What can we expect in relation to resource management matters in 2018?

We see five themes for resource management matters in 2018:

  1. By the end of the year we will have a better indication of the extent of any changes the new Government will seek to make to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA);
  2. Some continuing implementation of changes to the resource management and planning system made, or proposed, under the previous Government;
  3. Proposals for new or amended RMA instruments providing national direction;
  4. The formation of an Housing Commission and, possibly, further discussion on allowing other forms of urban development authorities;
  5. A range of institutional changes affecting wider environmental matters.

By the end of the year we will have a better indication of the extent of any changes the new Government will seek to make to the RMA

Over the next few months we can expect a developing dialogue to take place between those who are advocating for wide-ranging changes to the current resource management and planning system and a new Government which has indicated that it will retain the RMA, but is open to convening a panel of experts to determine whether the RMA remains fit for purpose.

In its briefing to the incoming Minister (BIM) for the Environment, the Ministry for the Environment has advised that the current resource management system is ‘under-performing’.   Matters which the Ministry describes that system as not coping with include:

  • fast population growth in urban areas;
  • pollution created by run-off from land;
  • the cumulative effects of past and present land use activities; and
  • the efficient and effective allocation of freshwater and other resources

Further, the new Government has said that it will consider reversing at least some of the changes to the RMA made under the National Government – particularly those restricting the notification of resource consent applications.

The Government has also indicated that water reform is a priority.  Even so, there are several existing processes it will need to navigate while developing those proposals.

One concerns its response to the Havelock North Inquiry report which pushes for significant reforms, including of the RMA, to ensure drinking water standards are set and met.

The other concerns Māori interests in water.  A Treaty claim (Wai 2358) was made about the Crown’s resource management reforms, which the claimants say were happening without a plan to recognise and provide for Māori rights and interests in water.  A priority hearing on whether the Crown’s freshwater reform package (including completed and proposed reforms, and reform options) is consistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi was paused in October 2017 to enable the Crown’s lawyers to get new instructions from the Government.  Given some elements of water reform options of the new Government could be similar to those of the previous Government it is likely that some aspects of this hearing will continue in the new year and the findings could impact on the Government’s proposals.

Continuing implementation of changes to the resource management and planning system made, or proposed, under the previous Government

Meanwhile the implementation of changes to the resource management and planning system made, or proposed, under the previous Government appears to be continuing – at least for now:

  • Changes to the RMA made by the previous government required the creation of National Planning Standards (previously known as template plans) to increase consistency in RMA plans and policy statements across the country. The Minister for the Environment must approve the first set of National Planning Standards by 18 April 2019.  These proposed National Planning Standards are likely to be notified for public submissions in April 2018.
  • Next year the Minister for the Environment will also need to respond to applications by local authorities who wish to use the streamlined planning processes introduced by the previous Government.  The first of these was approved by the previous Minister, Nick Smith, for a housing development at Tauriko West in August this year.
  • The Land Domain Report being prepared under the Environmental Reporting Act 2015 is also likely to be released in April 2018, disclosing information about the state of land in New Zealand including the impacts of pressures on ecological integrity, public health and the economy.

Proposals for new or amended RMA instruments providing national direction

We can expect to see some proposals for new or amended RMA instruments providing national direction being made by the new Government including, potentially:

  • work to complete the National Policy Statement on indigenous biodiversity on private land following feedback from the stakeholder-led Biodiversity Collaborative Group in September 2018;
  • new proposed National Policy Statements for freshwater management and (to a lesser degree of likelihood) onshore oil and gas exploration; and
  • proposed amendments to the Air Quality National Environmental Standard to reflect new evidence about harmful pollutants.

The formation of a Housing Commission and, possibly, further discussion on allowing other forms of urban development authorities

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s BIM proposes the creation of urban development authorities with powers to enable development and land assembly and co-ordinating functions – to enable large-scale developments to occur in growing centres.

The Labour Party campaigned on a different kind of urban development authority – an affordable housing authority aimed primarily at providing affordable housing, but with access to development and compulsory acquisition powers.

A lot of work is being undertaken on what this may look like.  One of the many issues tied to this concept is how funding will attach to statutory powers once a clear urban development model is identified.  There is appetite in some councils and ministries for the funding to come from individual landowners who benefit from public works done in their vicinity – a funding mechanism known as “value capture” or “betterment levies” (commonly used in relation to transport investments in cities).  The Government will need to balance this fundraising effort with the expectation of voters to benefit from the capital gains in holding land in centres.

There are likely to be a range of institutional changes which affect wider environmental matters

The new Government has said that it will strengthen the Environmental Protection Authority and give it a clear purpose to protect the environment and a greater role in relation to call-in/Board of Inquiry processes.

Legislation to do this could be introduced in 2018, but the Government may instead concentrate on implementing other institutional changes which affect wider environmental matters.  These include splitting the Ministry for Primary Industries into three, the establishment of a new Climate Change Commission (a cross-agency climate change board of public sector CEOs) through its Zero Carbon Bill, as well as establishing a New Zealand Forestry Service.

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