Cross party consensus to rewrite the Resource Management Act
By Richard Harman (author)
Politicians from across Parliament last night embraced a series of proposals to basically start again and rewrite the Resource Management Act.
The proposals are contained in a 300 plus page report drawn up under the leadership of the Environmental Defence Society.in conjunction with three business groups; the Auckland Employers and Manufacturers Association, Infrastructure New Zealand and the Property Council.
Simply, the report offers three scenarios which range from keeping the Resource Management Act more or less as it is but imposing a Spatial Planning Act above it through to splitting it into two or three Acts covering environmental protection, urban planning and resource allocation.
The EDS will now work on producing a preferred option.
But it will do against a background of a consensus among politicians that the Act needs substantial reform. The proposals were launched in Wellington last night before an audience which included the architect of the original act, Sir Geoffrey Palmer; the Environment Minister who presided over its introduction, Simon Upton ; National's environment spokesperson, Scott Simpson; Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage; Principle Environment Court Judge, Laurie Newhook and Environment Minister, David Parker.
Speakers complained about its complexity; it started as 400 pages long and was now 800.
Environment Minister David Parker told the launch that the time was ripe for RMA reform.
He said that many environmental measures – particularly water quality – had got worse since the original RMA was passed in 1991.
But he warned that any reform would be difficult and he cautioned about moving too fast.
“All of this complex,” he said.
“We have deliberately taken a staged approach.
“The Ministry (for the Environment) actually wanted to charge into this straight away after the last election.
“I stopped them from doing.
“I prioritised us dealing with water and climate issues and the urban development and planning issues.”
The Ministry may have been keen to charge ahead because under the previous National Government it had done some work on splitting the RMA into an environmental act and an urban planning act. This would also have involved some rationalisation of the RMA, the Local Government Act and the Land Transport Act.
Similar proposals came from the Productivity Commission’s 2016 report into Urban Planning.
Though Parker stopped the Ministry from going ahead, the fundamental thinking about splitting the RMA has re-emerged in two of the EDS proposals.
Under “Model Two” the RMA would be split into a Planning Act and an Environment Act. The infrastructure planning and funding components of the Local Government Act and Land Transport Management Act would be incorporated in the Planning Act. So too would proposed Housing and Urban Development Authority legislation. There would be a separate Allocation Act, which would deal with the current resource allocation functions of the RMA, Crown Minerals Act 1991, and Fisheries Act 1996.
Under “Model Three” the RMA would be split into an Environmental Protection Act and a Resource Stewardship Act. The Environmental Protection Act would be concerned with imposing strict bottom lines under a protective purpose, and the Resource Stewardship Act would be about facilitating trade-offs and pursuing synergies in resource use above bottom lines. The Local Government Act and the Land Transport Management Act would remain and perform the same functions as they do now. But there also would be an additional overarching act above these four core statutes: the Environmental Strategy Act. That would provide common principles that would have to be given effect to in all other resource management legislation.
A third option --- “Model One” would not split the RMA but instead would see the introduction of an additional layer of strategic legislation, in the form of a Spatial Planning Act. This would mandate the creation of spatial plans, with the intention of them guiding integrated decision-making under the RMA, Local Government Act, Land Transport Management Act, and the spatial components of other statutes.
As Parker said, this is complex.
But EDS Executive Director, Gary Taylor, said that as thee next phase of the study got underway, it would be possible to regard the three models as leggo which could have bits taken off them and added to another model.
Parker says he has an open mind about reform.
“I’m willing to look at anything,” he told POLITIK.
"I'm ready to look at all of the alternatives, but I'm not expressing a preference for any of them."
The RMA’s father, the former Labour Prime Minister and Environment Minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer told POLITIK that he favoured "Model One" option which would keep the RMA intact.
“That’s on the grounds of pragmatism really,” he said.
"But the wider vision has to be looked at, and there is a very great difficulty in this area with the clash of various statutes.
“We have this habit in New Zealand of passing statutes one at a time without any inter-relationship to them, and that is a very silly thing."
He was full of praise for the EDS study.
"It is very good work; it is high-quality analysis and certainly we are going to have to change things, and some of it has to be changed fast.“
Sir Geoffrey’s endorsement of any changes will be critical as National found when it went to change the RMA during his last term in office , proposing moves which Sir Geoffrey opposed, and which led him to persuade United Future MP Peter Dunne to oppose the legislation which meant National had to do a deal with the Maori Party to get it through Parliament.
National's Environment spokesman, Scott Simpson, however, was at the launch last night and he came away with a very positive view of the EDS proposals.
What EDS and their support partners have been able to do is bring together probably the most detailed analysis of what a future RMA structure might look like even if it is not called the RMA,” he told POLITIK.
“So it’s a very valuable piece of work.
“I think it would be madness not to give it due consideration and a lot of thought.”
But Simpson like Taylor and Parker warned that overall reform would be a long term project.
However what will help keep him and National on board will be the involvement of the three business groups.
“We decided early on that we didn’t want to just focus the work through an environmental lens; we wanted legislation that worked for our country, for New Zealand, and New Zealanders,” Taylor said.
“And so we recruited some business partners to give us their perspective, and so we recruited the Employers and Manufacturers Association, Infrastructure New Zealand and the Property Council.
“And they started the conversation with us and I was personally very pleased that they bought in very early on into the idea that we needed environmental bottom lines and that they needed to be crisp and they needed to be clear top resonate with New Zealanders.”
taylor is no doubt about the relevance and importance of what the EDS is doing.
“This goes to the heart of what it is to be a New Zealander.
“This is the legislation that shapes our country, our societies, our rural and urban sectors; what they look like; what they feel like.
"It is the making of our society, so we have to get it right."