Government unveils its plan for RMA reform

  • Legal update

    25 March 2024

Government unveils its plan for RMA reform Desktop Image Government unveils its plan for RMA reform Mobile Image

Roadmap for the Government’s resource management reform programme

The Honourable Chris Bishop has unveiled the roadmap for the Resource Management Act (RMA) reform. This involves a new fast-track consenting regime; targeted changes to the RMA to reduce unnecessary regulation, and support housing development and renewable energy projects, review of national direction; and by mid next year the Government plans to introduce legislation to replace the RMA.

A new Resource Management Ministerial Group has been formed to drive this extensive work programme. In announcing this programme, the Minister described the focus of the reform agenda to address two issues: first, that it has become too hard and too expensive to get things done in New Zealand; and second, that we need to lift our economic growth rate.

We set out in more detail of what is to come below.

First bill to amend the RMA in May will focus on the NPS Freshwater, Marine farm consents, and Significant Natural Areas

The first bill to amend the RMA is to be introduced in May. This will be narrowly focused to clarify the hierarchy of obligations in the National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater Management to resource consent, extend the duration of marine farm consents, and cease the implementation of new Significant Natural Areas for three years to enable a review of their operation. Other targeted amendments may also be included.

Second bill to amend the RMA by the end of 2024 will focus on housing and renewable energy

The second bill will be more substantive and take more time to develop. It is intended to be introduced later this year.

In terms of housing, as previously indicated, it will make the Medium Density Residential Standards optional rather than near-mandatory, require councils to live zone for 30 years of growth (reflecting the Government’s support for intensification and greenfield expansion), and strengthen the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (including greater provision for mixed use zoning).

On renewable energy, the changes to the RMA and national direction are to support the Electrify New Zealand policy which seeks to double renewable energy.

Alongside these amendments will be a programme to review, amend or develop national direction, with some straightforward priority amendments to existing National Policy Statements to be included in the RMA amendment bill.

The wider programme to review national direction is to be a coordinated, single process, which may take 18 to 24 months to complete. The aim is to unlock development and investment in infrastructure, housing capacity, horticulture, aquaculture, forestry, and mining while achieving good environmental outcomes.

Replacement to the RMA

The potential change in policy direction for the new legislation, which is to be based on the enjoyment of property rights, was signalled by the Minister in his comments on why the RMA has failed and what this means for the replacement system.

The Minister’s key concerns with the RMA are: that the purpose statement puts the environment above development and other land use; its scope is too broad and councils are required to consider all conceivable effects of development; and it does not give councils the tools to manage environmental problems (particularly at a catchment level).

To help resolve these issues, the Minister outlined the following proposed guiding principles for the new legislation:

  • The purpose needs to be consistent with human welfare, which means equal protection for the right to access housing and other basic human needs alongside environmental protection – both are important.  
  • The system needs to be targeted, simpler, and clear on its role. 
  • Problems and solutions need to be well connected.
  • Planning instruments and consents are only part of the solution, and need to be focused on the problems that they are best placed to solve. 
  • Land use within environmental limits will be permitted.
  • Treaty of Waitangi settlements and other commitments will be upheld.

The Minister has indicated preference for the replacement RMA to clearly separate urban and spatial planning from environmental protection, possibly through separate legislation.

The first step in this workstream is for Cabinet to decide on and agree the core design principles, and then an Expert Ministerial Advisory Group, alongside the Ministry for the Environment and other agencies, are to work on the detail of the new regime.

An ambitious date of mid 2025 has been set for the new legislation to be introduced into parliament and to be passed into law by the end of 2025.

The full speech from the Minister can be read here.

Please reach out to one of our experts if you would like more information about the reform programme and how it might affect you.


This article was co-authored by Tim Fletcher, a Solicitor in our Environment team.