General policy statement
The overarching purpose of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill (the Bill) is to create a resource management system that achieves the sustainable management of natural and physical resources in an efficient and equitable way.
Sitting beneath this overarching purpose are 3 main objectives. Specifically, the Bill seeks to achieve—
better alignment and integration across the resource management system, so that—
duplication within the system is reduced and legislative frameworks are consistent internally and with each other; and
the tools under the resource management legislation are fit for purpose; and
resource management legislation is implemented in a consistent way and the hierarchy of planning documents is better aligned:
proportional and adaptable resource management processes, so that—
there is increased flexibility and adaptability of processes and decision makers; and
processes and costs are able to be scaled, where necessary, to reflect specific circumstances:
robust and durable resource management decisions, so that—
there is high value participation and engagement, including from iwi and hapū, in resource management processes; and
decision makers have the evidence, capability, and capacity to make high quality decisions and accountabilities are clear; and
engagement is focussed on upfront planning decisions rather than individual consent decisions.
The principal proposed amendments are to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 (EEZ Act), and the Environmental Protection Authority Act 2011 (EPA Act). The Bill would also amend the Conservation Act 1987 (Conservation Act), the Reserves Act 1977 (Reserves Act), and the Public Works Act 1981 (PWA).
The current package of resource management reform proposals comprises over 40 individual proposals aimed at delivering substantive, system-wide improvements to the resource management system.
While resource management legislation is largely implemented by local government, central government can provide national direction in several ways. Specific tools to provide national direction include National Policy Statements (NPSs) and National Environmental Standards (NESs), regulations, the exercise of Ministerial intervention powers, the use of special legislation, and amendments to the purpose and principles, or the statutory functions and powers of decision makers, in resource management legislation.
The Bill seeks to—
sharpen processes for developing NPSs and NESs under the RMA to address current limitations on the (joint) development of these tools and broaden what they can provide for:
introduce a new regulation-making power in the RMA to permit specified land uses so as to avoid unreasonable restrictions on land and prohibit and remove council planning provisions that duplicate the functions in, or have the effect of overriding, other legislation or impose unnecessary restrictions on land use for residential development:
introduce provisions in the EEZ Act for a tool to allow the Government to propose national direction to support decision making on applications for marine consents:
enable the development of a national planning template to improve the consistency of RMA plans and policy statements, reduce complexity, and improve the clarity and user-friendliness of plans:
better manage risks from natural hazards in New Zealand by including
“the management of significant risks from natural hazards” as a new matter of national importance in section 6 of the RMA. This change also supports changes to section 106 regarding consideration of risks from all natural hazards in subdivision consents:
amend sections 30 and 31 of the RMA to make it a function of regional councils and territorial authorities to ensure sufficient residential and business development capacity to meet long-term demand. This is designed to enable better provision of residential and business development capacity, and therefore improved housing affordability outcomes:
remove the explicit function of regional councils and territorial authorities to manage hazardous substances. This is designed to remove duplication between the RMA and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996.
The RMA requires councils to develop regional policy statements, district and regional plans that explain how the council will manage the environment. Plans contain objectives, policies, and rules that address land use, subdivision, air quality, coastal, and other resource management issues within the region or district. The RMA sets out a process for preparing or changing a regional policy statement or plan, which allows for public input at different stages. However, current plan-making processes are often litigious and costly. The length of time taken to develop a new plan and resolve any appeals (approximately 6 years) means that plans lack agility and are not able to be responsive to urgent issues. A significant amount of the time taken for plans to become operative has been spent resolving appeals in the Environment Court.
The Bill proposes changes to the current plan-making process to enable a more efficient, flexible, and proportionate plan change process. The Bill also introduces 2 new planning tracks for councils, namely, the streamlined planning process and the collaborative planning process.
The streamlined planning process will provide for more flexibility in planning processes and time frames and allow these to be tailored to specific issues and circumstances. The collaborative planning process encourages greater front-end public engagement, which will produce plans that better reflect community values and will thereby reduce litigation costs and lengthy delays.
The Bill also seeks to place a statutory obligation on councils to invite iwi to form an iwi participation arrangement that will establish the engagement expectations when consulting during the early stages of the Schedule 1 plan making processes. This proposal aims to improve consistency in iwi engagement in plan development.
Council plans set out all the rules and conditions for different types of activities within their area. The process that a consent authority must follow in coming to a decision on a consent application can involve a decision on whether to notify the application, an officer’s report, a hearing, and, if the resource consent is granted, the setting of consent conditions.
The Bill introduces greater proportionality into the process of obtaining resource consents by introducing a 10-working-day time limit for determining simple applications (fast-track applications) and allowing councils to treat certain activities as permitted.
The Bill also aims to make consent processes more simple and efficient by identifying the parties eligible to be notified of different types of applications. In particular, the Bill refines the notification regime and introduces limits to the scope and content of submissions and subsequent appeals.
The Bill removes the presumption under section 11 of the RMA that requires subdivision to be expressly provided for in plans and makes changes that clarify the scope of conditions that may be placed on resource consents.
