Environmental and planning changes – looking back on 2018 and forward to 2019

At the end of 2017 we set out the five themes we expected for resource management matters in 2018. Did what we expected to happen, happen? What do we expect for 2019?

A lot of what we predicted occurred, although not necessarily in the way we anticipated.

  • We predicted that by the end of 2018 we would have a better indication of the extent of any changes the then new Government would seek to make to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

In early November the Government announced proposed changes to the RMA  to alter the approach to public notification of resource consents, broaden enforcement tools and the Environment Court’s powers.

  • We noted that there would be ongoing implementation of changes to the resource management and planning system made, or proposed, under the previous Government.

The first set of National Planning Standards was notified for public submissions in June 2018. Approval by the Minister for the Environment is required by 18 April 2019.

In February this year, Minister Parker issued two notices directing the use of streamlined planning processes – one for the Iona rezoning variation to the Hastings District Plan and one for a change to the Bay of Plenty Regional Policy Statement to amend the urban limit line at Tauriko West. Both of those processes resulted in changes to the relevant RMA documents – rezoning of formerly rural land on the outskirts of Havelock North to facilitate nearly 400 new houses and the inclusion of the Tauriko West area within the urban limit line for the Bay of Plenty. However, there have been no directions to use the streamlined planning process issued since.

The Land Domain Report prepared under the Environmental Reporting Act was released in April. If found that “the state of our biodiversity and ecosystems and our soils resources is continuing to decline”. More positively, the Air Domain Report released in October found that air quality in New Zealand is generally good and the overall trend is getting slightly better, although with a downward trend for some pollutants such as sulphur dioxide from shipping being an emerging pollutant in cities with ports.

  • We anticipated some proposals for new or amended RMA instruments providing national direction

In relation to the proposal for a national policy statement for indigenous biodiversity, a stakeholder-led group the Biodiversity Collaborative Group delivered its report to Associate Minister Mahuta in October 2018, including a draft national policy statement and recommendations on additional measures to maintain indigenous biodiversity, such as funding for biodiversity actions on private land and better resourcing of compliance, monitoring and enforcement.

In October the Minister for the Environment and Minister for Agriculture released a freshwater work programme called Essential Freshwater: Healthy Water, Fairly Allocated which includes proposals to amend the National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater and introduce a Freshwater Management National Environmental Standard (NES).

  • We predicted the formation of a Housing Commission and, possibly, further discussion on allowing other forms of urban development authorities

On 24 November Hon Phil Twyford announced the Labour/New Zealand First Government’s intended approach to an urban development authority(UDA) – one UDA which will be a Crown agency and, in replacing Housing New Zealand as a public housing landlord, will have an ongoing role.

  • We expected a range of institutional changes

Rather than the Ministry of Primary Industries being split into three, changes were made to the organisational structure of the Ministry, including the establishment of Te Uru Rākau Forestry New Zealand as a focused business unit within the Ministry.

The results of public consultation on the Government’s proposed Zero Carbon Bill, which proposes the establishment of a Climate Change Commission were released in October. The vast majority (96%) of respondents supported the establishment of a Commission with an advisory role to Government.

Through the Budget, the Government introduced a new RMA Enforcement Oversight Unit (Unit) with the aim of improving the consistency, effectiveness and transparency of council enforcement decisions. This unit sits within the EPA, which has been identified as a potentially getting enforcement powers itself as part of the future RMA reforms. The relatively low level of funding earmarked for the Unit ($3 million over four years) suggests that its scope will be narrow.

What do we expect for 2019?

The themes we see ahead in 2019 are:

  1. Further public engagement in law changes
  2. Increased RMA enforcement
  3. Planning for and consenting infrastructure and housing

Public engagement in law changes

As we indicated in September, 2019 will be a year of changes in the environmental and planning space with the Government implementing the changes its developed since taking office. At least three major Bills and two national level RMA documents proposed to be introduced/notified next year.

The Stage 1 RMA amendments being debated

The Amendment Bill to introduce the Government’s Stage 1 RMA amendments is now likely to be introduced to Parliament in early 2019.

The beginning of a comprehensive review of the RMA

The changes to the RMA announced in early November have been identified as ‘Stage 1’.

Stage 2 will involve a comprehensive review of the resource management system, and is set to begin in 2019. The Government has shown interest in including climate change as part of this broader discussion. We suspect that this is likely to be late 2019 given the breadth of the discussion and the other environmental tasks the Government is considering.

Public consultation on a Freshwater NPA and Freshwater Management NES

Public consultation on an amended Freshwater NPS and new Freshwater Management NES will be held in early 2019.

Legislation for the establishment of the UDA

Officials are currently working on detailed policy proposals, including a transition plan to establish the proposed UDA.  Minister Twyford is due to report back in the New Year, providing Cabinet with those detailed proposals and seeking authority for legislation to establish and empower the UDA to be drafted.

Responding to climate change

The Government has a spectrum of policy options that it is promoting to respond to climate change. The most urgent is a Zero Carbon Bill which is due to be introduced into Parliament early next year. Although there will be cross party agreement about key principles, we expect debates on the detail. Connected to this, there will be changes to the emissions trading scheme, some of which are foreshadowed here . There will also be increases in costs for air discharges related to shipping and oil levies as well as regional fuel taxes and methods of recouping costs associated with providing urban development / public transport projects (e.g. for light rail in Auckland).

Increased RMA enforcement

Since it took office, the Government has signalled that it expects local authorities to be more proactive in cracking-down on environmental offending.

We are seeing greater use by local authorities of prosecutions and other RMA enforcement mechanisms (such as abatement notices and enforcement orders), and we expect this to continue in the coming year.

Planning for and consenting infrastructure and housing

Auckland is to receive a $28 billion boost over the next 10 years to overhaul its transport infrastructure as a result of the decision by the Government and Auckland Council to jointly fund the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP). As part of this, $1.8 billion of funding has been committed to develop rapid transit from the city to Auckland Airport and along the northwest corridor in the next 10 years.

The last Budget also allocated a further $369 million in capital expenditure and $234 million in operational expenditure to build more state and public housing. Crown Infrastructure Partners has been allocated $300 million over the next 10 years for investment in water and road infrastructure to support this increase in housing supply.

Next year will see a lot of the activity in planning for these projects and, for those that are further developed, applications for resource consents and notices of requirement.

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