Local Government Magazine
Local government reform

Facing the RMA reform

As we inch closer to the repeal of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), some are questioning whether the reform package will be the panacea to frustrations with the RMA. By Lucy de Latour, a partner at Wynn Williams who leads its Local Government and Environmental Law team.

We will soon be a little clearer on whether this is the case as the exposure draft of the Natural and Built Environment Act is due to be released in the coming months, with a Select Committee inquiry to follow.

While few would debate that the RMA is in need of an overhaul, at this stage in the reform process there’s a sense of scepticism (at least amongst the legal profession) that changing the legislation will solve the inherent tensions or complexities present in our planning system.

Undoubtedly resource users will benefit from combined plans and greater coordination between regions and territorial authorities. However, there is likely to be some pain in getting to a position where our planning documents provide the desired clarity and simplicity.

As local authorities are all too aware, plan-making does not start from a fresh sheet of paper. One of the biggest challenges for the reform will be the transition from the current system under the RMA, to the new system.

A successful transition will retain the good work local authorities have been doing on their planning documents, while simultaneously charting a new way forward on issues that have not been addressed well in the past. Given just how fraught some of these issues are (water allocation and climate change being obvious examples), the sceptics amongst us question just how far forward the reform package will take us.

In the consenting space, change is also afoot. The Randerson Report has recommended a move away from consent by consent notification decisions, to a much more prescriptive framework for making notification decisions, with planning documents taking a central role.

“There’s a sense of scepticism (at least amongst the legal profession) that changing the legislation will solve the inherent tensions or complexities present in our planning system.”

Many local authorities will no doubt welcome this move. Currently, a disproportionate amount of time and focus is on the notification decision, rather than the substantive decision for resource consent applications.

However, again, there is expected to be some challenge in managing the transition; particularly given the proposed focus on planning documents to prescribe when notification is required and the inevitable jostling that will take place amongst resource users and environmentalists in future plan making processes.

A desire for a better planning system is shared across the political spectrum. That said, given the inherently conflicting issues that our planning system must respond to, along with environmental issues of increasing complexity, new legislation alone is unlikely to solve our problems.

Local authorities must take a key role in engaging with, and making the most of, any new planning and consenting system. LG

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