Wide-ranging options for resource management system change open for comment

The Government-appointed Resource Management Review Panel released an Issues and Options paper, Opportunities for Change, on 12 November 2019.  It contemplates broad reform of the Resource Management Act (RMA).  The period for making comments on the paper closes on Monday, 3 February 2020.

The scope of change contemplated is broad and may change

No secrets are given away with this paper.  The topics covered in the paper are broad-ranging, and the Panel does not identify any preferred options for change.

However, the paper makes it clear that the outcomes of the review may, if appropriate, supersede existing policy work programmes.  This could include legislation for urban development, for example.  Existing Treaty of Waitangi settlements will be upheld.

The paper identifies fourteen different ‘issues’.  However, several themes run across those issues.  We discuss three of those themes below.

 Should there be explicit environmental limits?

A lack of clear environmental deliverables is identified by the Panel to be a failure of the RMA.  The Panel suggests that the absence of environmental limits makes it challenging to manage cumulative environmental effects.

As well as suggesting amendment of the purpose and principles of the RMA to specify ‘environmental limits’, the Panel is considering reviewing whether the principle of processing applications for resource consent on a ‘first in first served’ basis.  This would introduce a new approach to the allocation of resources.  The Panel also queries whether the Government should be able to impose mandatory charges for the use of public resources such as coastal space.

The Panel identifies options to address both climate change adaptation (and resilience generally) and climate change mitigation

The Panel notes the lack of a policy framework, and funding, for communities to avoid, accommodate, defend or retreat from high-risk areas.  Options being considered include using spatial planning to identify future adaptation responses and introducing a ‘dynamic adaptive planning pathways’ tool – developing adaptive plans which include both short-term actions and long-term options to be adopted in future at agreed trigger or decision points.

Options identified for influencing climate change mitigation include creating a more permissive regulatory approach for activities that are necessary to facilitate a transition to a low emissions economy (such as forestry and renewable energy development), developing a national environmental standard on controlling greenhouse gas emissions, and using spatial planning to decrease carbon-intensive transportation and improve energy efficiency.

Is combining planning and central government enforcement the answer to a lack of funding and capacity?

The Panel identifies a lack of funding and capacity in both local government and central government agencies as causing issues – particularly in terms of weak compliance, enforcement and monitoring (CME), failure to put in place national direction and spatial plans, and delay and cost in RMA processes.

Options identified include requiring local authorities to prepare combined plans, requiring spatial plans to be developed by a collaborative process involving central and local government and Māori, and providing for central government oversight or delivery of CME functions or the option of escalating enforcement matters to a central agency.  These latter options have been proposed, to a limited extent, in the latest Bill to amend the RMA.

Comments made will influence the Panel’s final report

The Panel’s key deliverable is a final report due to the Minister for the Environment at the end of May 2020.

If you would like any further information about the suggested options, please contact a member of our team.

Who can help