The next Resource Management Act Amendment Bill

The government is embarked on a substantial reform programme to speed consenting processes under the Resource Management Act and to lower the barriers to economic development.

Among the amendments it has already enacted are:

  • a new nine month timeframe for consenting projects of national significance
  • a six month limit for medium sized projects
  • a requirement that councils include in their plans and policy statements a quantitative cost/benefit analysis and consider regional economic impact and opportunity costs
  • direct referral to the Environment Court for regional projects that meet a certain investment threshold (to be set by regulation).

But the biggest reforms will come in a Bill to be introduced later this year for passage in 2014.

Changes the government has signalled include:

  • provisions for stronger natural hazards management (arising out of the Christchurch earthquake experience)
  • stronger powers of central government intervention in the national or regional interest
  • a requirement for more engagement with local iwi in planning decisions
  • smoother planning processes, including:
    • a requirement on councils to develop a single plan (covering regional and district rules)
    • a national planning template for councils to follow
    • a new streamlined process mediated by an independent hearings panel with appeal rights limited to decisions where the council has deviated from the panel’s recommendation
    • a 10 day processing deadline for simple consenting types
    • allowing exemptions from the need for a consent for technical or marginal breaches of a plan rule, and
    • limiting the scope of submissions to the matters that have prompted the notification.

The National Party also wants to replace sections 6 and 7 in Part 2 of the RMA with a single list of “national importance” matters. This is with a view to removing any “hierarchy” in favour of section 6 environmental matters over social and economic ones. The new section would encompass environmental, cultural, social and economic dimensions. However, the withdrawal of support for these proposals by United Future and the Māori Party means their future in the reforms is uncertain.

As the Bill is still being drafted, National has the option of seeking to negotiate a compromise which will allow some reform to these provisions to proceed or – if this fails – pushing ahead with the rest of the Bill and leaving the Part 2 battle to be fought another day.

Link: Chapman Tripp’s commentary on the Phase 2 reforms

Link: Announcement by United Future and the Māori Party

Revised Freshwater Management NPS

Potential amendments to the National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater Management have been released for submission by 4 February 2014.

The proposed changes include:

  • requiring regional councils to account for water takes and all surces of contaminants in their jurisdiction
  • creating a National Objectives Framework (NOF) to guide council implementation of the NPS
  • establishing ecosystem health and human health for secondary contact recreation (boating and wading, not swimming) as compulsory national values
  • providing for “exceptions” where it is not feasible to improve water quality to the minimum acceptable standard.

Councils have until 2030 to implement the NPS.

Link: Chapman Tripp’s commentary on the NPS review

Public Works Act

The PWA will be amended to:

  • increase the compensation payment to landowners for the disruption and inconvenience caused when their home is acquired for a public work (from $2,000 to a maximum of $50,000), and
  • provide a new payment for land loss not involving the landowner’s home (to be fixed at 10% of the value of the land acquired within a range of $250 to $25,000).

The changes will be progressed alongside the changes to the RMA.

Law change after Harcourts Building imbroglio?

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson has asked building and heritage officials to report before the end of November on possible legislative changes to resolve the dilemma facing the owner of the category 1 Harcourts Building in Lambton Quay.

The Wellington City Council notified him under the Building Act that the earthquake-prone property had to be either made safe or demolished but, when he sought consent to demolish it, he was refused under the heritage protection provisions in the WCC’s District Plan and in sections 6 and 7 of the RMA.

“We can’t leave a situation where we are wanting buildings right across the country to be strengthened or demolished in the interests of public safety…and then for another form of officialdom to say sorry, we are not going to let you do that,” the Minister said.

Link: Chapman Tripp’s commentary on the case

Environmental Reporting Bill

The government will introduce a Bill this year to require regular reporting across five environmental domains – climate and atmosphere, air, freshwater, marine and land. One report will be released every six months, with a comprehensive synthesis report every three years.

National campaigned on this policy in 2008, with the reporting function to go to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) as an officer of Parliament, independent of the government of the day. This remained the position in a discussion document released in 2011 by then Environment Minister Nick Smith. But the intention now
is that the reports will be the responsibility of the Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician, with the PCE’s role reduced to providing “expert commentary and independent opinion of the quality of the underlying data and robustness of the analysis”.