By Mayor of Hamilton, Paula Southgate
Everyone across the country, and certainly in local government, has focused extensively on the fast-moving, ever-changing arena of reform.
In particular, Three Waters reform has attracted strong media attention and polarised communities – but one of the other major changes we should be discussing in the public domain is the imminent shake-up of the Resource Management Act.
The Resource Management Act reform has, and will have, a significant impact on how we manage the environment, both natural and built. For Hamilton, as a metro council, this will fundamentally change the face of our city as we continue to grow and develop.
There is no doubt the Resource Management Act is dated, being more than 30 years old. Most councils understand and agree that a review of the RMA is overdue. Through enacting new laws, such as the Spatial Planning Act, the Natural and Built Environment Act, and the Climate Adaptation Act, we have the potential to achieve some wonderful and ambitious goals to ensure sustainable development and protection of our environment well into the future.
But, we keep local control
However, my Council is of the view that like with other areas of reform, it is imperative we retain an element of local control when it comes to managing the natural resources we have here in New Zealand, as not many of our country’s territorial authorities will have the same requirements, or issues, when it comes to resource management.
As it stands, we look likely to lose localised priorities in favour of a more broad-brush approach. This could create a disconnect between ideal community and environmental outcomes. Local knowledge and buy-in is essential if we are to achieve anything. This disconnect is definitely an issue for the fast-growth metro councils around the country, as we all work to implement sweeping changes to our growth plans, such as those brought about by intensification mandates.
I remain seriously concerned about the loss of local voice through yet another major reform, particularly for metro councils like Hamilton.
As a tier-one metro city, we are being constantly asked to deliver to the increasingly high levels set by Government across transport, housing, and the environment. Changes to these areas, driven by legislation such as the NPS-UD, have forced us to change our strategic and development planning to fit within a mandatory national framework. Like similar councils around the country, the reform to the Resource Management Act threatens to override Hamilton’s existing successful strategic planning in partnership with neighbouring smaller Councils.
In February this year, Hamilton City Councillors met to discuss the changes to resource management legislation, and the first two bills tabled – the Natural and Built Environment Bill and Spatial Planning Bill – were rejected. While we support the intention of the reform to simplify the process and create better outcomes for businesses, people, and the environment, I was disheartened to see that very little of our considerations and concerns provided to Government seem to have been heard to date.
Like many others around the country, we have provided feedback at every opportunity as the Government was developing the bills, but remain disappointed that feedback has not been represented in the draft legislation. The new legislation does not recognise the unique set of issues and opportunities faced by high-growth cities like Hamilton and our wider metro area.
Alongside our sub-regional and central government partners, we’ve been proactive in planning for Hamilton’s growth and protecting our shared environment across our borders. In fact, we’ve received praise from Government ministers for our planning being some of the best in the country.
I WAS DISHEARTENED TO SEE THAT VERY LITTLE OF OUR CONSIDERATIONS AND CONCERNS PROVIDED TO GOVERNMENT SEEM TO HAVE BEEN HEARD TO DATE.
Our Future Proof Strategy, Hamilton-Waikato Metropolitan Spatial Plan and other transport and wastewater business cases are shining examples of how the city has worked with its neighbours to deliver cross-boundary plans that benefit our region, not just our city. We know our people live and work across our city borders, so we need to work that way, too.
In fact, I’m proud to say that we otherwise have a widely respected approach in Waikato in terms of how we’ve partnered with central government and iwi [local Maori tribes] to plan for growth and protect our environmental resources. I really look forward to continuing this work with our strategic partners – including our neighbouring councils, central government agencies, and Waikato-Tainui.
Councils around New Zealand must continue to have conversations about the changes to resource management, and ensure our unique communities know and understand how this might affect our ability to properly develop our cities and towns in a way that is right for our people.
We, as a fast-growing metro, have unique challenges that our smaller neighbours don’t, and we need to make sure they are properly considered. Likewise, smaller councils have challenges that larger cities don’t, and so their approach will need to be tailored to best fit the requirements for those, equally important, communities.
If the Government continues with its current plans, the bills are expected to be passed into law before the end of this Parliamentary term, so the window for meaningful feedback is narrowing.
Through a unified request to maintain our local lens, we can effectively retain our own voice in changes to how we manage our natural resources in New Zealand – and in doing so, ensure we provide the best possible outcomes for our people, no matter where they live.
It is clear that the Resource Management Act in its current form is no longer fit to help us respond to emerging issues, such as adapting to the impacts of climate change – but I am certain that most of my colleagues from other parts of the country will join me in agreeing that any reform should not come at the expense of us being able to advocate for our communities’ needs. LG