As many will be aware, the government has proposed to reform the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) by replacing it with three different pieces of legislation: the Natural and Built Environment Bill, the Spatial Planning Bill and the Climate Adaptation Bill.
The Natural and Built Environment Bill and the Spatial Planning Bill were introduced to the House on 15 November 2022. The bills aim to unlock development of the built environment while protecting the values of the natural environment. The RMA grappled with this issue for more than 30 years and now that mantle will be passed to a new framework. ADLS, through its Environment and Resource Management Law Committee, presented submissions to the Environment Select Committee on the bills. A link to the committee’s submission can be found here
The submission identified various areas where the bills need further development and refinement. Given the importance of the environment to New Zealanders, any environmental management framework needs to be efficient, transparent and workable. The committee said some aspects of the bills need more time for roadtesting before being rolled out. In summary, we drew the select committee’s attention to the following points:
- The bills are lengthy and complex, comprising more than 850 pages. It is difficult to see how they can simplify New Zealand’s environmental management regime.
- As introduced, the bills missed the opportunity to structure and organise the legislation in a clear way.
- The bills propose to remove or replace many principles and concepts that have developed through case law under the RMA. The committee says such changes are not justified in all cases and the replacement of settled concepts may result in a loss in clarity and workability of the overall management of the regime.
Determined to progress
The Ministry for the Environment says the bills will become law in mid-2023, reflecting comments from minister David Parker that the government remains determined to progress reform. After hearing more than 3,000 submissions, the Environment Select Committee will report back to Parliament on 27 June 2023. The House will rise before the election on 31 August 2023, providing only a small window of time for it to pass the bills into law.
Some aspects of the Bills will come into effect on Royal assent – for example, the preparation and publication of the National Planning Framework (NPF). The NPF will comprise a comprehensive suite of national direction on matters such as ecological integrity, outstanding natural features and landscapes, climate change, the development of urban and rural areas and the availability of highly productive land, the relationship between Māori and the environment and the role of infrastructure.
The first tranche of the NPF is under development and may be notified as early as August 2023. That will be followed by full public consultation and a hearings process run by an independent board of inquiry. Decisions on the board’s recommendations are expected in late 2024. Other aspects of the bills will take longer to come into effect as regional planning documents are rolled out across all regions of New Zealand.
Climate Adaptation Bill
Work on the Climate Adaptation Bill is ongoing and is expected to be introduced to Parliament this year. The purpose of this bill is to address how communities should adapt to the effects of climate change, including the complex question of managed retreat and how to implement this concept fairly and equitably.
However, it seems unlikely the Climate Adaptation Bill will be introduced before the House rises on 31 August. So, the future of this bill depends on the outcome of the election. To a certain extent, that goes for the other bills as well; exactly how much survives will depend on who will form the next government. ■
Patrick Senior is a senior associate at Russell McVeagh and Mike Doesburg is a partner at Wynn Williams. Both are members of the ADLS Environment and Resource Management Law committee ■
ADLS will be offering a comprehensive CPD event on the bills. This will give an overview of the key aspects of the new legislation for both RMA and general practitioners.