NPF framework

This article provides an update to our previous article on the National Planning Framework (NPF) dated 19 December 2022. To recap, the Natural and Built Environment Bill (NBE Bill) and the Spatial Planning Bill (SPB) are currently at the select committee stage with the intention of being passed into law in mid-2023. Recently the Ministry for the Environment (the Ministry) provided further details on the RMA Reform including what the NPF is and how it will be implemented.

What is the NPF?

The NPF will be secondary legislation under the NBE Bill and 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, some regulations made under the RMA, and consolidating it into one document. Only existing national direction which is fit for purpose will be carried over into the NPF.

The NPF will provide direction on regional and local decision making, conflict resolution, and planning by supporting the development of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) (developed under the SPB) and Natural and Built Environment Plans (NBE Plans) (developed under the NBE Bill). It is likely that the NPF will have topic specific chapters with one chapter (referred to as the ‘overarching layer’) providing a broad system direction that provides for consistent direction under the NPF by:

  • Monitoring the performance of the NPF;
  • Providing a process for engagement with Māori and the community; and
  • Providing further direction on decision making.

The NPF will also set environmental limits and targets with the aim of improving the natural and built environment. The first NPF will:

  • Set out measurable biophysical characteristics of the natural environment associated with ecological integrity and human health that needs to be measured as limits and have associated targets;
  • Provide direction on the setting of ‘management units’ (identified geographical areas requiring limits and targets);
  • Direct the process for setting limits in the NBE Plans; and
  • Outline what form requests for exemptions from limits.

The NPF must also give effect to the principles of te Tiriti o Waitangi. For example: regional planning committees are required to involve Māori in plan development.

Implementation of the NPF

The Ministry aims to notify the NPF in the third quarter of 2023 – within six months of the NBE Bill coming into effect. The NPF is currently under development in order to meet this timeline, however if any changes are made to the NBE Bill then they will be reflected in the NPF so the two documents align.

Once the NPF is notified a board of inquiry (BOI) process will be undertaken. There will be opportunities for mana whenua and the community to provide input via submissions and a subsequent hearing that is expected to be held in the last quarter of 2023. At the conclusion of the hearing the BOI will provide recommendations to Cabinet which will inform the first finalised NPF in about late 2024.

Despite the above, the NPF will not have legal effect until all NBE plans are operative. This is expected to take between 7 and 10 years. During this transition period national direction under the RMA will remain in force, and the NPF will provide direction for the development of RSSs and NBE Plans.

The NPF will be developed in stages with the first stage to provide direction for RSSs i.e. providing systems outcomes which are not covered by existing RMA national direction, and requirements and policies for setting environmental limits and targets. Future stages will include direction for the development of NBE Plans


Currently the Ministry is in the early stages of developing the NPF including the contents of each stage and the timing for amendments. The Ministry welcomes input on what additions should be made to the NPF, and any general feedback on the suggested direction on the NPF and any of its aspects - These suggestions will be factored into the second stage of the NPF.

Alongside regional hui’s in March and April 2023, the Ministry will publish a roadmap that clarifies how future NPF amendments will be carried out as well as how the NPF will inform NBE Plans.

You can find the latest guide to the RMA reforms here.