Reform or replacement of the Resource Management Act 1991 has been on the legislative agenda for some time. The Government announced in February 2021 that it intends to repeal the Resource Management Act 1991 and replace it with three new Acts:

  • The Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), which aims to protect and restore the environment while better enabling development, is the primary replacement for the RMA;
  • The Strategic Planning Act (SPA), which aims to help coordinate and integrate decisions made under relevant legislation, by requiring the development of long-term regional spatial strategies; and
  • The Climate Adaptation Act, which will address complex issues associated with managed retreat.

Given the significance of this reform, the NBA has been referred to a select committee inquiry and an "exposure draft" of the NBA Bill has now been released. This is an early draft which has been released for stakeholder and public feedback before the full Bill is drafted and introduced to Parliament.

The exposure draft does not cover the full breadth of the proposed NBA, but instead provides an early look at key aspects, including:

  • the purpose of the NBA and related provisions, including the increased importance of te Tiriti o Waitangi and the introduction of environmental limits and outcomes;
  • a structure for, and some high level content relating to, the proposed "National Planning Framework", a proposed suite of documents to provide direction on matters of national significance or for which consistency is desirable across the country; and
  • requirements for "Natural and Built Environment Plans", the new combined plans that will replace the existing web of district, regional and unitary plans.

The Environment Committee inquiry is expected to take 12 weeks, and will include an opportinity for stakeholders and the public to make submissions on the exposure draft. It will then report its findings back to the House, to inform further policy development and the drafting of the NBA and SPA Bills.

The full NBA and SPA Bills are intended to be introduced to the House in early 2022, and will then follow the normal legislative process (including another select committee inquiry and opportunity for public feedback). It is intended that the NBA and SPA will be enacted in this Parliamentary term.

Our initial impression is the NBA is a significant shift from the framework we all know and love under the RMA. A notable introduction is emphasis given to taking a precautionary approach. The precautionary approach features as a general "implementation principle", a matter that applies when setting "environmental limits" and a requirement of committees when making decisions on Natural and Build Environment Plans.

We will be taking a closer look at some of the key elements of the exposure draft, and publishing articles on these, in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the Bill or the process for making a submission, please contact our resource management and environmental law team.

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.