Section 32 requires evaluation of the extent to which the objective of the proposed NPS is the most appropriate way to achieve the purpose of the RMA.
The purpose of the RMA is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources, which means:
… managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well-being and for their health and safety while -
(a) Sustaining the potential of natural and physical resources (excluding minerals) to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations; and
(b) Safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of air, water, soil, and ecosystems; and
(c) Avoiding, remedying, or mitigating any adverse effects of activities on the environment.
The objective of the proposed NPS seeks the following outcome:
To contribute to the maintenance of indigenous biological diversity by protecting and enhancing significant indigenous vegetation and the significant habitats of indigenous fauna outside of public conservation lands and encouraging maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity values more broadly while:
- Supporting the existing good practice of local authorities.
- Recognising the positive contribution of landowners as guardians/kaitiaki of their land; and
- Recognising that the economic, social and cultural well-being of people and communities relies on making reasonable use of land.
The Quality Planning guidance note on section 32 identifies four criteria against which appropriateness is to be assessed:
- relevancy – to the purpose of the Act
- usefulness (or utility) in that it serves a purpose – particularly being of value in guiding decision-making or evaluation of policy effectiveness
- achievability – the objective must be something that is achievable within the powers and function of the RMA
- reasonableness – the outcome needs to be set at a level (and/or requires progress at a rate) that recognises the burden of costs and the section 5 obligation to enable social and economic well-being.
Each of these is discussed in turn.
The core objective proposed (maintenance of biodiversity) is relevant to each of the matters raised in section 5(2) (a), (b) and (c) of the Act. Native plants and animals are natural resources (whose potential to meet future needs is to be sustained), they are found in ecosystems (whose life-supporting capacity is to be safeguarded) and they are part of the environment (adverse effects on which are to be avoided remedied or mitigated).
For that reason (and for the reasons that follow), the objective may be regarded as relevant to the purpose of the Act.
While the objective does not set out measurable, time-bound outcomes, it is of considerable use in other ways.
Importantly, the objective makes it clear that maintaining biodiversity is to be achieved by:
- protecting and enhancing significant native vegetation and the habitats of native animals
- encouraging the maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity values more broadly.
This is useful because it sets the agenda for maintaining biodiversity more broadly than section 6(c). Thus there are two clear parameters to measure when, in future, evaluating the implementation of the NPS.
The reasonableness of the objective is assured by the three caveats to the core objective of maintaining biodiversity.
As noted earlier, many local authorities are doing a good job of identifying sites and values important to biodiversity and seeking to protect these through planning processes. Emphasising this clearly within the objective recognises the importance that further interventions do not undermine the progress made with communities to maintain biodiversity. It seeks to avoid any inference that existing efforts of all local authorities are necessarily inadequate. Furthermore, it accepts that the final arbiter of what is reasonable needs to be the local authorities making policy and regulatory decisions, because they are closest to the affect of such decisions and best understand the nature and scale of costs imposed.
The second caveat recognises the role of landowners. This aims to encourage local authorities to take a respectful approach to their relationships with landowners, recognising that in many cases vegetation and habitat is protected by landowners’ goodwill and commitment rather than by any legal protection mechanism. This supports the later policy position that non-regulatory methods of protection may be appropriate in certain circumstances. This contributes to the reasonableness of the objective, and provides a degree of flexibility within which local authorities can pursue the objective.
The third caveat recognises that the economic, social and cultural well-being of people and communities relies on making reasonable use of land. This aims directly at ensuring councils do not adopt an inflexible, single-minded approach to biodiversity protection and that regulation is not to be imposed without regard to costs on individuals and communities.
The three caveats reflect the approach of section 5 and should ensure that a reasonable approach to taken to maintain the core objective.
Maintaining native biodiversity requires positive action (such as species recovery programmes, large-scale sustained pest management and research). While the RMA can achieve some of this positive action (by requiring offsets and through mitigating conditions, etc) the RMA’s main contribution will be to avoid damage occurring through resource (particularly land and water) use and development. Furthermore, as discussed earlier, some species and ecosystems are found largely on the public conservation estate and their maintenance will depend on public conservation programmes (via DoC). Therefore, the objective of the NPS needs to be carefully articulated. The RMA can and should contribute to maintaining native biodiversity, but it should not be held accountable for maintaining biodiversity in absolute terms, as addressing the threats will likely require solutions that extend beyond what the RMA offers.
The use of the wording ‘promote’ in the draft objective recognises this, and for that reason the objective may be regarded as achievable.