sign uplog in
Want to go ad-free? Find out how, here.

Government outlines timetable for replacing the Resource Management Act in this term of Parliament - with three new pieces of legislation

Government outlines timetable for replacing the Resource Management Act in this term of Parliament - with three new pieces of legislation

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.

This follows a government-appointed working group report last year on how to replace the 30-year old RMA.

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So, the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) will be repealed and replaced with three new laws this parliamentary term, namely: 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.”

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.



The RMA wasn't the best piece of law, but it wasn't exactly terrible. The problem was one of judicial overreach where the judges were effectively creating there own set of convoluted rules "case law built on case law" which meant that unless you engaged a $400 an hour lawyer your consent was always venerable to judicial review in the high court or review in the environment court.

Many RMA consents were ruled invalid by judges for the most pedantic of reasons. That's why so many businessmen just buy & hold land. Will be interesting to see if the NBA addresses this issue but I fear it won't.

Exactly. I don't have a lot of confidence in this process. The real reason why development is slow under the RMA is that there are too many planning and strategic documents flowing from it, and the number of people involved in the process. There's the RMA, national policy statements, national environmental standards, regional and district plans, and plan changes to consider. This all takes up a lot of time and cost in consenting.

Too many people are dragged into the process, which again is time and cost.

I would focus on three main things.

1. Change the purpose to focus on future generations. Decision makers too often are far too slanted towards the current generation as it currently stands.

2. Get rid of zoning, which leads to perverse outcomes. Instead of zoning, base all land use restrictions (aside from simple boundary setback etc) on a clearly defined list of matters national importance. Things like housing affordability, versatile soils, natural hazards, significant ecosystems, heritage etc.

3. And related to 2, severely restrict the types of things councils can regulate for in local and regional plans. Perhaps a vetting process through MfE. This is where the system is currently severely lacking - there's minimal understanding at central government level as to what legislative changes mean for time and cost on the ground. The idea being that the same outcomes can be reached in a five page consent report as a ten page consent report.

My opinion is that the RMA works reasonably well for large scale developments/projects. Small scale is a different story.

To paraphrase Churchill: 'never has so much work been completed, by so few, for such little purpose.' He was a much better wordsmith than I.

Agree on points 1 to 3. That is basically what jurisdictions that have affordable housing do.

Churchill is also credited with something along the lines, of 'Planning/Architects are finishing something the Luftwaffe started.'

This is maybe it?

You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe: when it knocked down our buildings it did not replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.
- Charles, Prince of Wales

Thanks. Yes I knew that one, but I thought Churchhill had also made a far earlier observation, re the Town and Country Planning Act. But either-or, the point is made regarding the final outcome.

tks guys, those are quotes beyond my previous knowledge. as always, senior years or not, love to learn.

I know, you almost needed a court to make a declaratory judgement on RMA approval.

Maybe in future you'll have to fight three case instead of one.

Clean Green NZ yeah nah

Calling Peter Jackson:

"High Peter, Grant here. I have an idea for a new movie. It's about a Caucus of Hobbits and Dwarfs that set out to destroy the Great Housing Crisis, which is being caused by some one-eyed' invisible entity. That is, it's not our fault, we are the heroes in this story.'

"And I have a great title for it, 'Three Rings To Rule Them All.' What do you think?"

"What Peter? One ring."

"Surely more rings must be better."


Where did regional councils come from?Who said they were necessary in the first place? We get sick and tired of the cross legged operation and relationship between that body and our local council. All it seems to produce is an ability to duck shove responsibilities between the two whilst at the same time manufacture revenue from the resultant confusion. That is what we found, excruciatingly so, when our family went to build a new house in Christchurch from the ruins of the old family home. Damn sure our experience is much more common than unique.

That would have been my fourth change. One level of local government. The worst is when a regional council takes a local council to court or vice/versa. A colossal waste of money all round, with the only money going to the legal system.

Regional Councils were set up under neoliberalism. They were drawn as equal to, not above, LA's. I regarded it then, as set up to fail (I was an elected rep at both levels, prior to the change). Alle same Tomorrows Schools etc - ste up systems which ca be monetised, or which if they can't, won't work.

But this process is on the right track. Co-ordination of ALL Acts is essential. This isn't about the small-thinking housing/developers or those who think in similarly small circles; this is about Sustainability with a capital S. By the time the processes are done, they will either be long-term-maintainable, or a weazel cop-out. I'm expecting the latter; the MSM-conditioned voter is what keeps the powemongers in power; we're probably stuffed as a result.

