15 Nov 2022

Government brings Resource Management Act replacements to Parliament

1:00 pm on 15 November 2022
Labour MP David Parker

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The long-awaited replacement for the Resource Management Act has been brought to Parliament, with the government promising massive cost-cutting for housing, farmers and councils.

Environment Minister David Parker, announcing the introduction of the Natural and Built Environments and Spatial Planning Bills to Parliament this afternoon, said savings of about $10 billion over 30 years were estimated.

The savings for housing affordability alone - from things like freed up land for building and faster and cheaper consenting - were estimated at $146m a year - and costs to applicants were expected to fall by 19 percent a year, or $149m.

"Developers, infrastructure providers and businesses will see the largest costs savings as consent volumes and costs decrease, savings hundreds of millions of dollars a year," he said.

"The new resource management system will deliver economic and environmental benefits. For every $1 spent the new system is expected to deliver $2.58 to $4.90 in benefits."

The new system would be rolled out to three regions once the legislation is passed next year, before expanding to the other 12. It was not clear which regions would be the testing ground.

Parts of the legislation were assessed by a Select Committee inquiry of an exposure draft launched last June, with Parker saying at the time it was a novel way to give the public an early say and help get it right.

How it would work

Councils would continue to process and approve most resource consents, although new standards would provide "off-the-shelf" planning for project types that often require consents, with bespoke specifications built in.

Some consents - for instance, those of national significance, those more likely to be appealed, or those with strong community benefits - could however be handled through other pathways like a board of inquiry.

Separately, a fast-tracking system similar to the one used during the pandemic - which the government said had reduced consenting time by 15 months for significant infrastructure projects - would remain in place.

The new system would introduce a new National Planning Framework - replacing the more than 20 National Policy Statements, Environmental Standards, and National Planning Standards - to provide a single direction for urban development, freshwater management and highly productive land policy for the whole country.

The government will set out 15 Regional Planning Committees - with at least six members, coming from councils, central government and at least two members appointed by local Māori - who would be responsible for setting strategy and plans.

Each committee would write a Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) detailed in the Spatial Planning Act, setting expectations of how each region is expected to develop over time - looking 30 years ahead and reviewed every nine years.

These will be followed by Natural and Built Environment (NBE) Plans, setting out specific land use and resource allocation rules for each region. These plans are expected to allow more activities than the current rules allow, reducing the need for some consents.

NBEs would be subject to public consultation, reviewed by an independent panel and would require engagement with mana whenua.

Parker said these would allow some of the planning and consenting process to be front-ended, allowing the committees to set out where certain infrastructure or building was required, making it clearer what kinds of building would be allowed in which areas.

"There'll be a lot less complexity over time, they won't need to set out specific conditions about what they're going to do with sediment and subdivision, there'll be standards. So things will be streamlined, therefore faster and cheaper."

The 15 NBE and 15 RSS plans will replace the more than 100 district and regional plans required by the current system.

Councils would also set their own long-term aspirations and vision through "outcome statements".

Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson said while some positive effects would be seen from 2023, the system was not expected to be fully implemented for about 10 years. He said such a significant change would take time to get right.

Decision-makers would be required to give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. An independent National Māori Entity would monitor Te Tiriti performance within the system and give input on the National Planning Framework.

Associate Environment Minister Kiritapu Allan said Treaty settlement processes were being migrated into the legislation.

Parker had previously said the laws would not include co-governance and Allan today said it "certainly isn't" that.

"Because there has been such heightened engagement over many years, several decades now, Māori operating locally through their Treaty settlement arrangements. They're bespoke, so ensuring that there is consistency carried through to that regional planning level," she said.

"It was really ensuring that we pick up those couple of decades of jurisprudence and embed them into the new system."

Parker said the government had also rejected calls from Māori groups and the Waitangi Tribunal for 50-50 co-governance of the regional planning committees.

A third related piece of legislation - the Climate Adaptation Act, setting out things like how managed retreat from coastlines would work and who would pay for that - is set to be introduced next year, expected to be passed in 2024.

NPFs would also be required to align with Emissions Reductions and National Adaptation plans.

The three bills are set to replace the 30-year-old Resource Management Act (RMA), which has over time become unwieldy.

Parker said there had been 23 main amendments and over 1000 tweaks to the RMA, and the costs of consents had increased dramatically over the years.

"The current system is broken. It takes too long, costs too much and has not adequately provided for development nor protected the environment," he said.

"There is clear evidence resource consenting has become more costly, with council fees for notified consents more than doubling between 2015 and 2019. Costs for mid-sized infrastructure projects are up 70 percent in the same period."