The engagement is set against a background of considerable uncertainty. All three political parties currently in post-election talks to form a new government have proposed a temporary return to the RMA1, and proposed repealing new legislation including the Natural and Built Environment Act (NBA) which was passed in August as part of the prior government’s plan to replace the RMA. All three political parties have indicated they will then look at new reforms around resource management.
Amid this, the consultation on the proposed National Policy Statement for Natural Hazard Decision-making 2023 (the NPS-NHD) will be open until 20 November. It runs alongside a separate inquiry into community-led retreat and adaptation funding, which is taking public submissions until the new Parliament reconvenes.
Current risk assessment varies
While local authorities have an existing responsibility to manage significant risks from natural hazards under the RMA, there is currently no national direction providing guidance on decision-making about natural hazard risk. As a result, identification and assessment of natural hazards, risks and risk tolerance varies across the country, in some areas with limited success.
The proposed NPS-NHD aims to direct how decision-makers consider natural hazard risk in planning decisions relating to new development under the RMA. Its sole objective is to minimise the risks from natural hazards to people, communities, the environment, property, and infrastructure, and to minimise the risks to the ability of communities to quickly recover after natural hazard events. It seeks to do this through seven policies that set out a framework for considering natural hazard risk.
Proposed decision-making framework
The NPS-NHD requires decision-makers, when making planning decisions, to:
- Determine the level of natural hazard risk as either high (intolerable), moderate (more than low but not intolerable) or low (generally acceptable).2
This assessment of natural hazard risk is based on the likelihood, consequences and tolerance of natural hazard events,3 and decision-makers must adopt a precautionary approach if the risk is uncertain, unknown or little understood and could be intolerable.4
- Address the level of natural hazard risk by ensuring that:5
- new development is avoided in areas of high natural hazard risk unless the risk can be reduced to at least a tolerable level6;
- measures are taken to reduce natural hazard risk to as low as reasonably practicable in areas of moderate natural hazard risk; and
- new development is enabled in areas of low natural hazard risk.
The NPS-NHD also requires the most effective natural hazard mitigation measures be adopted to reduce natural hazard risk over the life of a proposed new development, provided these do not exacerbate risks in other areas.7 Nature-based solutions and comprehensive area-wide measures are preferred over hard-engineering or site-specific solutions, where possible.
Scope and application of the NPS-NHD
The NPS-NHD sets a framework for decision-making on resource consents, designations, and district and regional policy statement and plan changes. However, it only applies to new development: the development of new buildings, structures or infrastructure on land that currently does not have buildings, structures or infrastructure on it, or the extension or replacement of existing buildings, structures or infrastructure. It will not affect existing resource consents, existing use rights, or activities currently permitted in district and regional plans.
To ensure that decision-makers can consider natural hazard risk in as many consenting decisions as possible, the NPS-NHD also requires that natural hazard risk is included as a matter of control for all controlled activities and a matter of discretion for restricted discretionary activities.8
Many local authorities are already working to implement the National Policy Statement on Urban Development and the Medium Density Residential Standards to enable urban intensification. To minimise disruption and complexity, the NPS-NHD does not apply authorities preparing an intensification planning instrument under the RMA.
Recognising and providing for Māori rights and interests
Given a disproportionate amount of Māori land is exposed to natural hazard risk, efforts have been made to recognise the disproportionate impact the NPS-NHD could potentially have by further limiting the ability to use that land. As drafted, the NPS-NHD requires Māori, and in particular, tangata whenua values, interests and aspirations, to be recognised and provided for when making decisions on new developments on specified Māori land9 where there is a high or moderate natural hazard risk. This includes early engagement.
Climate adaptation inquiry
Meanwhile, an inquiry into climate adaptation by Parliament’s Environment Committee, which opened in August, also offers the opportunity for feedback on improving New Zealand’s approach to risk assessment. The inquiry is looking at how to enable communities to relocate from areas at high risk from climate change, including before a disaster happens, and how adaptation costs could be met.
An issues and options paper seeking views on the design of a comprehensive system for community-led retreat has been released by the Ministry for the Environment, along with a technical report by the Expert Working Group on Managed Retreat proposing a system for planned relocation.
The climate adaptation inquiry is open until the new Parliament reconvenes. There is no set date by which the formation of a new government has to take place, but Parliament must meet within six weeks of the return of the official election results on or before 9 November10.
The proposed NPS-NHD is currently out for public consultation until 20 November 2023.
Comprehensive national direction for natural hazards (which incorporates the NPS-NHD) is intended to follow within the next two years, and may include standardised methods for mapping natural hazards and assessing risks, defined risk thresholds, standardised terms and a nationally consistent policy approach to managing land use activities in areas exposed to natural hazards.
The NPS-NHD is widely seen as a necessary interim step while resource management reforms are being delivered and implemented.
If you have any questions about the matters raised in this article or would like assistance in making a submission, please get in touch with the contacts listed or your usual Bell Gully adviser.
 30 August 2023, Landlords and tenants need tax relief now, not in 2026 - ACT New Zealand, David Seymour; Economy & Enterprise New Zealand First 2023 Policies - New Zealand First (nzfirst.nz); 27 June 2023, National will repeal RMA 2.0 bills, National will repeal RMA 2.0 bills, Chris Bishop. Policy 1.  Policy 2. Policy 3. Policy 5. The NPS-NHD includes an exception for new development that is not hazard-sensitive where there is a functional need for it to be located in the area of high natural hazard risk, there are no practicable alternative locations for that development and risk is reduced to as low as reasonably practicable. Policy 6. Policy 4. The NPS-NHD proposes to use the same definition of specified Māori land as used the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity. That definition refers to land that was returned through Treaty settlements along with Māori customary and freehold land under Te Ture Whenua 1993. Election 2023 Timeline - New Zealand Parliament (www.parliament.nz).