September 2013 Māori Law Review

Proposed 2013 reform of the Resource Management Act 1991

Jacinta Ruru discusses the proposed reform of the Resource Management Act 1991 announced by the Environment Minister Amy Adams on 10 August 2013.

Download the Resource Management Summary of Reform Proposals 2013 here (1.5MB PDF).

Overview

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is New Zealand’s primary planning statute that relates to the use of land, air and water.

The National-led Government has been steadily working towards implementing major reform of the RMA (http://www.mfe.govt.nz/rma/reform/phase-two/index.html).  For example, there was the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009 and there is the Resource Management Reform Bill 2012 that was introduced into the House of Representatives in December last year.  But it is the latest reform package, announced on 10 August 2013, which will be specifically of interest to Māori primarily because the package aspires to create new requirements to better engage with local iwi in making planning decisions.

Discussion – next phase of RMA reform announced

On 10 August 2013 the Minister for the Environment, Hon. Amy Adams, unveiled the next phrase of the Government’s plans to revamp the resource management system.  The RMA is now 22 years old and according to the Minister it is “not serving us well”.  In a speech made on the same day as this announcement, she explained that one of the symptoms of the problems with the RMA is our “incredibly complex” planning system.  Minister Adams explained:

It might interest you to know that for our 4.5 million people we have more than 170 different planning documents across 78 councils that are often duplicative or inconsistent.  Compare that with Scotland which has 5.3 million people but just 37 equivalent planning documents.

The Minister has thus called for a “tune up” of the RMA.  The main changes proposed for the RMA as stated in the Minster’s press release include:

  • A requirement for councils to work together to develop a single plan, covering all the rules in their area;
  • A new national planning template that sets out the structure and key content all councils must follow in the development of their resource management plans;
  • New fast-track consenting rules and processes to improve timeframes for simpler consents;
  • Enhanced provision for natural hazard management, learning the lessons from Canterbury;
  • Requirements to better engage with local iwi in making planning decisions;
  • Requirements for councils to provide a minimum of 10-years of urban land supply to cope with projected population growth;
  • Revision and consolidation of the current sections 6 and 7 of the RMA into a single list of matters of national importance;
  • Establishing a clearer performance-monitoring framework for councils, making them more accountable on how they are meeting environmental, cultural, social and economic needs.

According to the Minister, “Taken together, the changes will streamline and improve decision-making at every level.”

The proposed RMA changes are explained in more detail in the document released on the same day on the Ministry for the Environment’s website entitled Resource Management Summary of Reform Proposals 2013 (1.5MB PDF).  This 30-page document is divided into six parts:

  • Improving resource management planning;
  • National consistency and guidance;
  • Efficient and effective resource consents;
  • Council performance;
  • Freshwater reforms; and
  • Other matters.

The opening chapter in this document acknowledges (at pp 5-6):

There are many examples of iwi participating successfully in resource management processes. However, engagement is inconsistent across the country and in many areas Māori values are not always effectively recognised in resource management processes, or the decisions that come out of those processes.  In a number of areas there appears to have been differing expectations about the role of iwi in these processes and this has lead to uncertainty, costs, and delays while matters are debated in the Courts.

This document goes on to recognise explicitly the need for the RMA to be reformed to “provide greater certainty” and “achieve greater clarity” on the role of iwi and hapū in local government resource management planning (at p 8).  The document states that reforms will centre on requiring councils to seek and have particular regard to the advice of iwi and hapū on draft plans, and requiring councils to include members on hearing and review panels with understanding of local tikanga.  The document articulates that: “The changes aim to incentivise effective working relationships between iwi/hapū and councils” (at p 8).

The proposal to merge the existing sections 6 and 7 of the RMA into a new section 6 is probably the reform proposed that has attained the greatest profile in the media to date.  The document offers reassurance that the Māori specific subsections within the existing sections 6 and 7 will remain in the new section.

This document also outlines that the RMA will be reformed to “protect the value of water to the New Zealand economy and lifestyle, while managing it within environmental limits” (at p 28).  Of course, earlier this year the Supreme Court took account of evidence from the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledging Māori have rights and interests in water and that the Crown is working with Māori through different forum to identify these rights (New Zealand Māori Council v Attorney-General [2013] NZSC 6).  One avenue noted by the Supreme Court was that “iwi will be involved in the second stage of reviewing the Resource Management Act” (New Zealand Māori Council v Attorney-General [2013] NZSC 6 at [144]).  This document stresses that “Iwi/Māori views will need to be explicitly considered before decisions on fresh water are made” (p 28).

The precise details of what is finally proposed will be revealed when the Government introduces the Resource Management Reform Bill 2013 into the House later this year.