Smith finally tables RMA reform after doing deal with Maori Party; National fails to get section 6 & 7 reform to focus on economic development

Smith finally tables RMA reform after doing deal with Maori Party; National fails to get section 6 & 7 reform to focus on economic development
Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith talking to reporters on NZTA land at Manukau on May 29. Photo by Lynn Grieveson for Hive News

By Bernard Hickey

Environment and Housing Minister Nick Smith has finally tabled a massive set of reforms to the Resource Management Act (RMA) for consideration by Parliament after doing a deal to support the reforms through to the select committee stage with the Maori Party.

The Government had hoped to reform the key sections 6 and 7 of the RMA to introduce economic development and housing affordability as first principles for the Act, rather than environmental protection, but had to abandon that after New Zealand First won the Northland byelection earlier this year.

National's support partners David Seymour, Peter Dunne and the Maori Party had opposed the changes to sections 6 and 7 of the Act, which lay out its first principles, arguing it watered down protections for the environment. (Corrected to make clear Seymour supported the 6/7 changes)

After the loss of the Northland seat, National needed either the support of Dunne or the Maori Party to progress legislation. Dunne remained opposed to some of the 40 measures included in the reforms, but the Maori Party had said it would support the reforms through to select committee stage after securing commitments on consulting Iwi and allowing Iwi farmers to access ground water for stock, Smith said.

The changes include the introduction of new 10 day fast-track consents for simple issues, fixed fees for standard consents and the removal of the need for consents for some areas covered by other acts. It also introduces standard planning templates "so we don't have every council reinventing the wheel and having dozens of different ways of measuring the height of a building," Smith said.

"The Bill contains dozens of provisions that will improve the process of resource management decisions. There will be millions of dollars in savings from simpler, plain language public notices that enable the detailed information on plans and consents to be accessed on the web," Smith said.

'Iwi Participation Agreement'

The Maori Party secured the inclusion of new "Iwi Participation Agreements, which would involve Iwi early in the resource consent process. It also ensured corporate farmers, including Iwi and trusts, will be able to secure water for stock without obtaining resource consents in the same way as individual farmers currently do.

The 180-page Resource Legislation Amendment Bill comprises 40 changes contained in 235 clauses and eight schedules. It makes changes to the Resource Management Act 1991, the Reserves Act 1977, the Public Works Act 1981, the Conservation Act 1987, the Environmental Protection Authority Act 2011, and the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012.

Smith said the Bill would simplify the consenting process.

"It narrows the parties that must be consulted to those directly affected – meaning a homeowner extending a deck only has to consult the affected neighbour. Councils will have discretion to not require resource consent for minor issues," Smith said.

The new 10-day fast track would be available for simple issues, while Councils would be required to have fixed fees for standard consents.

"Consents will no longer be required for activities that are already properly regulated by other Acts. These measures will reduce the number of consents required each year by thousands," he said.

Maori Party Co-Leader Marama Fox said retaining sections 6 and 7 had been a priority and it had opposed proposals for an alternative consenting authority.

"Iwi Participation Agreements will require councils to engage with iwi during their planning processes to ensure they are involved in resource management decisions at the front end," Fox said.

Maori did however agree to include managing for natural hazards such as earthquakes and sea level rise in the sections 6 and 7 of the act.

Smith published a questions and answers document detailing the changes.

Details included:

  1. Amending the standard planning process to enable limited notificaiton of plan changes, and requiring the Minister's approval to go beyond the two-year timeframe for decisions on plan changes,
  2. Creating a new streamlined planning process which would allow Councils to apply to the Minister for an alternative planning process,
  3. Allowing Councils to limit notification to only those people who are directly affected by a new resource consent,
  4. Permitting boundary activities where they have been agreed by the relevant neighbours,
  5. Introducing a 10 working day time limit for simple applications,
  6. Creating a three options for Council plans, including the existing track that now has tighter timelines, a new collaborative track, and a streamlined track.
  7. Allowing regulations to be set by the Minister for specified land uses,
  8. Allowing the Environment Court to to require people to go to alternative dispute resolution and judicial conferences first,
  9. Allowing Councils to compulsorily acquire land that has been rendered incapable of use by planning provisions,
  10. Changing the Public Works Act to allow the Government to pay a 'solatium' or compensation payment for disruption and interference when a landowner is selling their home of up to NZ$50,000, rather than the current NZ$2,000, which was set in 1975,
  11. Removing the need for all public notices to be published in newspapers, instead limiting notices in newspapers to summaries with the full notices online,
  12. Preventing just any group from registering as a Heritage Protection Authority to protect places on private land.