It's got to the point where, in considering a move north, I'm looking at multi-proof-consented kitset houses, just so the local Council cannot foobar what should be a simple (hence cheapest), fast (because Time = Munny to all but Gubmints, local or central), and fit-for-purpose (so zero Architect involvement and a non-leaky roof) build.

Agree with everything you said but a multi-proof-consented kitset houses that won't have moisture issues? Many I see are just tomorrow's leaky homes V2.

A couple of years ago or so, Westpac announced a finance plan and scheme to provide custom flat pack housing. Reasonable fan fare at the time. No doubt torpedoed by HMS Brown Cardigan.

But first you'll have to find a section without covenants that exclude the building of such a dwelling on it.

Tks Kate. Thought so. The indomitable Brown Cardigan Brigade goes forth in great leaps of bureaucratic repression, protocols, red tape, obfuscation, deafness, intransigence, arrogance, self entitlement, self interest, opinionation, unaccountability and tennis biscuits.

No - it's developers and neighbours who stipulate minimum-size developments.

Purely done out of greed.

Don’t think so, in fact not at all. Christchurch for example. Merivale Lane, very narrow street, complex of apartments out of the blue, no consultation with residents at all. Next street up, Office Road, very narrow street, three story apartment building on and above existing shopping centre carpark, residents completely in the dark. Redcliffs, new school building, height over 1 metre over recession, adjacent land owner told get used to it. Yes indeedy, neighbours, ratepayers have a lot of say. Utter baloney.

That is so generalized it's not true.

This is exactly right, we found some really good land, but looking at the covenants... sheesh, it's no wonder the only thing being built are mansions.
Must be 180m2 or more (not including garage)
Must not use any second hand materials
Must only be one dwelling
Must have all landscaping done within 3 months of house build finishing

Not to mention material specifications...
Must have a fence x size and shape and colour
No trees here and there beyond Xm high
Must not be able to see washing line from road (this was a WTF moment)
Must be built using only these materials (FFS)
Must not be these colours (FFS)

And last but not least...
All work must first be signed off by the covenant committee before work can be started. Oh and, by the way, if you break any of these rules, you will be fined $500 a day until you aren't breaking the rules.

Why didn't they just build every goddamn house as they wanted it to look, consent them, then sell them off the plans? Seems like it would have been easier than every one of us buyers having another committee of hoops to jump through BEFORE we even get to consent stage. Talk about a nightmare building is...

Exactly what I meant; happens all the time.

It's just self-reinforcing, and is a large part of the 'problem'.

Good post; thank you.

And there is the rub.

Your comment, and powerdownkiwi's, reflect the complete misunderstanding by most people about covenants, and also the reason why the right covenants are needed.

The idea of covenants is that they should reflect what your market wants, ie if there was a market there for no covenants, then developers would develop sections with no covenants. Many developers don't really research this through very well.

Secondly, someone has to be the first to buy, then the second, etc. So naturally, you want to know or have some certainty of what your neighbour could or can't' do. You are investing a lot of money and you don't want some to build next to you that devalues your property and this does happen, because as soon as the first house is built, then most other houses that following will not be any better than that first house, ie the first house or two set the maximum build quality and people use these houses to 'pull' up the value of their cheaper house.

As for your FFS washing line moment, and trees of a certain size, why would this even be a concern to you if it wasn't the one you were going to break, ie did you plan to hang your smalls out by the letterbox, or plant trees that would block your neighbour's sun? If you don't plan to do this, then this cannot be a FFS moment for you, but only if your neighbour did it to you.

Secondly, it's the very lack of covenants that are allowing developers and councils changing zoning rules to allow demolition of older villa character neighbourhoods and the cramming of low-quality townhouses and apartments.

But you are correct that developers should just build all houses, and the good news is they are starting to. NZ used to have land developers and small build companies, with the potential homeowner buying the land from the land developer and then getting the builder after that. But as is the general norm. overseas. what is starting to happen is the land developer is also the builder or the land developer sells directly to the large building company. Houses style built is then between the builder/landowner and the client, taking into account the covenants. The next step is that the large building company will build all the houses without any buyer input (other than market research), sales maybe off the plans, just like selling an apartment complex.

But most residential land has no covenants, so you should be able to buy to do whatever you like, under the zoning rules of course.

