The possible shape of resource management system reform: Environmental bottom-lines and nationwide spatial planning

  • Opinion

    07 April 2019

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A first-principles review of New Zealand’s resource management system has been released – Reform of the Resource Management System – the Next Generation Synthesis.[1]  At the report’s launch the Minister for the Environment indicated that he has resource management system reform on his agenda.  He indicated that he would soon report to Cabinet on the proposed scope and process of a comprehensive review of the resource management system, informed in part by the report.

As starting points for further discussion, the report sets out three possible models for a reformed system – one more-aligned with the status quo (‘Model 1’) and the other two suggesting more wholesale legislative and institutional reform.

Between them the three models address a plethora of matters from mechanisms for the allocation of resources such as water and coastal space, through changes to how local government is funded, to whether legal personhood should be conferred on aspects of the natural world.

The Minister specifically indicated support for two themes that appear in all three EDS Models:

  • the development and enforcement of legally-specified environmental bottom-lines; and
  • the creation of new statutes enabling, or requiring, spatial planning.

The Table below summarises the EDS’ suggestions regarding environmental bottom-lines and spatial planning.

Where to from here?

The EDS has invited feedback on the report.  However, there is no formal submission process for providing that feedback.

During the next stage of its project the EDS will develop criteria for choosing a preferred model and work that model up into a proposition for resource management system reform.  It may be that the Government will have its own proposals by that stage.

Let us know if you would like advice on the best ways to help shape the Government’s thinking on resource management system reform.

Table: EDS’ suggestions re environmental bottom-lines and spatial planning


EDS Model 1

EDS Model 2

EDS Model 3


Legal environmental bottom-lines would be contained within an integrated Government Policy Statement (which would also integrate the existing national policy statements and national environmental standards prepared under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and a national-level climate change adaptation plan).  The wording of the sustainable management purpose in section 5 RMA would be strengthened to make it clear that RMA decision-makers must not allow those bottom-lines to be breached.

The current RMA would be split and regulatory bottom-lines would be created under an Environment Act.

The current RMA would be split and regulatory bottom-lines would be created under an Environmental Protection Act.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) would directly insert those environmental bottom lines into the single regional unitary plan which would be prepared for each New Zealand region and an oceans plan produced by central government for regulating New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone.

Spatial planning

Spatial planning would take place under a new Spatial Planning Act which integrated a range of decision-making powers currently sitting within the RMA, the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA) and (in relation to land transport planning) the Land Transport Management Act 2003 (LTMA).
Under that Spatial Planning Act, a national spatial plan would be signed-off by Cabinet and a regional spatial plan for each region would be signed-off by the relevant local authorities and central government.

Those spatial plans would need to be given effect to by RMA policy and planning documents, LGA long-term and annual plans and infrastructure strategies, LTMA land transport programmes and plans and any urban development plans developed under the proposed Housing and Urban Development Authority Act.

An alternative suggested within Model 1 would be for spatial planning to be enabled as a ‘sleeping’ framework which only came into operation when needed, e.g. where an area was experiencing rapid urban growth.

The current RMA would be split into a Planning Act (which also incorporated the infrastructure and planning components of the LGA and LTMA) and an Environment Act (discussed in row 1 above).  A national spatial plan and regional spatial plans would be developed under that Planning Act and those spatial plans would incorporate more targeted plans such as a national climate change adaptation plan (signed-off by Cabinet).

A new Environmental Strategy Act would be created to sit above other statutes (including new Environmental Protection and Resource Stewardship Acts, the LGA and the LTMA).
Under that Environmental Strategy Act national spatial plans (including a maritime structure plan) and regional spatial plans would be created.

Regional spatial plans would be developed collaboratively between regional councils, territorial authorities, iwi/hapÅ« and infrastructure providers.  Central government would be contributors and observers (rather than decision-makers).

The regional spatial plans would need to give effect to the environmental bottom-lines created under the Environmental Protection Act and to be consistent with any relevant national spatial plan


[1] The report was prepared by the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) in partnership with the Employers and Manufacturers Association (Northern), Property Council New Zealand and Infrastructure New Zealand.