RMA changes politically expedient and a further step in the right direction

Friday 23 January 2015

Authors: Andrew Beatson and Sarah Anderton

​​​​​On Wednesday, the Hon Dr Nick Smith announ​ced the Government’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). The changes are largely fuelled by the national housing supply and affordability issues as well as the need to maintain economic growth. If implemented, the amendments will be the most significant changes to the RMA since its inception 25 years ago.

The changes incorporate the following ten major reforms:

  • add management of natural hazards to the legislation’s list of core functions;

  • recognise urban planning in the act’s purposes and principles;

  • specifically recognise the need for more affordable housing;

  • acknowledge the importance of infrastructure;

  • give greater weight to property rights;

  • create national planning templates instead of numerous plans for different regions;

  • speed up the plan-making process;

  • encourage collaborative resolution rather than lengthy litigation;

  • strengthen national tools such as policy statements; and

  • use the internet to improve simplicity and speed for paperwork such as submissions and notifications.

These changes should expedite residential development, thereby increasing housing supply to assist in addressing the housing affordability crisis. This will be welcome news for many of us. Careful consideration will be required to avoid unintended consequences. The main issue will be the flow on effects for infrastructure providers who may not have scheduled funds or the physical capacity to install infrastructure to service a major influx of new housing developments.

For non-residential developers, especially those promoting large scale or contentious proposals, the changes while welcome are unlikely to have significant effect. A key improvement will be the creation of national planning templates which should help to streamline the process by requiring less time and resources, although this will not remove the need to make submissions as individual councils will still have their own requirements.

In relation to many of the other areas for reform it would be naive to think that they do not already permeate and carry weight for RMA decision makers – in other words the reforms are likely to make explicit what are already basic practices under the RMA. This observation applies particularly in relation to matters such as natural hazards, urban planning, the importance of infrastructure and collaborative dispute resolution where this is realistically achievable. The toolbox is already in place for National Policy Statements – this aspect may be little more than an acknowledgement it has been underutilised.

Overall, these reforms represent a significant watering down of the reforms signalled by Hon Amy Adams last year. This may be due to political expediency or be an attempt to achieve longevity in the changes by preventing amendment by a later government (or both). Regardless, the reforms are a significant step in the right direction, although we consider they will likely have limited impact for non-residential developers, particularly those promoting larger scale or contentious projects.

Hon Dr Nick Smith has indicated that the Government’s intention is to have the bill before Parliament and through a full select committee process this year.


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.

For more information
  • Andrew Beatson

    Partner Wellington
  • Natasha Garvan

    Senior Associate Auckland
Related areas of expertise
  • Environment and resource management