The Government is concerned at the widely reported costs and delays associated with process under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA or the Act). The causes of these costs and delays are obviously of varying origin and complexity, and we have been asked as the first stage in a reform process, to advise how these issues might be addressed so as to facilitate the early introduction of a Bill that seeks to:
streamline and simplify processes
provide priority consenting of major projects
reduce costs and delays
speed-up plan making processes
restrict trade competition, vexatious and frivolous objections.
We have also been asked to:
consider other amendments put forward by members of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), local government and support parties, and advise on their suitability for inclusion in the reform bill
provide advice on other non-legislative reforms that will assist the effective functioning of the RMA
identify other RMA reforms that require longer term consideration and that should be considered as part of a second phase of reform.
Of course it is not just the incoming government that is concerned at these costs and delays. Applicants, submitters and Councils all bear a burden in one form or another. Nor are these new concerns. It is noteworthy that the Select Committee reporting on the 2005 Amendment recorded that that Bill proposed 'radical surgery' to address 'problems with delays, costs, inconsistencies, uncertainty and a lack of national leadership regarding the Act's processes and in decision making'.
Chapter 1 examines a number of proposals in relation to the plan making process.
Chapter 2 relates to reform proposals in respect of application procedures.
Chapter 3 proposes some improvements to the current consenting process for projects of national significance.
Chapter 4 relates to frivolous and vexatious submissions, and trade competition.
Chapter 5 contains recommendations for further reforms that warrant consideration.
Chapter 6 identifies some other non-legislative reforms that may assist with the functioning of the RMA.
Chapter 7 identifies issues concerning the extent to which our present three tiered governance structure is able to efficiently and effectively deliver the desired environmental outcomes.
Chapter 8 identifies other reforms that require longer term consideration and should perhaps be considered as part of a second phase of reform.
The Technical Advisory Group’s process
Reform of the Resource Management Act was very high on the new Government's agenda. The Government determined to introduce a Bill to streamline and simplify the RMA within the first 100 days of being in office. The TAG was brought together in December 2008 to provide independent advice to the Minister for the Environment on Phase 1 of this process. The TAG has been very conscious of the need to complete its work within this tight timeframe. The work has been intense and focused.
The essence of the TAG’s work has been ‘streamlining and simplification’ of the Act – the TAG has deliberately refrained from recommending changes to the environmental standards applicants must address to be granted resource consent. Those thresholds remain where they were before the TAG commenced its work.
There has been a considerable chorus of criticism of the RMA since its introduction. The process changes recommended by TAG are focussed on the removal of process elements that are costly in both time and money and add little if any real value to the outcome. No matter how extensive the process, the reality is that there will still be parties in opposition to any proposal or decision. The aim of RMA processes must be to ensure good outcomes without incurring unnecessary delay and cost.
The TAG does not see its recommendations as limiting in any way the real opportunity for the public at all levels to participate in both plan making and resource consent decision making – what it aims to remove is the use of processes that make no worthwhile contribution to the quality of resource consent decision making.
It has not been practical in the time available to assemble an evidence base to match each of the TAG recommendations. Rather, we have taken the judgment of excessive delays, uncertainties and costs as a mandate for change, and we have sought to analyse the origins of these widely perceived problems. In this task we have relied on our own extensive and collective experience and capacity to analyse the issues from various perspectives drawing on advice and submissions received.
In this first phase of the review our analysis of the sources of unnecessary delays, uncertainties and costs focuses mainly on the law itself, but we acknowledge there are other important dimensions. The institutional framework in which the law operates in practice: the multi-layered, elected political governance system; the extensive public participation and hearings processes; the culture and practice within the resource management process; and the relatively high incidence of appeals to the Environment Court on both plan-writing and consent matters, should not be overlooked.
The short time frame for its work meant that some issues could not be fully considered – where that occurred the TAG has recommended those issues be considered in Phase 2.
We wish to record our thanks and appreciation to those staff at Ministry for the Environment for all their wonderful and unstinting assistance. We had the benefit of research papers and briefings which were most helpful. We also acknowledge the submissions that were made available to us, and note that some ideas can still be picked up during Phase 2.