Reaction

Federated Farmers said the proposed reforms did not go far enough.

“As it stands in this Bill farmers will continue to face restrictions on what they can do on farmland which is classified as an ‘outstanding natural landscape’. This unfairly limits farmers’ ability to plant trees, add new buildings and install new fences, which ironically is what the Bill wants farmers to do to keep stock away from lakes and rivers,” said Federated Farmers' Environment spokesman Chris Allen.

“Federated Farmers would have liked to see greater consideration of economic benefits and property rights,” he said.

Green Environment spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said the proposed changes appeared to benefit seabed miners and property developers.

“The Bill appears to significantly increase the Minister’s powers at the expense of local councils and to further politicise environmental decision making by having the Minister, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency, appoint hearing panels for developments in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone,” Sage said.

“The Bill risks having a chilling effect on councils’ ability to regulate in the community’s interest. For example, under proposed changes, councils could be reluctant to protect native plants and trees on private land as the Environment Court could require the council to purchase affected land if protections were deemed to put an ‘unfair and unreasonable burden’ on landholders," she said.

“The proposed RMA changes must not erode protection of the places we hold most dear; our beaches, rivers, and natural areas. They must not promote ugly urban sprawl at the expense of liveable towns and cities well connected to public transport."

Property Institute Chief Executive Ashley Church supported the reforms, but said they would do little to accelerate the construction of new dwellings.

“These changes will be great for people wanting to build a deck or move a fence – but they’re not going to lead to a big jump in house building in Auckland," Church said, adding he would have liked to have seen more directions to Councils to open up land for development, fewer rules around sub-divisions and the adoption of targeted rate funding for infrastrucrture.

Property Council Chief Executive Connal Townsend said he was extremely pleased with the proposed reforms,

“We strongly support national templates to streamline and rationalise plan making processes. This will undoubtedly improve consistency in other areas, such as clarifying requirements which will enable greater compliance and save time and money," Townsend said, adding the bill's optional streamlined planning and consent provisions had a proven track record with the Special Housing Areas Act.

“These are exactly the sorts of measures we have been calling for to directly address Auckland’s housing crisis and regional growth. Issues such as improved resource management have been stalled by political paralysis at great cost to communities and the country, he said.

(Updated with more details, reaction, correction in third paragraph)

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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.

30 Comments

That should have run with Labours offer to support such a reform years ago.

Labour has been shooting RMA reforms down as far as I am aware, they basically want to gut the bill before they will support it. With Maori at least we'll get most of it.

except "we" dont want most of it.

Who's "We" Steven?

Is it "you" ?

The population doesn't get a say......I'd rather have a referendum on the RMA than the flag !!

Bit of an old post...

I agree having a the RMA referendum, but clearly National cant get a majority of our elected representatives to vote for it, so its reasonable to assume a sizable amount of ppl dont want the RMA gutted. it certainly would be good to know the %s either way on such an important item though.

May 20, 2014: Labour "would support proposed measures to speed up home building but not changes to the Act's underlying purpose." i.e. not gut sections 6 & 7 and we now see National and the Maori party proceeding on these grounds.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11258321

dtc. The Fourth National government should not have passed the RMA (1991) in the first place - They were warned against it! But they were so busy bailing out their mates at the BNZ and hiding the winebox crew, they just adopted Labour's Commo Bill and the nasty rest is history.

The RMA would actually seem to have done more for protecting our environment that much other legislation world wide did for the respective countries.

Hang on a moment......can you measure that statement? That is the problem with the RMA too many broad sweeping statements with not a thing to back it up with.

Too many people with differing ideas on what should or shouldn't be allowed.....and all that ends up happening is stalemates and applicants wear the costs. for goodness sake take the issue of the cafe owner in Temuka who will need a resource consents to put a sign up out in a paddock.......there is no air, water or soil contamination that could occur, there is no adverse affect on the environment at all.......so why would a person even need a consent? The RMA is an abusive piece of legislation that has tried to ensure that there would be no changes at all.

So Maori sold out for some rights to non-renewable? water, some RMA bypass. I have to wonder what the Maori party has really achieved for most Maori in the future. It would almost seem to be nothing more than giving some Maori an even stronger hand to get a bigger slice of the pie today at the expense of everyone else.

I wonder how long they will last.

