Comprehensive overhaul (NZ River)

The Government launched yesterday its overhaul of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) which, as described by Hon David Parker, “takes too long, costs too much and has not protected the environment”. The need had been highlighted by a reform project initiated by the Environmental Defence Society. Parker stressed that “if, with all our advantages, New Zealand can’t overcome its environmental problems, then the world won’t. Our Resource Management System is pivotal to achieving that”.

The improvement of the RMA system will proceed in two stages, with a Stage 1 Bill (currently being drafted) to address relatively straightforward problems or issues that require action in advance of Stage 2, the comprehensive review.

The aim of the review is to cut complexity and costs while improving protection of the environment. Currently, plan making processes often take longer than the three year term of the elected councils responsible for them. The RMA is close to twice its original length, making it difficult to interpret and slow to implement.

The review will be led by a panel that will produce a proposal for reform, chaired by retired Appeal Court Judge Tony Randerson. The Draft Terms of Reference of the panel outline that it is ready to depart from the status quo in order to achieve its aims. It wants to prioritise setting the high level framework for an improved system rather than resolving issues with the current framework.

It will consider possibilities such as separating statutory provisions for land use planning from that of environmental protection of air, water, soil and biodiversity, whether Part 2 of the RMA should be a separate piece of legislation and how the RMA should interact with the Local Government Act 2002, the Land Transport Management Act 2003 and the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act (once passed).

The panel aims to produce an ‘issues and options’ paper by the end of October 2019 with the final report due mid-2020.

Vanessa Hamm is a partner at Holland Beckett specialising in resource management, local government, and public works matters.