RMA to be Replaced – Changes and impacts

Written by Peter Reaburn | Planning Director | Cato Bolam Consultants

The RMA Review is now officially underway.  Recommendations made by the Randerson Resource Management Review Panel in mid-2020 are to be adopted.  The RMA will be replaced by three new pieces of legislation – a Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA); a Strategic Planning Act (SPA); and a Managed Retreat and Climate Change Adaptation Act (CCA).

Initial emphasis is being placed on the NBEA, an “exposure draft” of which will be available mid-year, followed by a select committee inquiry and then a bill being introduced to Parliament by the end of 2021.  The legislation is proposed to be passed by the end of 2022. The SPA and CAA will not go through an exposure draft process but will be developed at the same time.

If, as is expected, the Randerson Review recommendations are to be followed, the new legislation will require major changes to the number and structure of national, regional and district plans.  The current approximately 100 regional and district plans will be replaced by 14 combined plans which will be required to be outcomes rather than effects focused.  National directions (national policy statements and national environmental standards) will be mandatory.  The NBEA will include clear direction on bottom lines for air, water, soil and biodiversity and is also likely to cover directions relating to tikanga Māori, historic heritage and natural hazards.  There will be an emphasis in the new plans that are to be prepared on clear setting of positive environmental targets to achieve the outcomes specified in the NBEA.  In combination, these new measures are expected to lead to a better more consistent quality of plans with a consenting framework that is easier and more efficient for applicants to use.

The CCA will address issues that will arise from climate change including how to achieve managed retreat.

The SPA will require regional spatial strategies to be developed.  Regional and local funding plans will be required to be consistent with those strategies, the intention being to ensure long-term spatial planning and delivery and funding of infrastructure is integrated.

At a fundamental level it is generally acknowledged that the RMA hasn’t worked in preventing the continuing degradation of the environment – issues such as water quality and urban development of high-quality agricultural land are in the news almost every day. The intention is that the new legislation will reverse this decline.  At the initial stages of legislation drafting there is likely to be intense interest in how the current bottom line provisions in Part 2 of the RMA are changed in the new Acts, particularly considering the huge body of case law that has developed under the RMA over the past 30 years.

For many New Zealanders the question will be “how will this address housing supply and housing prices?”

It is being quickly understood that this reform process is not a panacea for dealing with these issues.  While greater integration of planning processes and fewer, clearer and more consistent planning rules will help the process of introducing those new rules will be much longer than the timelines for introducing the new legislation, which in themselves are ambitious.  It is going to be years before the process is complete.  And even then, there are questions of detail relating to how the new legislation will respond to some of the major reasons for costs and delay in planning processes, which can be more often to do with Council processes and delays rather than the legislation itself.  It will also be interesting to see how the new legislation deals with the ability for neighbour and community involvement in commenting on or objecting to development proposals.  It’s going to be very much a matter of waiting for the detail and reserving judgment on whether or not this review, major as it is, will help in any significant way in addressing the housing crisis.