Now that the dust has settled on the 2014 general election, we look to examine the likely implications for the resource consenting and environment sectors.
The National Party continues to govern in the 121-seat Parliament, with a majority made up of 60 National MPs, and a confidence and supply agreement with both United Future (Hon Peter Dunne), and ACT New Zealand (David Seymour).
Key Cabinet Portfolios
The key Cabinet portfolios have changed slightly, with Hon Dr Nick Smith reclaiming the Environment portfolio from Hon Amy Adams. This is of no surprise to those in the industry, it having been widely suspected that Dr Smith would be re-appointed to the position after an appropriate ‘stand down’ following his Cabinet resignation in 2012. Dr Smith also retains the Building and Housing portfolio.
Taking over from Dr Smith as new Minister of Conservation is Hon Maggie Barry. This is perhaps one of the ‘surprise’ announcements of the 51st Parliament: although we note that Ms Barry was formerly the Chair of the Local Government and Environment Select Committee, and so has some background to the role. There are two Associate Conservation Ministers, Mr Dunne and Hon Nicky Wagner. The appointment of two Associate Ministers perhaps points to Ms Barry’s relative inexperience.
The Minister for Climate Change is Hon Tim Groser, and Hon Simon Bridges is his Associate Minister. Mr Bridges also retains the Energy and Resources portfolio.
Likely Legislative and Regulatory Changes
Dr Smith has already signalled his intention to seek further changes to the RMA, following National’s failure to progress such reform in 2013. Ostensibly to address the issue of housing affordability in Auckland, Dr Smith has stated that the recent legislative changes to allow Special Housing Areas represent only a “short-term fix”. Dr Smith expressed his view that there remains a need to “address the fundamental problem” with the RMA.
Following the ‘Phase 1’ RMA reforms introduced by the 2013 Amendment Act, it is likely that Dr Smith will introduce ‘Phase 2’ reforms to Parliament before Christmas. Information from the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) suggests that further changes to the RMA are likely to include:
clearer planning directions and tools, such as single resource management plans that cover all local, regional and national issues;
simpler, faster and fewer resource consent requirements; and
addressing housing affordability through explicit attention in plans, and changes to consenting arrangements which drive down cost and improve timeliness.
We remain unconvinced that the outcomes National ostensibly seeks can be achieved by legislative reform alone. In our view, statutory processes currently provide for efficient processing of resource consents: the vast majority of resource consents are processed on a non-notified basis (i.e. without public consultation), and the RMA provides time limits for all stages of processing, hearing and determining an application. Further, quick and efficient processing is encouraged via fee discounting policies on untimely processing, and requirements for local authorities to report to MfE (the ‘name and shame’ incentive). Given these systems to encourage efficient processing, it appears to us the issue is rather one of adequately resourcing local authorities. We agree, however, that additional national direction and tools would assist with efficient processing – particularly for smaller local authorities with less resourcing and expertise. We await the introduction of Phase 2 reforms with interest.
There are a number of other reforms proposed to the RMA, most of which have either stalled in the Parliamentary process prior to the recent general election, or have failed to be passed (such as Green MP Catherine Delahunty’s Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill – which was negatived at its second reading in May).
Outside likely RMA changes, we understand that the Minister of Conservation is considering a new Coastal Policy Statement, to replace the 2010 New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (NZCPS). While no formal announcement has been made in this regard, we would not be surprised to see a draft NZCPS in the coming months, particularly given the ramifications of the recent NZ King Salmon Supreme Court decision.
For further information on likely future reforms in this practice area, please contact one of ChanceryGreen’s Senior Team.
 Dr Smith’s resignation followed his role intervening in a private Accident Compensation Corporation matter as the (then) relevant Minister.
 Speech to the Property Council on 15 October.
 The Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act 2013, and subordinate legislation.
 Resource Management Amendment Act 2013.
 Part 6 RMA.
 Section 36AA RMA.
 Pursuant to the MfE’s National Monitoring System, formerly the RMA Survey of Local Authorities.
 Environmental Defence Society Inc v The New Zealand King Salmon Co Ltd  NZSC 38.