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8. Second phase of reform

We are very conscious of the fact that there is much more to be achieved if the Act’s objectives are to be realised, and which could not be considered as part of this immediate reform process.

We have no doubt that the reforms suggested here will make a significant and positive contribution to the overall operation of the Act. Nevertheless, there is much that could be improved in the Act that requires further consideration and a greater degree of consultation than has been possible as part of this exercise.

Furthermore of course there is much that is central to the achievement of good environmental outcomes that lies outside the scope of the Resource Management Act entirely.

We are aware of the Government’s intention to establish an EPA, and that amongst its proposed tasks is the development of national instruments. We look forward to the beneficial change that this will bring, and consider that there is much else that such an agency could do to enhance practice under the Act, for example by way of assisting in the achievement of a greater uniformity of approach to matters of national importance.

As part of Phase 2 we would propose that consideration be given to how the role of the EPA might appropriately be expanded.

This first phase has quite deliberately not dwelt upon many complex issues relating to resource allocation, particularly water. That must clearly be addressed as a matter of urgency.

We are concerned as to whether the current local government structures represent the most suitable model to deliver optimal environmental outcomes, and again recommend that consideration be given to this issue as part of Phase 2.

Other matters we suggest for consideration, and this list is by no means to be considered as exhaustive, include:

  • resolving interface issues with other statutes such as the Building Act 2004, the Historic Places Act 1993, the Conservation Act 1987, the Local Government Act 2002, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 and Fisheries legislation in respect of aquaculture, the objective being to reduce overlap, duplication, and lack of consistency (including in respect of definitions)

  • ensuring that the Government has in place a mechanism for resolving the local application of “conflicting” national policy statements (noting that this is clearly a central government responsibility that should not be passed to lower levels of government to resolve)

  • determining the future status of restricted coastal activities and resolving issues relating to the Crown’s ownership interests

  • reviewing the effectiveness of the coastal occupation charge regime and considering whether responsibility for it should be moved to central government

  • examining the definition of “environment”’ to ascertain its current suitability (noting that any changes should be very carefully considered as the present definition has now been considerably defined by practice and court decisions)

  • examining the desirability or otherwise of amendments to sections 6 and 7 to include reference to social and economic factors, and to a general rationalisation of those sections

  • determining what more can be done to bring about the rigour which section 32 intended to introduce to the plan making process, without making the process too onerous or complicated

  • considering what more can be achieved by central government in an endeavour to encourage local authorities to combine their plan processes

  • reviewing the extent of the burdens imposed on or the benefits gained by land owners, for example by the introduction of significant natural areas and examining the appropriateness of compensation/reward mechanisms for same

  • investigating what steps could be introduced to reduce the need for consents for minor matters and to minimise the burden of the consent process for minor applications

  • revisiting the question of the right of appeal to the Environment Court on plan matters

  • examining questions of reverse sensitivity and the right of existing lawfully established operations to continue in business notwithstanding the introduction of new activities nearby

  • considering whether the current default provision for the lapsing of designations should be extended, and how designations may be extended beyond land use matters

  • examining the introduction of “concept approvals” or “approvals in principle”

  • examining the acceptability of the present statutory time frames as regards the processing of applications for resource consents and the possible introduction of a “deemed refusal” where the decision is not made within time

  • considering the introduction of an independent mechanism for the appointment of commissioners

  • considering the use of regulations to bring about greater consistency in terminology and standards, and more guidance on the structure, format, and expression of plans

  • considering how better to handle complaints about performance and behaviour of those involved in RMA implementation

  • considering how institutions and processes could be reformed to create more favourable incentives for the use of collaborative governance processes for the development of policies and plans

  • considering how to address cumulative effects more effectively, especially through the development of provisions which encourage councils, wherever relevant and reasonably practical, to set quantitative environmental objectives which specify limits for cumulative effects for defined resource units or landscape units.