The Resource Management Amendment Act 2020

The Resource Management (get your) Amendment Act (together) 2020 (RMAA) is the latest in a never-ending series of amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

The RMAA came into force on 1 July 2020 and introduces some significant changes, particularly for the freshwater planning process. It also enhances public participation in the planning process, increases enforcement powers and removes barriers to regional council consideration of climate change mitigation in regional plans and consent decision making.

1. Freshwater Planning Process
The RMAA introduces a new freshwater plan development process to replace the previous collaborative approach. Regional councils will be required to use this planning process to publicly notify new regional plan provisions by 31 December 2024 to implement the changes required by the new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management. Final decisions on the provisions will then be required two years after this date by 31 December 2026. We will also be publishing an article next week on this new national direction as part of our series.

Key aspects of the new process include the appointment of a freshwater hearings panel which will receive submissions and hold hearings on all freshwater planning provisions notified by regional councils. Each panel must have one tangata whenua nominated representative.

After holding hearings, the panel will issue a recommendations report in relation to the notified plan, which will not be required to be limited to the scope of submissions. The relevant regional council will then decide whether to accept the recommendations of the panel or reject any recommendations which will require them to provide reasons for doing so.

Where the council accepts recommendations of the panel, submitters will be limited to appeals relevant to their submissions on points of law in the High Court. Where recommendations are rejected, submitters will be able to appeal to the Environment Court on matters relevant to their submissions. This represents a significant limiting of appeal rights for submitting parties in the plan development process and the intention is that this will result in plans becoming operative more quickly.

2. Other changes of note
The RMAA increases the ability for the public to participate in the resource consent process. It removes preclusions on public notification of certain types of consent applications, including subdivisions and residential activities. Restrictions on public notification of these types of applications were introduced by the previous government in the Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 to reduce obstructions to development of this kind.

Enforcement provisions are strengthened by the RMAA. The statutory limitation period for filing prosecution charges under the RMA is extended from six to twelve months. Further, the Environmental Protection Authority is given the mandate to take enforcement action under the RMA and intervene in enforcement matters being progressed by local authorities. This represents an increase in central government involvement in RMA enforcement.

The RMAA also removes a provision of the RMA introduced in 2004 preventing the consideration of the effect of discharging greenhouse gases to air on climate change by regional councils in plan processes and consent decisions. The removal of this provision now gives way to consideration of climate change mitigation and reduction of emissions in RMA processes. This change does not come into effect until 31 December 2021 to ensure enough time is given to Councils to make the necessary policy arrangements.

The RMAA is the first stage of the current government’s overhaul of the RMA with the second and more extensive stage anticipated post-election based on the recommendations of the Resource Management System: A Comprehensive Review report, otherwise known as the Randerson Report. We will be publishing an article in the coming weeks on the recommendations of the Randerson Report as part of a series of articles on RMA development so stay tuned for the next instalment of the RMA reform chronicles.