First glimpse at the 'new RMA' confirms shift in approach

The Ministry for the Environment is in the process of developing three new Acts that will reform the existing resource management system in New Zealand.  A Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) will replace the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), a Strategic Planning Act (SPA) will provide a framework for regional spatial planning and a Climate Adaptation Act (CAA) will address powers and funding for managed retreat.

A glimpse of the work-in-progress NBA was provided this week through the release of the NBA exposure draft by the Government.

The exposure draft for the NBA is not the full Bill; this will come later in the year.  Rather, it provides draft provisions for the foundation of the proposed NBA, including:

  • the purpose of the NBA, including a Te Tiriti o Waitangi clause and related provisions;
  • the National Planning Framework (NPF); and
  • the Natural and Built Environments Plans.

The exposure draft is consistent with the recommendations of the RM Review Panel and shows the direction of change and how environmental decisions in the future might differ from the current approach:

  • Purpose: A new concept “Te Oranga o te Taiao” is introduced to the NBA’s purpose, which incorporates the health of the natural environment and its capacity to sustain life, the relationship between iwi and hapū and te taiao (environment), and the interconnectedness of all parts of the natural environment.  This sits alongside an expression of sustainability and replaces the RMA’s “sustainable development” purpose.

 

  • Achieving the purpose: In achieving the purpose of the NBA, use of the environment must comply with environmental limits (prescribed in the NPF or Natural and Built Environment Plans) and environmental outcomes (which will be specified in the NBA) must be promoted.  Any adverse effects on the environment must also be avoided, remedied, or mitigated.  These requirements shift the focus of the existing resource management system squarely away from an effects-based system to one which is outcomes focussed.

 

  • Limits: The purpose of environmental limits is to protect the ecological integrity of the natural environment and/or human health. Limits may be formulated in the NPF or Natural and Built Environment Plans as a minimum biophysical state of the environment or part of it or the maximum amount of harm or stress that may be permitted on the natural environment or a part of it.  Limits must be prescribed for air, biodiversity, habitats and ecosystems, coastal waters, estuaries, freshwater and soil.

 

  • Outcomes: Environmental outcomes are designed to replace the matters of national importance and other matters under sections 6 and 7 of the RMA.  The outcomes specified in the exposure draft include:
    • a protective focus (e.g. in relation to the protection, restoration or enhancement of ecological integrity, outstanding natural features and landscapes, and significant indigenous vegetation and the habitats of indigenous fauna);
    • a development focus (e.g. in relation promoting well-functioning urban areas, developing a housing supply and the productive development of rural land); and
    • a risk management focus in relation to reducing the significant risks of, and improving the resilience of the environment to, natural hazards and climate change.  This will sit alongside and likely support the new CAA.

 

  • There is no reference to “amenity” in the exposure draft. Unlike in the RMA, the definition of environment and the environment outcomes (comparable to the RMA matters of national importance) do not include amenity values.

 

  • NPF: A new NPF will provide strategic and regulatory direction from central government on implementing the new system.  The NPF will be in the form of regulations and will play a critical strategic role in setting limits and outcomes for natural and built environments, and ways to enhance the well-being of present and future generations.  The NPF may set directions, policies, goals, rules or methods and provide criteria, targets or definitions.  The NPF may direct that some of its provisions are given effect to through the Natural and Built Environment Plans, must be given effect to through regional spatial strategies (to be developed under the SPA) or have direct legal effect without being incorporated into a secondary source.  It is intended that the NPF will resolve conflicts or give direction on resolving conflicts across the system.

 

  • Natural and Built Environments Plans: There will be one Natural and Built Environments Plan for each region, which will require more than 100 existing plans and policy statements to be consolidated into approximately 14 plans across New Zealand.  The purpose of these plans is to further the purpose of the NBA by providing a framework for the integrated management of the environment in the relevant region.  The required content of the plans is set out in the exposure draft and includes environmental limits, giving effect to the NPF, promoting the environmental outcomes, consistency with the regional spatial strategy and providing for significant matters.

 

  • Precautionary approach: Consistent with the outcomes focussed approach of the NBA, the exposure draft specifies that in setting environmental limited, the Minister must apply a precautionary approach.

 

  • Planning committees: A planning committee is required to be appointed for each region to make and maintain the Natural and Environments Plan, approve or reject recommendations made by an independents hearings panel after it considers submissions on the Plan and to set any environmental limits for the region.  Members of a regions’ planning committee are to include a person appointed to represent the Minister of Conservation, mana whenua and one person nominated by each local authority within or partly within the region (or comparative members in relation to a Unitary Authority).

The exposure draft will be presented to Parliament and then referred to a Select Committee inquiry process where public submissions will be received and considered.  This is the starting point for the NBA and there will be changes and detail to come.

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