The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill (RLAB) Select Committee Report has recently been released. The RLAB was first released in 2015. Since then, public submissions have been made on the RLAB, and it has been through the Select Committee process.

The Select Committee has proposed a range of changes, responding to submitter concerns. However, the major changes to the RMA remain in the RLAB, with the Select Committee focusing on refinements and amendments rather than significant changes.

We provide a summary of some of the key changes recommended by the Select Committee.

National Planning Templates

The Select Committee noted there was strong support to standardise the structure and format of plans, and definitions, but that there was some confusion about the scope, purpose and implementation of the national planning templates. The Select Committee emphasised the need for national planning templates to have a clearly defined place in the planning system, and recommended a range of changes to the templates:

  • National planning templates to be renamed `national planning standards'.
  • Clarify that a national planning standard may direct local authorities to use a particular structure and form, include specified provisions, and choose from a number of specific provisions to be included, in policy statements and plans.

Requires that the first set of national planning standards must be approved within 2 years of the relevant section of the RLAB coming in to force.

Ministerial Powers

The RLAB proposed new regulation making powers for the Minister for the Environment (Minister). This included the power for the Minister to make regulations that would permit a specified land use, prohibit a local authority from making specific rules or types of rules, or force rules to be withdrawn. Submitters questioned the need for such powers, raising concerns around how those powers fit with the resource management system, the impact these powers would have on local decision making processes, and that these powers resulted in a lack of adequate process for public comment.

In response, the Select Committee recommended making amendments to RLAB that would limit these powers. The Minister would retain the power to prohibit or remove specified rules or types of rules but only where these rules would `duplicate, overlap with, or deal with the same subject matter as is included in other legislation'.

Fast Track Applications

The RLAB introduced a fast track process for more straightforward resource consent applications, with a 10 working day timeframe. Some submitters raised concerns that this shortened process would place time pressure on councils. Responding to those concerns, the Select Committee recommended several changes to this fast track process. The Select Committee narrowed the types of activity eligible for the fast track process, limiting it only to any controlled activity (except subdivision) that requires consent under a district plan. The Select Committee also proposed a new section in RLAB that would enable an applicant to opt out of the fast track process when lodging an application.

Limits on public participation

A key concern raised by submitters was the limits on public participation proposed by the RLAB, particularly in relation to limitations on appeal rights, and mandatory strike out of submissions on resource consents.

RLAB proposed to remove rights of appeal to the Environment Court from decisions on resource consent applications for boundary activities, subdivision activities (unless a non-complying activity) and certain residential activities, provided the activity has controlled, restricted discretionary or discretionary activity status. In addition, rights of appeal would be limited to only points which were raised in a submission, other than any matters struck out.

Submitters raised concerns that these limitations on appeal rights would go against the participatory nature of the RMA, and would remove a check and balance on decision making. The Select Committee acknowledged submitter concerns, however commented that the intent of the provisions is to encourage greater involvement in policy decisions at the planning stage instead of re-litigating policy decisions on a case by case basis. The Select Committee stressed that the intent of these provisions is to provide certainty to all parties that a council's decision is final. The Select Committee elected to make no changes except amendments required for clarification for appeal rights.

The RLAB introduced a mandatory requirement to strike out a submission on a resource consent where the submission does not have a sufficient factual basis, where it is not supported by evidence, or supported by evidence that purports to be independent expert evidence but is not, or where the submission is unrelated to the actual or potential adverse effects of the activity.

Submitters raised concerns that the mandatory strike out powers would discourage the participation of non-experts, and could result in useful information being struck out. The Select Committee agreed that this strike out power could introduce complexity and uncertainty.

The Select Committee has recommended that the mandatory strike out power be amended to a discretionary power. In addition, the grounds on which a submission can be struck out have been reduced to where a submission contains offensive language, or is supported by evidence that purports to be independent expert evidence but is not.

Where to next

The RLAB has returned to the house and just passed its second reading. There is no opportunity for any further public submissions.

The RLAB now moves to a debate of the whole house, to be followed by its third reading. Hon Dr Nick Smith has indicated to the media that he expects the RLAB to pass in March, although it remains to be seen whether that ambitious timetable can be achieved. After the RLAB is passed, its provisions will come into effect in a staggered way, with some provisions taking effect immediately, some in 6 months, and some in two years.