First there was one. Then there will be three.
The Government's laid out plans to replace the vexatious Resource Management Act with three new pieces of legislation in this Parliamentary term.
Throughout its life the RMA has been criticised as being a key source of New Zealand's constipated planning processes and associated difficulties with producing adequate supplies of housing.
And it has been a big political football, with the parties at either side of the House seldom able to agree.
Environment Minister David Parker said on Wednesday the Government was now "delivering on its promise" to reform the Resource Management system based on the comprehensive review carried out last year.
He said secure, healthy and affordable housing is at the heart of the wellbeing of New Zealand families but that it is no longer a reality for many New Zealanders.
“Urban areas hold 86% of our population and experience 99% of our population growth. Instead of allowing cities to respond to population growth sustainably, poor quality and restrictive planning has contributed to a lack of certainty and unaffordable housing.
“Housing problems are a complex mix of demand, costs, financing, capacity and supply and there is no silver bullet. This reform will help by improving how central and local government plan for housing and urban development. This includes better coordination of future infrastructure with land use, development and urban growth.”
So, the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) will be repealed and replaced with three new laws this parliamentary term, namely:
- Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) to provide for land use and environmental regulation (this would be the primary replacement for the RMA)
- Strategic Planning Act (SPA) to integrate with other legislation relevant to development, and require long-term regional spatial strategies
- Climate Change Adaptation Act (CAA) to address complex issues associated with managed retreat and funding and financing adaptation.
“I expect that the complete NBA and the SPA will be formally introduced into Parliament by the end of 2021, with the NBA passed by the end of 2022,” Parker said.
He said the National and Built Environments Act, as the core piece of legislation replacing the RMA, would be progressed first.
“Given its significance and complexity, a special select committee inquiry will consider an exposure draft of the NBA Bill from mid-year. This will include the most important elements of the legislation, including the replacement of Part 2 of the RMA."
Parker said urban areas were struggling to keep pace with population growth and the need for affordable housing. Water quality was deteriorating, biodiversity was diminishing and there was an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change.
"The new laws will improve the natural environment, enable more development within environmental limits, provide an effective role for Māori, and improve housing supply and affordability," Parker said.
"Planning processes will be simplified and costs and times reduced."
Other key changes would include "stronger national direction and one single combined plan per region".
"And there will be more focus on natural environmental outcomes and less on subjective amenity matters that favour the status quo. Better urban design will be pursued."
In terms of the specific legislation:
Under the NBA there will be a mandatory set of national policies and standards to support the natural environmental limits, outcomes and targets specified in the new law. These will be incorporated into combined regional plans prepared by local and central government and mana whenua.
“The existing 100-plus RMA council planning documents will be reduced to about 14,” Parker said.
The Strategic Planning Act will integrate functions under the RMA, Local Government Act 2002, Land Transport Management Act 2003 and the Climate Change Response Act 2002 to enable clearer and more efficient decision-making and investment.
“New spatial strategies will enable regions to plan for the wellbeing of future generations, ensuring development and infrastructure occurs in the right places at the right times.”
The CAA responding to the effects of climate change will be progressed by Climate Change Minister James Shaw.
The Government provided this question-and-answer paper on the RMA reform.
More information about the reform is available on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.
The National Party issued this statement:
RMA reform alone won’t bring meaningful change
The Government needs to show more urgency and commitment if it ever wants to make meaningful strides towards solving the housing shortage and getting wins for the environment.
National’s spokesperson for Housing and RMA reform Nicola Willis says first-home buyers will be disappointed the Government isn’t moving fast enough to make house building easier.
“House prices have risen more than 40 per cent since Labour came to office, yet Labour has shown no urgency when it comes to making it easier to build houses in this country.
“National has offered to work with Labour on emergency legislation, much like the special powers used in the Christchurch rebuild, which would accelerate house building nationwide.
“We’re disappointed that Labour hasn’t accepted our offer to form a special select committee and get on with this, much like it turned down the chance to work in a bipartisan way on RMA reform while National was last in Government.
“Now Labour plans to spend another three years moving RMA legislation through Parliament. Given the time it will also take local councils to amend their plans, it could easily be the late 2020s before any of these changes take effect.”
Ms Willis says she is concerned about the proposal for developments to be within biophysical limits and have positive environmental outcomes before proceeding, which David Parker has acknowledged will need to be carefully managed to avoid impacting house building.
“These changes may actually make it harder to build houses.”
National’s spokesperson for Environment and RMA reform Scott Simpson says Labour is heading down the wrong path with its reforms.
“For a Government that talks a big game on the need for environmental gains, it is moving at a snail’s pace.
“There’s a real risk its plans for new legislation will make things more complicated, costly and confusing than is currently the case, without achieving the environmental gains they seek.”
At the last election, National proposed splitting the RMA into an Environmental Standards Act, setting clear and efficient environmental bottom lines; and an Urban Planning and Development Act, making it easier to build houses in our cities, Mr Simpson says.
“This approach would ensure that our natural spaces are well protected, while also making sure we have a positive process for allowing houses to be built in already developed areas.”