New Zealand: The future of the Resource Management Act – is the current Resource Legislation Amendment Bill the final amendment?

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill (Amendment Bill) is currently progressing through Parliament.1 With the support of the Maori Party, it now looks more likely than ever that it will be given royal assent. Read our previous articles about the Amendment Bill for more information about what the reforms include.

While the Amendment Bill progresses through Parliament, the current Government is undertaking other pieces of significant work in relation to the New Zealand planning system which brings into question the fate of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). One of these work pieces is being undertaken by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in relation to urban development authorities; another work piece relates to the recently released report undertaken by the Productivity Commission on its inquiry into New Zealand's urban planning system.

This article provides an update in relation to both of these work pieces and questions what they might mean for the future of the RMA.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is currently undertaking public consultation and is engaging with relevant stakeholders in relation to proposals for new legislation to establish urban development authorities (UDA) and to enable local and central government to empower significant urban development projects to access more enabling development powers and land use rules.

What are UDAs? In summary, MBIE is proposing that UDAs will be publicly controlled development authorities that would plan and facilitate nationally or locally significant development projects (including planning and resource consenting projects, infrastructure and land acquisition projects), potentially in partnership with private companies and/or landowners. MBIE is proposing that the composition of the UDA will depend on the development project, but may take the form of a company

model (similar to Tamaki Regeneration Company) or a statutory entity (similar to Regenerate Christchurch).

The proposed changes would enable UDAs to access specifically tailored powers to acquire land and then plan and oversee the necessary development for the life of the project. Developments could include housing, commercial premises, associated infrastructure, and amenities including parks, community spaces or shopping centres. UDAs would also be responsible for funding the infrastructure of the project, and would have flexibility to raise the necessary funds, including an ability to levy charges on relevant landowners.

You can find MBIE's discussion document and Regulatory Impact Statement here. Written comments on the discussion documents can be submitted until 19 May 2017.

Productivity Commission

The Productivity Commission has also recently released its final report entitled "Better Urban Planning" (Report). The Productivity Commission is an independent Crown entity that was tasked with undertaking an inquiry into alternative approaches to New Zealand's urban planning system, including a review of the RMA, the Local Government Act and Land Transport Management Act (as well as elements of the Building Act, Reserves Act and Conservation Act).

This inquiry involved a whole-sale review of the way urban planning is delivered in New Zealand to achieve social, economic, environmental and cultural outcomes. The Report includes a number of recommendations for a future planning system including:

  1. Clear statutory objectives and principles for the built and natural environments;
  2. A revamped set of regulatory plans for each region – plans that are built on the platform of a spatial strategy and clear environmental limits;
  3. Timely, independent and systematic review of plans against the statutory objectives and principles; and
  4. New mechanisms and models to free up the supply of infrastructure serviced land for development – particularly in high-growth cities.

You can find the Productivity Commission's Report here. Now that the Productivity Commission's inquiry has been completed, it will be interesting to see how the Government responds to the Commission's recommendations.

What does this mean for the future of the RMA?

Both of these work pieces identify significant issues with the status quo and propose substantial changes to New Zealand's resource management regime. The Productivity Commission's Report states that the impact of its recommendations would exceed the likely collective impact of the constant stream of piecemeal amendments to the RMA that have occurred over the last 25 years (while also recognising that some of the current system's philosophical intent would remain).

This raises questions as to the future of the RMA and resource management legislation in general. The Prime Minister also seems to be contemplating the future of the RMA. Prime Minister Bill English has recently made comments that the RMA could be at the "end of its life" and that the Government has started the process of "completely rethinking" the RMA.

With a complete upheaval of the current resource management legislation clearly on the minds of the current Government, it is likely that this will become a significant talking piece in this election year. Whatever the result come September, all eyes of landowners, investors, developers, and environmentalists alike, will surely be on the RMA.

Footnotes

1 At the time of writing, the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill is in the Committee of whole House stage.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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