15 Nov 2022

RMA replacements find few fans on cross-benches

9:57 pm on 15 November 2022
National Party leader Christopher Luxon

National's leader Christopher Luxon says the party's still examining what's proposed but already has major concerns. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Labour's proposed new resource management system appears just as unpopular with other political parties as the law it would replace.

Environment Minister David Parker this afternoon introduced to Parliament two of the three pieces of legislation which would replace the Resource Management Act (RMA) - touting the estimated benefits of faster, cheaper consenting.

The new system would see 20 national planning documents unified into a single National Planning Framework, while regionally specific rules would be set down in plans made by Regional Planning Committees of local, central and Māori appointees.

It was the result of a select committee inquiry into an initial 'exposure draft' launched by Parker in the middle of last year, itself the result of the Randerson review which reported back nearly a year earlier.

That review said what was already well known to developers, councils and both the major political parties - the Resource Management Act's processes had become too costly and slow, while falling short on environmental protections.

National twice tried to replace the Resource Management Act when it was last in government but was unable to secure enough support for the scale of changes wanted after United Future and the Māori Party refused to allow giving the minister powers to override local council decisions.

Party leader Christopher Luxon this afternoon said they were still digesting Labour's more than 800-page proposal, but had already identified three big problems.

"The first is around ... adding another layer of bureaucracy; the second piece is really around rising levels of uncertainty and complexity that I think will lead to more interpretation from bureaucrats and also courts; the final thing is it's taking 10 years to get implemented and that's just way too long," he said.

"There's elements that will be positive I'm sure and that we'll agree with and like - I think some of the things I initially saw around fast-tracking, and embedding that's a good thing - but at this point we want to digest it further."

"It's gonna cause huge amounts of debate and discussion for the next three years and nothing fundamentally will change. We don't have time for that - we're in a turnaround mode for this country and we need to get things done."

In particular, they did not support the idea of the committees - something National's Housing and Infrastructure spokesperson Chris Bishop expounded on.

"These committees will spend probably the first three or four years of their existence arguing amongst themselves about who will actually be on the committee so you're going to have all of these city councils and district councils feeding into the committee that sits above them," Bishop said.

Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"They're gonna argue amongst themselves about who will be on it - there's no maximum size, there's a minimum size - then they'll have mana whenua arguing about who will be on the committee as well.

"The actual establishment of these committees will be extremely time consuming, energy-sapping for local government, and of course that's all time that local governments won't spend on consenting and on actually establishing an environment that allows infrastructure and housing to be built."

He said no-one objected to the idea of long-term regional planning, but there were already bodies set up which could do that job.

"We have regional councils already - there are 16 regional councils in New Zealand - what the government is doing is creating an entire new layer of bureaucracy over and above the existing regional councils."

"We are deeply sceptical it will reduce compliance costs, reduce bureaucracy and make it easier to get infrastructure and houses built."

Bishop promised the party would put forward alternative proposals over the next year.

ACT leader David Seymour was similarly sceptical, saying what was proposed would only make things slower and more complex.

"As with polytechs, as with three waters, as with healthcare - Labour thinks that centralisation is reform even though they're just doing the same thing with a different group of organisations," he said.

ACT party leader David Seymour

ACT leader David Seymour Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"All they've done is introduced 15 new centralised entities with an even more complex set of rules to apply. There are 16 different goals to be traded off when these new entities decide what you can do on your property - that's not going to make it easier to build homes or to build infrastructure."

He said instead it should be property owners deciding what to do with their property.

"What they should do is say 'you have the right to develop your property so long as you're not harming others' enjoyment of their property or commonly owned natural environmental resources such as rivers and lakes.

"People who invest in property know what they need to get out of it and people who are protecting their property know when others are doing harm to it. That's a principle that works - central planning fails."

The Green Party was more concerned at what it saw as a lack of environmental protection measures in the bills intended to protect the environment.

Co-leader Marama Davidson said it should have been an opportunity to focus on protecting the taiao.

"It seems that there has been a little bit of buying into trading off between good development and protecting our spaces and that's what we're still concerned about," she said.

Marama Davidson

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"We actually can have good builds, good developments and protect our waterways, our soil, our fertile growing spaces - and these are the concerns that we've still got for the current RMA bill."

The party's environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage said the bill needed more of a focus on nature and climate.

"We need to have good infrastructure, liveable cities, good public transport, renewable energy - but nature and climate need to be part of the planning system.

"I think there are a number of examples where nature loses out in the benefit of speed for new infrastructure ... requiring only significant indigenous vegetation to be protected."

She said more than two thirds of submissions during the select committee's inquiry into an exposure draft of the bill launched last June had focused on protection of urban trees, so it was disappointing to see that barely featured in the bill.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said there were some good parts to the proposal but the government had missed yet another chance to do more on indigenous rights.

"I think that's the tune that's been sung from this government the whole way through, is that there are real opportunities for change for tangata whenua but they sort of fall shy of the full mark."

Te Pati Maori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The Natural and Built Environments and Spatial Planning bills are expected to be passed before the election next year with the third piece of the puzzle - the Climate Adaptation bill - expected to be introduced next year and passed in 2024.

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