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Resource Management Act replacement to put numerical limits on pollution levels, while focussing on ensuring houses and infrastructure are built

By Jenée Tibshraeny


The Government has published the first draft for the first of three proposed new laws that will replace the Resource Management Act (RMA).

The “exposure draft”, released for consultation, outlines the key aspects of the Natural and Built Environments Bill, which will be the primary replacement for the RMA.

The legislation will set environmental limits, all the while outlining desired environmental, cultural and building outcomes.

This is different to the RMA, which mostly focuses on managing the effects of activities on the environment.

The draft suggests environmental limits could have numbers put on them. For example, stipulate what the maximum concentration of nitrogen in a lake can be, or define the maximum amount of nitrogen that can be discharged into a lake.

Limits could also be qualitative if it's difficult to quantify or measure a limit.

These limits will be put in regional National Planning Framework plans.

The plan is to consolidate over 100 RMA policy statements and regional and district plans into about 14 plans.

The plans will also specify environmental, cultural and developmental “outcomes” that need to be achieved.

These will include the likes of well-functioning urban areas, infrastructure services including renewable energy, housing supply and affordability, protected customary rights, and development in rural areas enabling economic activity.

The Natural and Built Environments Bill also incorporates Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Te Ao Māori.

Decision-makers will be required to "give effect to" the principles of Te Tiriti, replacing the current RMA requirement to "take into account" those principles.

Environment Minister David Parker described the repeal and replacement of the RMA as a “once in a generation" undertaking.

“We are creating a system that will be less complex, take less time to administer and be less costly,” he said.

“While not the sole cause of the housing crisis, planning rules are partly to blame.

“Simplifying processes will also add to system efficiency.”

A long process ahead

The Natural and Built Environments Act will sit alongside two other new pieces of legislation that need to be drafted - the Strategic Planning Act and the Climate Adaptation Act.

The former will help coordinate and integrate decisions made under relevant legislation, through requiring the development of long-term regional spatial strategies.

The latter will address complex issues (including compensation) around managed retreat from areas at risk of the effects of climate change.

The plan is for the Natural and Built Environments Bill and Strategic Planning Bill to be introduced to Parliament in early 2022 and be passed before this parliamentary term ends in 2023.

The Climate Adaptation Bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament in early 2023.

The Natural and Built Environments Bill will go through two select committee processes, rather than one, providing additional opportunity for the public to provide feedback and for tweaks to be made.

Here’s a snippet from a government explainer on the draft Natural and Built Environments Bill:

30 As the primary replacement for the RMA, the NBA [Natural and Built Environments Act] will address the most significant weaknesses in the current RM system. Like the RMA, the NBA will be an integrated statute for environmental protection and land use. The NBA will work in tandem with the proposed Strategic Planning Act (SPA).

31 The Panel considered a split approach, with one statute governing environmental protection and outcomes, the other for planning, land use and development – but this was not favoured by the Panel. Although the RMA has not brought desired outcomes, an integrated approach is not the problem, and the case for integration remains strong.

Strengthening limits for the natural environment

32 A major criticism of the RMA is that it has not adequately protected the natural environment. One reason is that national and local RM policy and plans have not always set controls that are strong and comprehensive enough, such as environmental bottom lines.

33 The NBA will include a mandatory requirement for the Minister for the Environment to set environmental limits for aspects of the natural environment, to protect its ecological integrity and human health. These limits will be framed as a minimum acceptable state of an aspect of the environment, or a maximum amount of harm that can be caused to that state. Timing and transitional arrangements will be taken into account in setting limits.

Achieving positive outcomes

34 Another criticism of the RMA is that it focuses too much on managing adverse effects on the environment, and not enough on promoting positive outcomes across all aspects of well-being. The NBA will specify a range of outcomes that decision-makers will be required to promote for natural and built environments.

35 Outcomes specified in the exposure draft include environmental protection, iwi and hapū interests, cultural heritage, protection of customary rights, housing, rural development, infrastructure provision, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

36 Outcomes will also guide regional spatial strategies under the SPA, as described below.

Managing environmental effects

37 The NBA will carry over the RMA’s requirement to ‘avoid, remedy, or mitigate’ adverse effects of activities on the environment. This will ensure a management framework exists for all adverse effects, including those not covered by limits or outcomes.

38 The NBA will also ensure that measures to avoid, remedy or mitigate effects do not place unreasonable costs on development and resource use. Although the NBA will intentionally curtail subjective amenity values, this will not be at the expense of quality urban design, including appropriate urban tree cover.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi and te ao Māori in the system

39 The NBA intends to improve recognition of te ao Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

40 To better recognise te ao Māori, Te Oranga o te Taiao will be included in the Act’s purpose. This concept is intended to encapsulate the intergenerational importance of the health and well-being of the natural environment. See paragraph 95 below for what Te Oranga o Te Taiao incorporates.

41 Decision-makers would be required to ‘give effect to’ the principles of Te Tiriti, replacing the current RMA requirement to ‘take into account’ those principles.

Providing clear national direction

42 Under the NBA, the new National Planning Framework (NPF) will provide strategic and regulatory direction from central government on implementing the new system. This will be much more comprehensive and integrated than the RMA required.

43 The NPF will play a critical strategic role, setting limits and outcomes for natural and built environments, and ways to enhance the well-being of present and future generations. Where possible, the NPF will resolve conflicts, or give direction on resolving conflicts across the system.

Consolidating plans

44 The exposure draft has adopted the Panel’s proposal to develop one NBA plan per region, prepared by a plan committee comprising representatives from local government (regional and territorial), central government (Minister of Conservation), and mana whenua. The Government is still considering the best approach to NBA plan preparation and decision-making, and feedback received from the select committee inquiry will provide valuable input into this.

45 The intention is to consolidate over 100 RMA policy statements and regional and district plans into about 14 plans, simplifying and improving integration of the system.

Improving provision of housing and infrastructure

46 It is important that the reformed RM system supports environments where people can choose to live close to employment, education, health and recreation, and the opportunities they provide. This will allow communities to develop in ways that support the prosperity and well-being of their people, enable social and cultural connections, and minimise environmental impact.

47 Through a more constructive and coherent influence on regional spatial strategies and NBA plans, the NPF will improve certainty for developers, local government, infrastructure providers and the community. It will provide strategic and regulatory direction and guidance (eg on infrastructure or zoning rules), increasing the consistency of plans.

48 Infrastructure is recognised in the purpose and related provisions of the exposure draft, as a mandatory topic in the NPF, and for consideration in NBA plans. The integration of decisions on land use planning with the delivery of infrastructure and its funding is a key reason for the SPA as described below. Policy work will continue while the select committee is conducting its inquiry.

This story was originally published on and has been republished here with permission.