I take your point but lets language this more accurately. The Maori Party - most (but not all) of whose supporters are Maori (though most Maori don't vote for them) - has negotiated some benefits for some Maori (iwi corporate farms being the most obvious).

Neither the RMA nor local iwi here (Ngai Tahu, a billion dollar charity trust...) have been unable to prevent the closure of a nearby swimming hole which now carries an algal bloom bad enough to kill your dog.

All VFU...

I doubt the full story of this deal with maoris is told here. Tis likely to result in more pagan legislation which will grant them extra controls on water(ways).

'Full and undisturbed possession'. A contract is a contract. Why are Pakeha so crap at capitalism...

Why are Pakeha so crap at capitalism...

Maybe its because they seem to bend over and allow self serving groups to .."clip the ticket"..??

AND.... what does "full and undisturbed possession" mean ? ... No planes flying overhead..???

"A contract is a contract."... yeah right...
Just like with with the bible...all the argument and conflict is in the interpretation..

Why are there two types of NZer -- Maoris and non-Maori?

I think a more accurate sentence is there are Maoris who are attached / link to an iwi (sorry if the term is wrong) and then everyone else. ie not all Maori are equal.

I went to one of NZ's Unis for a seminar the other day, and found that there are study rooms specifically and only assigned to students whose ethnicity is either Maori or Pacific Islander -- clearly written on a sign on the door.

This makes me wonder...

I think its known as positive discrimination to counter negative discrimination. ie because Maori and PIs are under-represented in professional life which leads on from academic study/qualifications.

Racism is racism, no matter how it is applied - " allowing Iwi farmers to access ground water for stock" is another layer of racism. This needs to be available to all farmers or none. There is no such thing as "positive discrimination" there is only racism. Native Americans have seen such positive discrimination destroy many ambitions as employers don't believe they could achieve their qualifications if they had to do it under the same conditions and rules as every one else.

xing. There never used to be until the late 1960's when some of them saw a quid in the USA Hippie "First People's Principle" and hopped aboard.

First People Principle is flawed. One condition is needed and being "for only as long as the first people can guard".

Iwi - more accurately hapu - did such an outstanding job of defending that the Crown entered into a Treaty...a contract is a contract. You wanna renegotiate?

xingmowang - Just remember that when Pakeha first arived there were about 100,000 immigrants from Hawiki.
These 100,000 people, in bare feet (had no footware) and in grass skirts and no means of transport (horses) except a canoe, these 100,000 people owned and occupied the WHOLE of New Zealand and we stole it off them.

Er, isn't the excessive rate of immigration a resource management issue?

....I suggested to the greens that immigration is an environmental issue, but defeaning silence. I'd imagine it might be a Treaty issue too if pursued. Excessive immigration will certainly push our first people further down the queue that's for sure.

That was the mechanism they lost their land in the first place.

It is a discriminatory one.

The first people were killed off via genocide. The Crown had nothing to do with it, if history is to be believed.

So paying for it now, is a little one sided.

But immigration is welcome to it. ( I say).

The Banks are mostly of Australian descent, so we cannot complain, the History points out just where we went wrong.

We imported the wrong bunch of thieves, their hands still in your pocket.

Ironically now they are returning the favour. (Go figure).

Does Nick Smith spend most time sun bathing why he looks constantly SUNBURNT a redneck look?, or is he red faced constantly, embarrassed with a guilty conscience, or is it alcoholism to control anger outbursts as a complete FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP? Politics has exhausted its efforts shutdown the beehive.

God this is a weak thread.

It also ensured corporate farmers, including Iwi and trusts, will be able to secure water for stock without obtaining resource consents in the same way as individual farmers currently do.
So they are acknowledging in advance that their stock water takes may be environmentally degrading and they require special treatment?

The RMA has a special provision for water taken for an individual’s reasonable domestic and stock watering requirements.No consent is required for this so long as there is no adverse effect on the environment.....

http://www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/Community/Your-community/For-Farmers/Wa...

Corporate farmers? What defines a corporate farmer? Anyone who farms under a company name?

Have the Maori Party done the bidding of the Chinese farming interests?
*Shanghai Pengxin and Maori owned Miraka have just signed a MoU. Timing a coincidence? (http://farmersweekly.co.nz/article/miraka-enters-mou-with-shanghai-pengx...)

*Word on the street has a Chinese entity buying the Zeestraten farms in Southland - a $54m asking price. Word also is that they are looking for sharemilkers to milk on them, once the deal is approved.

The detail of the fine print of this Iwi/Trust/Corporate deal will be worth looking at.