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Resource management

RMA Phase II reforms – busy but less than National wanted

Nick Smith explained why the much-awaited Resource Legislation Amendment Bill is underwhelming from National’s perspective by saying: “We lost the by-election”. The result is a Bill which leaves sections 6 and 7 unchanged except for the addition of natural hazards management as a matter of national importance.

But the Bill provides for a myriad of changes to standardise planning documents, speed planning processes, reduce consent requirements and strengthen national direction which will be useful in aggregate, although not transformative.

It passed its first reading on 3 December with the support of National, Labour and the Māori Party.  Act MP David Seymour voted against it.

Link: Chapman Tripp commentary

Big changes coming to urban planning law

The Productivity Commission will conduct a first principles review of urban planning rules and processes to identify the most appropriate system of land allocation to support a responsive housing market.

The inquiry will include the Resource Management, Local Government and Land Transport Management Acts together with elements of the Building Act, the Reserves Act and the Conservation Act.

The Commission has released an issues paper for submissions by 9 March 2016. Chapman Tripp will prepare a commentary on this early in the New Year and will follow the investigation through all of its stages.The final report is due with the government on 30 November 2016.

Link: Issues paper

NPS on managing urban development

The government has called for consultation on what an NPS for urban development might look like and contain. Submissions close on 4 February 2016.

Link: Ministry for the Environment statement

Land & Water Forum – getting impatient

The Forum notes in its fourth report that, although the government has established a limit-setting framework for freshwater use, most of the Forum’s other many recommendations have not yet been implemented and in the end, the Forum consensus “will hold only if what is recommended is substantially put in place… in full and without delay”.

The government is drafting a discussion document on the next steps for freshwater management for public consultation next year. This will capture the Forum’s work and the outcome of the government’s negotiations with the Iwi Leaders’ Group. No decisions will be made on policy issues until the public has had the opportunity for input.

Links: Report and Ministerial statement

First report under the Environmental Reporting Act 2015

Environment Aotearoa 2015 is the first report to be produced under the new legislation and covers the five “domains” – air, atmosphere and climate, freshwater, land, and marine. Findings include:

  • air – a significant improvement in air quality since 2006 driven mainly by the shift to cleaner home heating
  • atmosphere – an increase of 42% in greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2013
  • freshwater – water quality very good, but being challenged in areas of intensive land use. Total nitrogen levels in rivers increased 12% between 1989 and 2012. An increase in the estimated amount of nitrogen leached into the soil from agriculture of 29% between 1990 and 2012
  • land – erosion the most critical issue, particularly in the north and east of the North Island
  • marine – the biggest risks are posed by climate change. Eight of New Zealand’s 30 indigenous marine mammal species are threatened with extinction, as are 35% of indigenous seabird species. The proportion of fish stocks subject to overfishing has fallen since 2009 from 25% to 14%.

Link: Report

Future reporting topics

The Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand have issued a consultation document inviting public feedback on a proposed topic list for environmental reporting, including suggestions for additional topics.

Submissions close on 23 December.

Link: Document

Commissioner for the Environment on the rising seas effect

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has recommended an action plan in response to rising seas.

She says the rise will be incremental but “inexorable”, meaning that New Zealand “must start planning” but that there is “enough time to plan and do it well”, in contrast to the root cause - climate change – “where the world, including New Zealand, needs to act urgently”.

Around 9,000 homes are less than 50 centimetres above spring high tide levels so are at risk. The report identifies areas under threat through elevation maps of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Other maps are available on the Commission’s website.

Recommendations include:

  • taking planning for sea level rise out of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement and putting it into an NPS, such as that envisaged for natural hazards
  • directing officials to address the matters raised in the investigation in the Ministry for the Environment’s revision of the 2008 MfE Guidance Manual, and
  • developing protocols for the procurement of elevation data to create a national repository.

The Commissioner also recommended that the government begin to assess the fiscal implications of rising sea levels but Finance Minister Bill English is not sympathetic to this proposal, considering they are just one risk among many.

Link: Commissioner’s report

OECD report provokes slap down from Ministry for Environment

The OECD report Environment at a Glance 2015 contains findings which belie New Zealand’s “clean, green” brand. The OECD ranks New Zealand lowest in the survey for recycling or extracting energy from municipal waste and fourth lowest for environmental tax as a proportion of GDP. It also shows that we are one of the worst performers in the OECD on greenhouse gas emission reduction. However the Ministry for the Environment has struck back, saying the report writers had not incorporated information provided to them more than a year ago.

Link: OECD report

ETS review

A key focus of the ETS review now underway is the transitional arrangements, in particular the one for two surrender subsidy. Other issues are how the design of the ETS needs to evolve and potential operational and technical improvements.

The future of the ETS will need to be considered in light of the new global Paris agreement on climate change, which aims to keep global temperature increases this century well below 2˚C and to drive efforts to limit any increase to 1.5˚C.

Link: Chapman Tripp commentary

Local Government

The three waters

LGNZ is developing a strategy to deal with a coming surge in the cost  of delivering water, wastewater and storm water services as quality and reliability requirements continue to rise and as infrastructure assets reach the end of their useful life.

It accepts that local government has a key role to play in resolving these issues and suggests three approaches to deliver a strong sector- led approach:

  • a multi-lateral contract or deed under which sector participants would voluntarily sign up to an enforceable set of obligations
  • a co-regulatory model (as in the gas industry where the Gas Industry Company is owned by the gas market participants but reports to the responsible Minister under the requirements of the Gas Act 1992), and
  • the creation of a local government owned entity – the Local Government Risk Agency – to assist councils to mitigate and manage risk.

Link: Report

Government goes for next best thing to amalgamation

The government plans to introduce legislation early next year to allow councils to integrate some of their core infrastructure functions – water and transport – with neighbouring councils. An incentive in the form of a funding “top up” from central government may be offered  to those councils which take up the opportunity. The decision follows the rejection by the public of most of the amalgamation proposals presented by the Local Government Commission.

Links: Minister’s statement and NZ Herald article

Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Amendment Act

This was passed under urgency in November. It provides more flexibility of process so that the Auckland Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel can deliver its recommendations to the Auckland Council by the statutory deadline of 50 working days before the expiry of three years from the notification of the proposed plan.

Link: Minister’s statement

Environment Canterbury Transitional Governance Arrangements Bill

A Bill to transition Environment Canterbury (ECan) back to a fully democratic model in two steps has passed its first reading.  It provides for the election in 2016 of seven Councillors, enough to constitute a majority on ECan, and for the last Commissioners to be phased out in the 2019 local body elections.

The Bill has been referred to select committee and will be reported back to the House on 15 February 2016.

Link: Minister’s statement

Construction

Changes to Construction Contracts Act

The Construction Contracts Amendment Act 2015, to come into effect progressively from 1 December this year, will result in significant change across the whole construction sector. Key reforms are:

  • all adjudicator determinations (on rights and obligations as well as payment disputes) will be enforceable in court
  • design, engineering and quantity surveying work to be brought within the Construction Contracts Act 2002, and
  • retention monies to be held on trust.

Link: Chapman Tripp commentary