Reeks of what young people rage about. Oh my gosh, the character of a leafy suburb is changing, oh deary me, we cannot allow such blasphemy to occur. Meanwhile the housing crisis rolls on, with poorer peasants squashed under the wheels of the maseratis driven by those same leafy suburb dwellers who have "worked hard" and seen their house values rise massively.

I don't care if someones hanging their undies out at the letterbox! Nobody but an up themselves snoot does, if you fall into that group, that's on you. If a neighbours tree blocks sun, I ask them if I can chop it, because I talk to them all the time and help them out as much as I can (i.e. we have a good relationship).

We also looked at developers selling off the plans in the same area, $1.2-1.6m. Uhhh... OK, really affordable, they were restricted by their self imposed covenants too. It's clear that housing in this country (even new houses) is totally out of control, with everyone involved absolutely creaming it. This leaves little investment into the PRODUCTIVE ECONOMY which is forced to pay for it in ever increasing amounts. As powerdownkiwi and you have just pointed out, it's a self re-inforcing loop, highly destructive to our society.

And meanwhile, while you are out yelling on your porch that a leafy suburb is being "ruined" by higher density housing or you might be able to see someones knickers, people are suffering and dying from respiratory illnesses because housing is too expensive to build and the current stock is being milked by speculators and even arms of the government for being a cash cow.

Every covenant I have seen is basically trying to create gated communities of white upper class snoots, with zero regard for actual housing need. Covenants don't represent what the market need, they represent the profitability of the houses that can be built, the developers desire to have the right white people living in "their" successful project and a self reinforced desire to prop up a highly destructive housing market.

Point missed.

For starters, if you are the type of person that hangs their washing on the letterbox, chances are you probably have a few other quirky personal habits, that might not make you an ideal neighbour. But the good news is if there are enough of you with this habit, developers will build you a subdivision with those covenants that allow, or maybe mandate that. They are just following the market.

And for everyone one person like you that can respectively ask someone to cut their trees down, and they do, then there are more out there that won't.

You are making it sound like you won't be a good neighbour if you are the type of person who would encourage high-density housing that under a new council zoning has changed the rules on a neighbourhood about what the original inhabitants had decided. They are in effect breaking a social contract with their voters, in effect making up the rules to suit themselves. How about that, a politician you can't trust, who would have guessed. I think Auckland would be less of a city if it allowed all the old villas and trees on Franklin Rd to be knocked down for high density.

BUT the real point you have missed is covenants are the original zoning before councils took over that function and renamed them and that they have NO bearing on causing high house prices when land-use restrictions are removed.

50% of the growth of a City like Houston over the last 30 years was by developers with covenant lead developments ie no underlying council residential zoning, and the median income multiple to house value is 3x income. Housing in Texas is 1/3 to 1/2 the cost and better value. They are covenant lead, from trailer parks to millionaires row, whatever you want, there is a subdivision with those matching covenants. After all, birds of a feather actually like to flock together. All at highly affordable prices.

Cool, I will admit that the market works when you show me a covenanted new subdivision that wants affordable houses in it, near a major city that is supported by the neighbours. Because that's what the everyone is demanding. There have been multiple studies showing we are building the wrong type of housing in this country for the what is required/needed/wanted. Why? Because it is more profitable for those doing the development. Surprise, surprise, the market hasn't worked to solve the housing crisis we are now in.

And it very much sounds like your view of "an ideal neighbour" is actually "someone that is just like me".

Word definitions and context are important. By international housing affordability definitions, ALL housing in NZ is unaffordable. There are subdivisions that are cheaper than others, but none are affordable.

And the marketing is working fine, it's only responding to the broken system. It's not a truly free market as if it was prices would be 3x median income multiple like they are in jurisdictions that allow that. The system encourages the developer to do what they are doing, as their sales prove. But of course, with demand exceeding supply, FOMO is causing many purchasers to buy when if they had more choice they would choose something else.

It's not an FHB issue, is a whole system issue.

Yes, there are a lot of badly written covenants, but having no covenants is no more the answer than saying we would be a more peaceful country by doing away with all rules.

The most affordable housing jurisdictions internationally have the best covenants, which can also include no covenant subdivisions is that is where a niche market demand is.

And as for my neighbours, they are all very different from me, but the one thing we all seem to have in common is no one is hanging their washing on the letterbox.

