Update: What you need to know about the Resource Management Act reform

People gathered working on a map

The Government have announced they will be replacing the Resource Management Act with three Acts. Read on to find out what this means.

 In this update we will cover:

 ·      What is the Resource Management Act?

·      Why does it need to be replaced?

·      What will the RMA reform look like?

·      The RMA from Woods’ perspective

·      What can you expect from Woods during the process?

·      How might the RMA reform benefit New Zealand?

What is the Resource Management Act?

The Resource Management (RMA) regulates land use and the provision of infrastructure which are integral components of New Zealand’s planning system. It also sets out how we should manage our environment i.e. air, soil, freshwater and coastal marine areas.

The Government have reviewed the legislation over the last couple of years and there is a consensus that it needs to be overhauled and replaced but not everyone agrees on how.

The Government is proposing to replace it by three separate acts: a new Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) and a Strategic Planning Act (SPA), and a new Climate Change Adaptation Act (CCA).

Why does the RMA need to be replaced?

The RMA was introduced in 1991. Most acts like the RMA would usually last 15 years before coming to their natural end and new legislation being introduced. Overseas, a similar Act might be replaced every five to 10 years. However, the RMA has been in place for the last 30 years. Over this period, about 20 major amendments have been made to the RMA. Every new Government has come into parliament wanting to improve housing, infrastructure, or the environment, but all they do is unintentionally make it worse. It wasn’t simple when it was introduced, and now it’s just overly complex.

There is widespread agreement across the board; political, environmental, and land development organisations all agree the current situation does not work. It is not protecting the water; water has degraded over the last 30 years. It also hasn't facilitated the growth of cities. The reality is that the RMA is restricting cities and degrading water. While the intention is of the RMA is good, it is well past its use by date.

What will the RMA reform look like?

The Government has outlined three Acts which will replace the RMA. At the moment, the Acts are high-level, large scale ideas and it’s hard to anticipate the real impact; the devil is definitely in the detail. It is going to be a massive change and it is potentially going to take years to roll out. Even with the Government’s ambitious timeline, it is likely to be three to five years before we see any on the ground change.

The RMA from Woods’ perspective

We agree with the RMA reform. We think the Government’s intentions are right and they are heading in the right direction - they have done the work to identify the problems, so they know what the problems are. Enough practitioners and organisations are telling them! We believe that if this process is done well, if the Government involves the right people, and they give it some good thought, then there is a massive opportunity to turn a real big old beast of legislation into something that that not only protects New Zealand’s environment, but improves it while facilitating future growth.

What can you expect from Woods during the RMA reform?

We are here to help our clients and to make sure the new legislation creates better outcomes. We will be giving regular easy-to-understand and digestible updates and advice to our clients throughout the process. Either explaining where it is in the process or submitting to Government on a client’s behalf when the act goes through to the Select Committee. That’s where we will crossover with the lawyers who get into the nitty gritty, but our focus is on helping our clients to have a voice about what they think needs to be done.

We will also put our Woods’ internal views forward during the submission process. We think it's really important for us to have a say about the new legislation; it could be around for another 30 years, so we need to say what we think about this – the rights, the wrongs of it – and what we think needs to be included to ensure better outcomes.

How might the RMA reform benefit New Zealand?

This is a good opportunity for the Government to improve housing supply and remove the current impediments to this dilemma between infrastructure planning and funding. One of the dichotomies we have in New Zealand is that there is a huge desire to build houses and open up the land, but there is also a real lack of infrastructure, planning, and funding, Hopefully, this legislation will solve that problem.

We are also quite optimistic that the new legislation will improve the consent process and hold the councils more to account in terms of their timeframes and scope of what they can ask for. Simplifying that process would allow us to get consents out the door quicker, and with less impediments.

Keep an eye out for our next RMA reform update as we follow along the process and share the journey with you.

Euan Williams - Principal Planner & Phil Heffernan – Planning manager – Principal