Government confirms anticipated RMA reforms, reveals new details

11 February 2021

Environment Minister David Parker confirmed yesterday that the Government will repeal and replace the Resource Management Act (RMA) by the end of 2022.

Following the release of the Resource Management Review Panel's report last year, the Minister's announcement won't come as a surprise to most of those affected by the RMA. However, it did reveal some new details about what the reform process will look like, including who will get priority input on development of the exposure draft of the new Natural and Built Environments Act.

Overview of the reforms

The Government will repeal and replace the RMA with three new pieces of legislation by the end of 2022, in line with the Review Panel's recommendations. These are the:

  1. Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), the core legislation to replace the RMA, which will govern land use and environmental regulation.
  2. Strategic Planning Act (SPA), to provide for long-term regional spatial strategies and integrate functions under relevant legislation, including the new NBA and the Local Government Act.
  3. Climate Change Adaptation Act (CCAA), specialist legislation to address complex legal and technical issues associated with managed retreat and climate change adaptation.

The NBA as proposed at this early stage will be a step-change from the RMA in consolidating over 100 existing regional and planning documents into 14 region-wide “Natural and Built Environment Plans", and in imposing environmental bottom lines called “biophysical limits".

The Cabinet Paper outlining the proposed reforms and process in full is available here​.

New details about the reform process

While much of yesterday's announcement is in line with what has previously been signalled by the Government, the Minister did reveal new details about the reform process, which will be relevant to prospective submitters and contain some unique features. These include:

  • NBA fast-tracking: The NBA will be progressed first, before the SPA and CCAA. It will be developed using a special exposure draft and select committee inquiry process, before being formally introduced to Parliament and going through a second, standard select committee process.
  • Exposure draft: The exposure draft of the NBA won't contain the full text of the related bill. Instead, it will outline the structure and indicative headings of the NBA, with only certain aspects such as the purpose and supporting provisions fully drafted.
  • Ministerial Oversight Group: A Ministerial Oversight Group (MOG) will be established to progress the exposure draft, with officials and the Minister reporting back to the MOG on how Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) and a recently established Māori Collective (Collective) of several national Māori entities should be involved in the early stages of the reform process.
  • Select committee inquiry: The exposure draft of the NBA will be referred to a special select committee inquiry for consideration. The terms of reference for the inquiry have not been released yet, but they will include seeking public submissions and undertaking hearings. The select committee will then report back to Parliament and the Minister will provide advice to Cabinet on the committee's recommendations.
  • Second select committee process: Once the special select committee inquiry on the NBA is complete, full drafts of the NBA, SPA and CCAA will be introduced to Parliament and referred to select committees for the standard select committee process, including public submissions and hearings.

Implications for local government

It's too early to say exactly how the Government's RMA reforms will affect the scope and operations of local government in New Zealand.

However, the Government's work in this space is far reaching. It encompasses the voluntary centralisation of water management through the Three Waters reforms, new infrastructure funding mechanisms to alleviate pressure on Councils (such as the Infrastructure Funding and Financing Act 2020), and the proposed consolidation of over 100 planning documents to just 14 in the NBA. The nature of these changes suggest local government could look very different three years from now.

Key dates

These are the key dates to note for the reform process:

  • Feb 2021: Cabinet agrees to in-principle policy decisions on NBA, including proposed purpose and supporting provisions that closely reflect the Review Panel's indicative drafting.
  • Feb-Apr 2021: Parliamentary drafters prepare exposure draft of NBA based on in-principle policy decisions, with further input by MOG. Engagement with LGNZ and the Collective is anticipated prior to Cabinet approving the exposure draft.
  • May 2021: Cabinet approves NBA exposure draft and refers it to special select committee inquiry.
  • Jun-Sep 2021: Special select committee inquiry considers NBA exposure draft. SPA and CCAA developed in parallel.
  • Dec 2021: Minister introduces NBA and SPA to Parliament, and CCAA is developed and introduced in a similar timeframe. Parliament refers all three Bills to select committees for a standard select committee process.
  • Dec 2022: Parliament passes NBA, SPA and CCAA.

If you have any questions about the proposed reforms or the reform process, contact the authors or your usual Bell Gully adviser.

Disclaimer: This publication is necessarily brief and general in nature. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.