RMA reform

The Natural and Built Environment Bill (NBE Bill) has created a new single integrated framework called the National Planning Framework (NPF). The NPF will be the equivalent of what is currently national direction under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) by carrying though National Policy Statements, National Environmental Standards, National Planning Standards, and some regulations made under the RMA. The NPF will be implemented as regulation and will be considered secondary legislation.

The NPF will provide direction and guidance to the Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) and Natural and Built Plans on the integrated management of the environment in relation to matters of national significance and for which consistency is desirable. This will include directions for the resolution of conflicts about environmental matters, setting environmental limits and targets, and setting strategic direction.

The NPF will have the ability to set framework outcomes and policies, framework rules and methods for implementing those outcomes and policies, and the ability to influence allocation methods via the allocation principles of sustainability, efficiency and equity.

Environmental limits

Environmental limits are a qualitative or quantitative limit set for ecological integrity of the natural environment or to protect human health. Environmental limits must be set for: air, indigenous biodiversity, coastal water, estuaries, freshwater, and soil and could also be set for other aspects of the natural environment.

Environmental limits will be set for identified geographical areas (management unit). Some management units may have different environmental limits due to them having different existing environments or levels of harm or stress.

Environmental limits will set a minimum biophysical state for a management unit, or the maximum amount of harm or stress to the natural environment that may be permitted - such as maximum contaminant concentrations.

Regional planning committees can request that the Minister direct exemptions to environmental limits, but these cannot be for limits that protect human health and are subject to a time limit.

Targets

Targets are directives that establish steps for improving the environment. They must be set for the mandatory environmental limits, can be set for other matters, and will be at a level that is equal or better to the associated environmental limit.

Essentially environmental limits and targets set “environmental bottom lines” by requiring plans to achieve them and preventing the granting of resource consents that are contrary to them.

Conclusion

The NPF is currently being developed and will be in place by 2025 in time for the development of the first RSSs. This ensures that the NPF has the ability to provide directions for both Plans and RSSs.

Submissions on the NBE Bill are open until 5 February 2023. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss the NBE Bill or make a submission.