Looking back over 2012, and as seen in the Resource Management Reform Bill just announced, the focus this year has been on controlling local government spending and streamlining various consenting processes.

Local Government reforms

The early part of the year saw Environment Minister Nick Smith replaced with Amy Adams. At the same time, the busy Hon. Gerry Brownlee was named Acting Minister of Local Government. His appointment came only one day after the announcement of the "Better Local Government" package. The reforms called for a rethink of the purpose of local government in New Zealand, a shift "back to basics" for councils, and belt tightening with a serious focus on reducing debt and costs. The new Local Government Minister, David Carter, has seen that bill passed after a deeply divided Select Committee could not agree on the key amendments. We address the final Local Government Act amendments later in this newsletter.

Shortly following the release of the Local Government reform package, the long awaited Auckland Plan was adopted. Ironically, the Local Government reforms have the potential to impair the Council's ability to implement and fund some of the wide ranging social, cultural and economic objectives envisaged in the Auckland Plan. To complicate matters further, Auckland Council has signalled its intention to "give effect to" the Auckland Plan in the new Unitary Plan. At present, the Resource Management Reform Bill only requires the Council to "have regard to" the Auckland Plan.

Climate change and mining

Climate change and mining (and, in particular, fracking) spent considerable time in the headlines this year. In November, Climate Change Minister Tim Groser announced that New Zealand will not be signing up to a second commitment period ("CP2") under the Kyoto Protocol after the current commitment period expires at the end of this year. The announcement was made in the same week that controversial legislation aimed at softening the blow of the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) on the domestic economy was passed through Parliament. Both decisions will have no doubt disappointed environmental lobby groups. West Coast ENT has, however, been successful in obtaining leave to appeal the High Court's declaration on the Buller Coal application to the Supreme Court, with regard to whether decision makers under the RMA can have regard to effects on climate change of emissions resulting from the subsequent combustion of coal extracted under the consents being considered.

Closely linked to the climate change debate is the controversy around mining. This year saw the enactment of the Exclusive Economic Zone ("EEZ") legislation and the new EEZ regulations are due out in the middle of next year. The Crown Minerals (Permitting and Crown Land) Bill was also introduced to Parliament with the aim of improving the permitting process. In a move which understandably has mining companies feeling nervous, the Government is also undertaking a review of the royalty rates with a view to ensuring a fair return to the Crown for minerals permits.

Rebuilding Christchurch

Our look at the events of 2012 would not be complete without a mention of the Christchurch rebuild. Cantabrians continue to plug away at this massive task with a high level of determination. The levels of enthusiasm were fuelled by the release in July of the new blueprint for the city centre. While it originally looked like the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act conferred almost unlimited powers to the Minister for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, the High Court made it clear in July that there are limits on the powers granted to the Minister under the Act. Unsurprisingly, the Minister has appealed that decision.

Final thoughts

So between fracking, mining, Auckland planning processes, water issues, local government reforms, Christchurch and climate change, it has been a busy year. Central Government’s focus has been squarely on the economy both in terms of trimming local government costs and stimulating the economy through initiatives such as reforms to the mining legislation, the new EEZ legislation, new processes for medium size developments and the u-turn on the Kyoto protocol.