The Resource Legislation Amendment Act – “Making New Zealand great again?”

The Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (RLAA) contains close to 40 amendments, leading to it being described as the most extensive reform in this area in nearly ten years.

Five different Acts have been amended – the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), the Conservation Act 1986, the Reserves Act 1977, the Public Works Act 1981 and the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2013. Consequential changes have also been made to other Acts.

The RLAA obtained Royal Assent on 18 April 2017. Some of the amendments took effect the following day, while other changes, including those relating to consent processes, come into force at a later day (many on 18 October 2017).

The amendments aim to provide stronger national direction, a more responsive planning process, a streamlined resource consent process and better alignment with other legislation.

Some of the significant changes include:

  • New national planning standards - New national planning standards intended to improve consistency and reduce the complexity of planning instruments have been introduced. The Ministry for the Environment has now released the draft standards with feedback due on 31 July 2017 (available at http://www.mfe.govt.nz/rma/legislative-tools/national-planning-standards);
  • Faster and more flexible plan making processes - The RLAA provides three different tracks by which a council can produce a plan: the existing Schedule 1 track, a new collaborative track, and a streamlined track;
  • Exemptions to consenting requirements - Exemptions to consenting requirements have been introduced. The RLAA includes a discretionary power for councils to treat an activity as permitted if there is only a “marginal or temporary” rule breach and requires councils to treat boundary activities as permitted if written approval is given by the relevant neighbour(s) and certain information is supplied to the council;
  • Faster consenting requirements - The RLAA introduces a new ten-day, fast-track for district land use activities with controlled activity status, if an electronic address for service has been provided;
  • The removal of the ability to appeal certain decisions - Parties’ ability to appeal decisions on the following types of activities to the Environment Court has been removed, except if those activities have non-complying activity status: boundary activities, subdivision consents and “residential activities” (per a new definition of that phrase in the Act);
  • Requirements regarding residential and business development capacity - All councils are required to establish, implement and review objectives, policy and methods to ensure that there is “sufficient residential and business development capacity” to meet expected short-, medium- and long-term demand;
  • New national regulations - A wider range of national regulations is enabled to address issues such as excluding stock from waterways and which preclude notification of consent applications for certain activities or limit who may be considered “affected” for the purposes of limited notification;
  • Hazard risk management - Requirements for local authorities to manage natural hazard risks have been strengthened, including making “the management of significant risks from natural hazards” a section 6 matter of national importance and requiring all risks from natural hazards to be considered in determining subdivision applications;
  • Notification of resource consent applications - Additional restrictions have been placed on what resource consent applications can be notified;
  • Iwi participation - There is enhanced opportunity for iwi input into the RMA plan-making process, including introducing a new process for establishing agreements between tangata whenua (through iwi authorities) and councils, called “Mana Whakahono a Rohe: Iwi participation arrangements”; and
  • Compensation for land acquisition - More generous compensation is provided for for land acquired under the Public Works Act.

Detailed summaries of these changes can be found on the MFE website.

These and other aspects of the reforms will be discussed in more depth at the upcoming ADLS webinar on this topic entitled “Recent Reforms: Making the Resource Management Act Great Again?”. The webinar will take place on Wednesday 5 July from 12.00 to 1.00pm and is being presented by Daniel Sadlier (Partner, Ellis Gould) and Simon Pilkinton (Senior Solicitor, Russell McVeagh). 

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