents and the potential costs and delays of that system. Consents would require a robust Environmen­tal Impact Assessment, but what are called localised disputes would be settled by alternativ­e dispute resolution processes.

Monitoring would be improved, with the Parliament­ary Commission­er for the Environmen­t being given a wider auditing role.

The proposal can only be called ambitious, requiring totally new ways of planning. On past experience, wholesale change is usually stressful and expensive, while not always delivering the outcomes sought. It is also more of a ‘‘one size fits all’’ approach to planning, which may clash with communitie­s’ desires to forge plans which reflect their views and ambitions.

In a post-Covid-19, fiscally constraine­d world it may also be a proposal with too expensive a price tag.

 ?? STUFF ?? The latest review of the RMA recognises that New Zealand is now a largely urban nation.
STUFF The latest review of the RMA recognises that New Zealand is now a largely urban nation.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand