Following the recent general election, resource management reform is now firmly back on the Government’s legislative agenda. However, early indications suggest that the upcoming amendments will have some significant differences from the ill-fated 2013 proposals.
When the Government announced its intention to introduce comprehensive reform to the RMA last year, the proposed amendments drew widespread criticism. In particular, National’s proposed amendments to sections 6 and 7 proved controversial. (For completeness, section 6 lists matters of importance that must be recognised and provided for by persons exercising functions and powers under the Act, whilst section 7 lists other matters that must be had regard to).
National proposed to merge these two sections into a new section 6, which would also include provision for the built environment, urban development, and infrastructure. However, many (including the Maori Party and United Future) considered this would compromise the Act’s sustainable management purpose, and unduly elevate economic and built environment considerations at the expense of the natural environment. The proposals were therefore not progressed, as the Government was unable to get sufficient support from its coalition partners.
Likely features of new Bill
Faced with further opportunity to reform the RMA, Prime Minister John Key has indicated that any new reform bill is unlikely to include the controversial changes to sections 6 and 7. With environmental groups already raising concerns that National may revisit this proposal, Mr Key recently confirmed the Government will consider whether its desired outcomes can be achieved without merging sections 6 and 7.
Continuing the theme of previous amendments, a key focus of the Government’s proposed reforms will be on ‘simplifying and streamlining’ the Act. National wishes to improve what it perceives as cumbersome bureaucratic processes at the local government level, which result in delays, unnecessarily high costs and burdensome requirements for resource consent applicants.
The Government is also likely to boost references in the Act to the urban environment. As newly-appointed Minister for the Environment, Building and Housing Nick Smith has stated, the vast bulk of consent processes under the RMA relate to urban development, yet the purpose and principles of the Act do not expressly mention this. The reforms are therefore likely to address the current ‘silence’ on matters relating to the built environment.
Dr Smith also recently announced that resource management reform must result in a system that is more enabling of growth and development, including housing supply. In the Minister’s view, Auckland’s unaffordable housing market has largely resulted from the RMA and its implementation stifling an increase in supply of new housing.
A Resource Management Act Amendment Bill is likely to be released in early 2015. We will continue to update you as the RMA reform process unfolds.