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Resource management system review

Published: 21st August 2019

Author: Neil Dent, Gifford Devine

Published in: Rural e Speaking

Complex task ahead
In contrast to the review of the NAIT system that we discuss on the previous article, it will be challenging for the government to get a consensus on the recently announced review of the resource management system. The four leading political parties have differing views on how to manage resource management issues. In particular, the Coalition government has three partners – all of which have somewhat contrasting policy positions.

The review will be undertaken by a resource management review panel made up of people with skills in relevant areas. The panel is chaired by Tony Randerson QC, a retired Judge of the Court of Appeal. Additional members will be appointed in the coming months.

Review structure
The review is divided into two parts:

  1. A set of amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is proposed. These will, largely, reverse changes made by the previous National government in the Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017.
  2. The second part is a wide-ranging review which is, according to the Cabinet paper released by the Minister:

“a review of the resource management system, building on current work across urban development, climate change, and fresh water as well as inputs from the Productivity Commission, Local Government New Zealand, and the Environmental Defence Society, New Zealand Law Foundation, Property Council New Zealand, Infrastructure New Zealand, The Employers and Manufacturers Association, and Watercare.”

Paragraph 2 of the executive summary of the Minister’s Cabinet paper stated that, “The current resource management and planning system is underperforming in its management of key environmental issues such as fresh water quality, climate change adaptation, and meeting people’s needs for affordable housing and thriving urban communities”.

Three key issues
There are three key issues in that statement, all of which have an impact on the rural sector:

  • “Affordable housing and thriving urban communities”. There is already tension in many areas of New Zealand between the need for land for housing and the current use of that land, particularly for horticultural purposes. Obvious examples are the market gardening areas on the outskirts of Auckland, particularly around the Pukekohe area, and in Hawke’s Bay where Hastings is situated on some of the most productive fruit growing land in the country. The productive land is used to feed us, to provide export receipts and to support the jobs and infrastructure that go with that
  • Fresh water quality”. This is an issue that was a focus at the last election and is one area where political consensus may be easier to achieve than in others. The proposed amendments to the Act, for example, increase the maximum infringement fee for stock exclusion offences, together with an increase in the time period for councils to collect and prepare evidence before filing charges for prosecutions. Currently there is a six month time period within which a council must file a charge after an alleged offence becomes known; the proposal is to increase that to 12 months, and
  • The third issue mentioned in the summary is “climate change adaptation”. Currently the RMA does not directly manage the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Part of the review will reconsider the role of the RMA in relation to climate change with the intention of elevating the importance of climate change within the RMA framework.

Clearly from the above there are likely to be significant issues facing the rural sector; input from the various advocacy groups and stakeholders in the rural community will be important.

Also to be considered
Other areas that might be included in the amending bill are:

  • Whether to amend the RMA to enable the regulation of “high risk land use activities” to achieve water quality outcomes. What those activities might be are not clear but one would think that intensive farming, such as feedlots, could fit into this category.
  • A proposal that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could take direct enforcement action. Currently the RMA is enforced by local authorities, the Department of Conservation and Maritime New Zealand. These agencies have specific power under the legislation to, for example, enter onto private property to collect evidence.  

    The proposal is to establish a division of the EPA to take direct enforcement action – in the same manner as councils. This proposal has come about as enforcement is currently carried out across New Zealand in variable ways by the different bodies that currently hold that responsibility.

As you can see, the review will be wide-ranging and will have significant effects on the rural sector. With the review to be reported back in May 2020, no legislation is likely to be introduced during the current parliamentary term. Therefore, even if the current government can reach a consensus, it will be for the next government to pass any legislation.

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