Local Government Magazine

RMA reform draft raises concerns

The draft of the Natural and Built Environments Bill released last month [July 2021]  as the Government moves to replace the Resource Management Act 1991 has been praised for doing something at last, but also raises concerns it is too much about the Labour Party obsession with indigenous governance and ‘environment’.

A first draft of the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) – the proposed law that will replace the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

It outlines how more than 100 existing plans and policy statements will be consolidated into around 14 plans throughout the country, and sets out how the proposed legislation will supposedly better protect the built and natural environment.

The draft Act also gives more governance to Maori authorities throughout the resource management system and takes 21st century ‘recognition’ of the colonial 1840 Treaty of Waitangi (an idea started by the third and fourth Labour governments during the 1970s and 1980s) to another level by making decision makers “give effect to” the ‘principles’ of  the historic treaty under the Labour party’s political ideology that it was a ‘partnership’ and not a declaration of English sovereignty. Decision makers will also have to “take into account” the principles of the treaty as interpreted in the 1980s.

Among industry and political comments to the draft, Infrastructure New Zealand chief Claire Edmondson says the Bill could be strengthened on infrastructure matters as it still does not go far enough in considering infrastructure an integral part of the resource management system.

While welcoming the Bill, what ultimately matters is, how clear national direction is, how well the new law will be applied, and how the courts will interpret it.

“The mismatch between intention, interpretation and application has been a key failure of the RMA and we cannot afford to let that happen again.”

ACT leader David Seymour says the emphasis is too much on ‘environment’.

“Far from being a silver bullet for development, the proposal focusses on environmental restriction and central planning.

“Environmental standards are important, but strict bottom lines risk creating a regulatory nightmare. Recognising that trade-offs do occur, but can be managed if the end outcome is an improvement to the environment, is needed to ensure sustainable development.

“This is one of the biggest crises Government has faced in a generation and in this Bill the first priority is to honour the ‘treaty’ [old English colonial Treaty of Wahitangi].

“Currently the RMA requires decision makers to ‘take into account’ the treaty principles, the new Bill says it must ‘give effect to’.

“This is another example of Labour’s ‘partnership’ state. The best thing we can do for Maori and all New Zealanders is to build more houses.

“This wasn’t the first principles reform we needed, the problem with the RMA was that it empowered politicians too much and didn’t respect the property rights of land owners and future generations.”

The chair of the New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI), Reginald Proffit, says it is important the replacement law acknowledges the need for better implementation, as that is one of the key failings of the current RMA.

“We commend the Government for getting the ball rolling, but attention to practical implementation will be essential when developing a simpler and more streamlined system.

“We believe there needs to be a commitment to resourcing territorial authorities to build strategic spatial plans that give regional effect to the proposed National Planning Framework.

“Local authorities are already stretched doing core tasks and these changes will come on top of a number of other proposed reforms.

“New and enhanced planning skills will be required at local government level, and this training and education needs to be planned and provided for so the people at the heart of implementation can pick up the reins and run with it.”

Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins says; “The real risk is that at the end of this process we end up with something that is more costly, complicated and cumbersome than we already have.”

She points out the June announcement was only one part of one of the three new pieces of legislation Labour wants to replace the RMA with and says; “It’s too slow and too complex. The whole idea is to make the RMA simpler and easier to deal with.”

National freed up planning rules in Christchurch after the earthquakes and house prices stabilised, she says.

“When Labour does eventually pass their new laws it looks set to see town planning become even more complex than today… We all know it takes far too long to build anything in New Zealand. A National Government would scrap the RMA and focus on making New Zealand an easier place to get things done.”


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