Reimagining the resource management system:  issues and options

The Ministry for the Environment has released the Resource Management Review Panel’s issues and options paper entitled “Transforming the resource management system: Opportunities for Change”. The Panel has been tasked with undertaking a comprehensive review of the Resource Management system and other associated legislation.

The Resource Management Act 1991 was a revolutionary planning document integrating the management of the natural and built environment. In the almost 30 years since its release it has nearly doubled in length and there is concern that it is incapable of adequately providing for the challenges facing New Zealand’s resources today.

The issues and options paper represents the beginning of the formal discussion about the where the system is failing, what it should look like in the future and possible ways to achieve those outcomes. The Panel’s final report is due with the Minister for the Environment at the end of May 2020, after considering responses to the issues and options it identified.

The challenges that the Panel identified include overarching problems affecting the resource management process broadly, such as the complexity of the legislative architecture, the lack of national direction on how to manage resource effectively and the focus on effects of activities rather than planning for outcomes. It also identified specific issues such as the non-use of RMA sections to provide for joint management of resources with iwi and whether climate change should be a greater focus of resource management legislation.

The options considered were similarly varied in scope. The Panel proposed ideas such as splitting the legislation for the built and natural environment into two (i.e. the pre-1991 approach) and creating an overarching spatial planning statute to sit above the RMA and guide decisions makers. The Panel considered the “first in first served” principle that governs allocation, and whether it needs to be modified. The Panel also recommended institutional reform, for example, central government playing a greater role in the system.

The Panel seeks comments on the paper and proposes 44 specific questions to answer. It welcomes submissions until Monday 3 February 2020.