To increase certainty for applicants, the Bill proposes a regulation-making power that requires consent authorities to fix the fees for processing certain consent applications and hearings, and the remuneration for hearings panels.
Courts and appeals
Making decisions on plans and resource consents is usually the responsibility of consent authorities. If an applicant disagrees with a decision made by a consent authority, they can either make a formal objection to the decision, or lodge an appeal. When a decision is appealed, the appeal is heard and decided on by the Environment Court.
The Bill introduces a number of improvements to Environment Court processes to support the efficient and speedy resolution of appeals. It also enables applicants to request that their objections to a council’s decision be heard by an independent commissioner rather than by the council.
The Bill also provides the Environment Court with the new ability to direct councils to acquire land (where planning provisions have rendered land incapable of reasonable use and placed an unfair and unreasonable burden on the landowner) as an alternative to the existing approach of amending planning provisions.
Measures are proposed to reduce overlaps and duplications between various statutes within the resource management system. While not all overlaps or duplications are undesirable, in some cases changes to the legislation have been made to improve alignment and to provide greater efficiencies where a particular activity triggers more than 1 piece of resource management legislation. These include—
an optional joint process of public notification, hearings, and decisions for proposals that involve publicly notified plan changes or resource consents under the RMA and recreation reserve exchanges under the Reserves Act. This process would be particularly beneficial to facilitate urban redevelopment projects:
alignment of the notified concessions process under the Conservation Act with notified resource consents under the RMA. These changes to the Conservation Act will bring concessions processes and time frames in line with resource consent processes:
alignment of the processing of certain notified discretionary marine consents under the EEZ Act with the board of inquiry process for nationally significant proposals under the RMA. Greater consistency between the EEZ Act and the RMA will enable the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to make efficiency gains by standardising business processes.
The Bill makes several process improvements. The proposals described do not relate to a particular part of the resource management system. Some proposals apply to all decision makers under the RMA, whereas others apply to specific decision-making bodies such as councils, boards of inquiry, or the EPA.
The Bill ensures that servicing of documents to parties via online platforms will occur more often. Where a document has been provided electronically, a hard copy version will not be required unless specifically requested or required by a court. It also requires all RMA public notices to be written clearly and concisely and be made publicly accessible on an Internet site. Only summaries of public notices will be required to be published in newspapers. This will reduce end user costs and align RMA processes with changing social and technological preferences.
The Bill enables regulations to be made to prescribe how councils undertake monitoring, including what information must be collected, what methodologies must be used, and how these would be reported. This will lead to standardised information collation, which will better facilitate council comparisons and improve the quality and consistency of the information that the Ministry for the Environment receives from councils.
Amendments are proposed to reduce board of inquiry cost and complexity, which include incorporating electronic provision of information in the process, requiring boards to have regard to cost effectiveness, and changing the composition of boards to improve their efficiency. The Bill also enables the EPA to provide secretarial and support services to decision makers appointed under any Act that amends or overrides RMA processes where major hearings are held. Where necessary, the EEZ Act will also be amended to reflect these proposed changes.
In addition, the Bill introduces new requirements in Part 3 of the RMA to ensure decision makers apply procedural principles to minimise the costs of implementing RMA processes. The Bill simplifies charging regimes for new developments by removing financial contributions from the RMA. It also removes the ability for heritage protection authorities that are bodies corporate to give notice of a heritage order over private land, and allows for ministerial transfer of heritage orders.
The Bill introduces provisions in the EEZ Act to provide for decommissioning structures once they reach the end of their productive life. This includes a requirement that owners or operators must prepare a decommissioning plan in accordance with requirements set out in regulations.
The Bill makes other changes to the EEZ Act to ensure that it can be implemented effectively and efficiently, including amendments to transitional provisions and enforcement provisions.
Finally, there are minor or technical amendments that are sought to some parts of existing legislation to either improve an existing resource management process or to address an unintended consequence. These include—
providing for equality of treatment of those who take water for stock drinking purposes:
giving regional councils the discretion to remove abandoned coastal structures:
creating a new regulation-making power to require stock to be excluded from water bodies:
removing redundant provisions on water quality classes from the RMA, as this has been superseded by a national objectives framework in the 2014 National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management:
making minor and technical amendments to provide clarity and improve the workability of the EEZ Act.
Amendments to Public Works Act 1981
The amendments to the PWA are intended to make the land acquisition process and compensation fairer and more efficient by—
giving incentives for landowners to enter into agreements with the Crown more readily by increasing (to up to $50,000) the non-land-related compensation for landowners whose home is acquired under the PWA and by introducing new compensation (of up to $25,000) for landowners whose land, but not their home, is acquired. These amounts, which are in addition to valuation-based compensation under the PWA, will be able to be adjusted by Order in Council:
enabling the Minister for Land Information to delegate an administrative function to the chief executive of Land Information New Zealand:
aligning the objections process for land acquisition cases under the PWA with that which operates under the RMA.