You forgot "all windows must be the same shape"
Houses in these subdivisions are all going to date at the same time. Then they will look like crap. Most of the nice established suburbs are a mix of different houses and eras. What developers also forget is that these generic subdivisions will never be wealthy areas either. Just like you can't build a cheap house there, you also cant build an expensive architecturally designed house either. Everything is just a generic franchise build.

So two years away? That's why these guys get payed the big bucks, the ability to act fast and call for a special select committee inquiry.

2 years... I sense their urgency!

Probably comes into effect 4 months before the election so it looks like they have done something, having sat back for the past 3 years watching prices skyrocket.
No time to judge it's success but as everyone has had the "we just need to build more" narrative rammed into them and Labour looks like that have solved it. They then get elected for another 3 years of policies and decisions that pump demand.

I don't think the media will let them get away with this as they are increasingly of the renting demographic.

Yeah their PR team are on it with the dates & timing, don't worry.

But its okay, while you are homeless you will be able to vote in new Maori wards. Thats this Govt's "urgent" priority.

“The existing 100-plus RMA council planning documents will be reduced to about 14,” Parker said.

Why 14? Why not 1 for the entire country?

This corresponds with the number of regional councils - one hefty planning document for each region.

This is STILL a deckchair discussion on a sinking ship.

Population and per-head consumption (including of acreage per head, and not just housing acreage but supporting acreage) are the variables, draw-down of resource stocks and of sink-capacity the realities, and entropy the encroaching dilemma.

They should be inter-relating ALL legislation, starting from just about scratch. This shouldn't surprise; our collection of activities are almost ALL unsustainable. But if they don't address Limits (including upper limits to population) they're wasting their - and our - time. And will probably be overtaken by events. Good on ém for trying, though. Makes the Nats look like decidedly dated.

I won't be surprised that instead of streamlining the rules, more rules will be created. Now there're 3 options ,free for all, who wants to leave their mark in their political career; I expect the rules and regulations will be amplified at least twice over.

Saying that, it's actually good for the sustainability of property values.

I suspect you are right here. Knowing this govt and input from the Greens its likely to place far more emphasis the environment. Its just PR that it will help. National came up with some changes to swing the emphasis to development but the Maori party and Mr United blocked it. I didn't read the nuts and bolts so can't comment on whether the swing was too far on development by reducing the environment aspect too much.
In any event I've read a number of subdivision consents on an existing residential section sub division and they are too long. I suspect here its the "consultants" usually a survey company as the lead contractor milking it due to the ignorance of the section owner. Most could be done by yourself or at least managed by yourself if you have the time.

Without 'the environment' you and I are


Just a thought.....

One of the best things the new legislation could do is make the question of public notification black and white. If your application is status x, you are non notified, if your application is status y you are publicly notified.
Far too much time is wasted working through whether an application is notified or not.

Indeed, further a resource consent will be ruled illegal if the incorrect notification is made. So you can go through the whole rigmorale of getting a consent only to have it taken away because some Muppet at council incorrectly didn't notify your consent at the start of the process.

Seriously more than 50% of council's time on resource consents is typically doing a notification assessment.
The new legislation should specify all 'restricted discretionary' activities will be non-notified, all discretionary or non- complying activities automatically notified.
Then the onus is on the council in its plan to assign status, which determines whether its notified or not. For example, breach of a building height limit set as a discretionary activity in the plan = automatically notified.
There's far too much fluffing around and wastage, AND lack of certainty.
This change alone would make a BIG difference.

Couldn't agree more, the current test of "whether a person is affected in more than a minor way" is subjective & open to interpretation. Which is stupid.

Remember, what is a cost/waste to us, is revenue to them, plus Empire building.

Three acts to replace one? Sounds like an orgy for lawyers and civil servants.

Already I think we can see that these changes won't make it easier or cheaper to build a house.

It will never become easier or cheaper to build a house, until either population seriously decreases, or we collapse.

Written in '88, amazingly prescient now. Well worth the read, for them wot's got an open mind.

14 plans? 4 water bodies? Independant building consenting body for govt housing. Wonder what other changes are in the wind. Sounds like local government is in for some big changes.

What's the bet that this will simply result in 3 times as much paperwork involved, and 3 times the amount of fees paid to jump through all the hoops, while taking 3 times as long.

Labour $6.30 : $1.03 Public

Certainly won't do a jot to relieve the housing crisis. In fact it could well will make it worse.