The bill implementing the next phase of the government's 'red tape-busting' reforms of key legislation controlling development and environmental protection was introduced into Parliament on 26 November 2015. The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill (Amendment Bill) picks up the thread of previous rounds started some years ago, to reduce what it sees as bureaucratic constraints on creating jobs, building housing and good environmental management. It is promoted by the Minister for the Environment as providing "greater national consistency, more responsive planning, simplified consenting and better alignment with other laws". There are some real procedural changes, which will affect planning, consenting and land development activities, but gone is the wholesale realignment of the legislative purposes that the government previously indicated was required.

As is to be expected, the Resource Management Act (RMA) bears the brunt of the changes, but the Environmental Protection Authority Act 2011, the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012, the Reserves Act 1977, the Conservation Act 1987 and the Public Works Act 1981 are all affected to varying degrees as well.

What are the main changes?

The proposed amendments are focused on key areas, including:

  • Inserting principles requiring all practices under the RMA to be, efficient, consistent and cost-effective. This will include the use of electronic and internet-based options for public notices and the service of documents.
  • Restricting RMA plans to matters relevant to the purpose of the RMA. This seems to be a direct response to concerns that, in some areas, the RMA duplicates and is inconsistent with other legislation more specifically designed to address the subject matters. How effective this will be in addressing duplication of regulation however may be questionable, given the broad subject matter which could be argued to be 'relevant' to the purpose of the RMA.
  • Streamlining of the consenting process, which among other things alters the rules in respect of notification, treats boundary activities as permitted when the relevant neighbours agree to them, and inserts a ten working day fast-track for simple applications.
  • The creation of a national planning framework including a national planning template, designed to reduce the complexity of plans and introduce a standard structure and format for plans.
  • The Amendment Bill introduces an option for councils to use a collaborative planning process – whereby a group of community representatives consults on the content of a plan and makes a recommendation to the council, which must be followed. Councils also have the ability to apply to the Minister for the Environment for a streamlined planning process with shorter timeframes than those provided by the usual RMA process.
  • Subdivision is to be permitted unless a rule in a plan changes that. The aim of this proposal being to increase the ease that further land for residential development can be provided.
  • The powers of consent authorities to reject submissions have been increased. A consent authority must strike out a submission on a resource consent where:
    • the submission does not have a sufficient factual basis;
    • the submission is not supported by any evidence;
    • where the only evidence is "expert evidence", the expert must be independent and have sufficient knowledge of the expert area; or
    • when the submission is unrelated to the actual or likely effects of an application and those effects were the reason it was notified.

Although these changes are not nearly as far-reaching as what had previously been talked about by the government, they will change a number of processes and requirements directly affecting those involved in land development and related environmental and planning issues. Those affected (i.e. anyone wanting to participate in resource use or environmental issues) should make sure they understand the changes.

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.