30 Jun 2021

Resource Management Act replacement could be a 'catastrophic disaster' - planning expert

10:20 am on 30 June 2021

A planning expert says the proposed replacement for the Resource Management Act is too complex and risks being a catastrophic disaster.

RMA folio

The proposal to replace the RMA contains a new set of overly complex and centralised rules and procedures, Massey University's Caroline Miller says. Photo: Bill McKay

The decades-old rules covering use of land, water and natural resources has been overhauled multiple times but now it is being dumped and redone.

Yesterday the government released the first draft of the Natural and Built Environments Act showing the direction it intends to go in.

Environment Minister David Parker said the current Resource Management Act (RMA) is not working for anyone and proposed legislation to replace it is a once-in-a generation chance to fix.

The new version intends to strengthen environmental protection and obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi.

Each region will establish a committee, comprising local and central government representatives, along with mana whenua - to develop a plan.

The idea is to consolidate about 100 RMA plans and policy statements down to about 14 - but details of the committees will work is still forthcoming.

The government said the new system will be less complex and more efficient - but Massey University Associate Professor of Planning Caroline Miller rejects that.

She said the proposal contains a massive new set of overly complex and centralised rules and procedures - and is too much change in one go.

"I think the worst-case scenario is it's complete and utter disaster.

"I'm not trying to be ageist but they'll take on a lot of bright new young things who have no idea - and they will be shoved in at the deep end."

Miller said the whole process could easily come grinding to a halt.

"I think there's a potential for a huge, real catastrophic breakdown.

"If just a few things go wrong, and there would be lots of things you might pick could go wrong."

Local Government NZ president Stuart Crosby said he fears the proposal risks swapping one overly complex set of rules for another.

"There's a huge risk here of over-regulation, too many rules and not allowing local communities to actually manage their own space."

Federated Farmers national vice president Karen Williams is deeply concerned the regional planning proposal strips power from locals and into the hands of unelected committees.

"We've gone from me appearing in front of my regional council or my district council, and having that representation of the community at the table - that were elected - down to a much more narrow and appointed focus."

The national planning framework will include mandatory environmental limits and targets to protect ecological integrity and human health. These will include limits relating to freshwater, coastal waters, estuaries, air, soil, and biodiversity.

But Forest and Bird's Rick Zwann said the proposal locks in the current degraded state of the environment, and the limits will not help to wind any of this back.

The proposal still pits economic interests against the environment, he said.

"We'd like to see a really clear hierarchy that puts nature first and foremost.

"We've had so much environmental degradation we really need to put environmental protection at the forefront while still allowing for development in a way that doesn't wreck the environment."

There will be an extra public select committee period than is usual - starting next month - with feedback from this to to go back to Parliament next year for the usual select committee process.

Detail about issues like consents for building and development, zoning and resource allocation that form part of the three pieces of legislation replacing the RMA are still to come.

The reform will link up with other large government work programmes such as on three waters, freshwater allocation, Māori rights and interests, climate change, biodiversity, housing and social infrastructure, and the future of local government.

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