Environmental sector – a hotspot for upcoming changes

Over the last year there has been a flurry of discussions, consultations and hints at what is yet to come in the environment sector.  As the busy government approaches the end of its first year, it is starting to implement changes.  Below we’ve summarised what should be on your radar.

These changes are focused on three pillars in the environment sector:

  1. climate change;
  2. water; and
  3. urban development and national standards.

The Zero Carbon Bill dominates the Government’s focus on climate change

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has indicated that it hopes to respond to the Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group’s report in September.  This response may be incorporated into the Zero Carbon Bill, which has received over 15,000 submissions that MfE intends to summarise in September.  MfE is likely to introduce the Zero Carbon Bill later this year, potentially as late as December.

The appointment of a water regulator and changes to the National Environment Standard on Freshwater is likely

The Government, through the Department of Internal Affairs, is undertaking a multi-agency 3 waters review assessing the water quality and allocation of drinking water, storm water and waste water.  This review will take into account the recommendations of the Havelock North inquiry and involves communicating with Councils, iwi and all stakeholders with an interest in three waters services.  At this stage, the Government remains committed to improving regulations around water quality and not privatising water, but it seems inevitable that a regulator (potentially local councils) will be appointed.  A decision on a strategy is planned for October this year.

Some outcomes of the government strategy may involve changes to the existing National Environment Standard (NES) on Freshwater including adding extra requirements regarding sediment.  It may also involve picking up previous work, which was paused in 2010, and creating a new NES on Ecological Flows and Water Levels, as well as ensuring “at risk” catchment areas are more clearly identified and addressed.

Urban Development Authority, Infrastructure Body and National Standards are in the pipeline

Phil Twyford, Minister of Housing and Urban Development, advised that Cabinet decisions on urban development strategy are underway and will be finalised by the end of the year.  This will include the formation of an Urban Development Authority (UDA).  The purpose and form of a UDA is yet to be determined, but it may lead the redevelopment of areas of land or act as the ‘regulator’ of private developers undertaking a development.  MfE are currently determining what the planning and consenting scope of a UDA may be.  Meanwhile, Shane Jones announced the impending development of an independent infrastructure entity to help drive economic growth and wellbeing.

Also in the pipeline is the development of environmental policy documents by MfE.  The Government is on track to creating National Planning Standards by April 2019 with the draft first set of National Planning Standards receiving 170 quality submissions.  It is also working on the development of a number of National Policy Standards (NPS’) and NES’ including Indigenous Biodiversity, Versatile Land and High Class Soils, and Air Quality.  We can expect to see these in place next year.  Minor amendments to the RMA are likely to occur, including a future systems review that may assess the consistency and interactiveness of NPS’ and NES’.

In a similar theme, the recently introduced Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish) Amendment Bill seeks to improve the relationship and fill gaps between the management of fish under the Conservation Act 1987, the Fisheries Act 1983, the Fisheries Act 1996, and Treaty settlement legislation.  This Bill is currently at the first reading stage.

Contact us for further information

There is plenty to watch in the environment sector with a number of consultation opportunities likely to arise.  If you would like to discuss any of the above developments, please contact one of our experts.

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