Resource Management System: A comprehensive review

Beach scene

The comprehensive review of the resource management system in New Zealand is now complete. 

Link to the report

About the resource management system review

New Directions for Resource Management in New Zealand is the most significant, broad ranging and inclusive review to take place within the system since the Resource Management Act (RMA) came into force in 1991. 

This review was conducted by the independent Resource Management Review Panel chaired by retired Court of Appeal Judge, Hon Tony Randerson, QC. 

The reform of the resource management system is critical to the continued well-being of New Zealand. It addresses significant pressures on both the natural and built environments. Urban areas are struggling to keep pace with population growth, water quality is deteriorating, biodiversity is diminishing and there is an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change.

The review process was an opportunity to design a new system for resource management in New Zealand that delivers better outcomes for our environment, society, economy, and culture.  The Panel has come up with a large number of recommendations that will reorient the system to focus on delivery of specified outcomes, targets and limits in the natural and built environments. 

We encourage everyone to engage with the report. The next step in the reform process will be consultation to develop government policy and the form of future legislation.   

To request a printed copy of the report or for questions or comment on the Review email rmreview@mfe.govt.nz.

photo of Hon Tony Randerson QCWhen the Resource Management Review Panel began its task last year no one anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic which has dominated our lives in recent months. Our response as a nation has taught us at least two important lessons. First, when faced with a crisis such as this we must set clear goals and priorities to deal with it. And second, we can achieve our goals through the carefully coordinated efforts of us all.

There is a proper case for short-term measures to expedite normal resource management processes in order to stimulate economic growth and employment. But it is more important than ever to set clear strategies for the long-term management of the system and establish processes necessary to implement the strategies agreed. In this report we recommend substantial changes to the present system with the aim of establishing more enduring solutions beyond the present crisis and bringing to an end the series of ad hoc interventions that have been an undesirable feature of legislative change.  

We recommend two major new pieces of interrelated legislation: 

  • the repeal of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and its replacement with new legislation we have suggested be named the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA). This would have a substantially different approach but would incorporate some of the key principles of the RMA that remain appropriate

  • new legislation which we have called a Strategic Planning Act.

The focus of the Natural and Built Environments Act would be on enhancing the quality of the environment and on achieving positive outcomes to support the wellbeing of present and future generations. This would include recognition of the concept of Te Mana o te Taiao which refers to the importance of maintaining the health of our natural resources, such as air, water and soil, and their capacity to sustain life. This new focus would be achieved through a system designed to deliver specified outcomes, targets and limits for both the natural and built environments. Significant changes to processes are recommended including stronger national direction and the introduction of combined plans for each region. We expect these changes to result in clearer direction, reduced complexity and opportunity for enhanced environmental quality.  

The proposed Strategic Planning Act would set long-term strategic goals and facilitate the integration of legislative functions across the resource management system. These would include functions exercised under the new Natural and Built Environments Act, the Local Government Act, the Land Transport Management Act and the Climate Change Response Act. This legislation is also designed to integrate land use planning with the provision of infrastructure and associated funding and investment. Regional spatial planning will play a critical part in delivering the intended outcomes for the resource management system. The new legislation would include strategic planning for urban growth and responding to change, measures to respond to the effects of climate change, and the identification of areas unsuitable for development due to their natural values or importance to Māori. 

Managing the effects of climate change has been a significant focus of our work. We have concluded that the complexities of the process of managed retreat (for example in coastal areas) require new discrete legislation we suggest be called the Managed Retreat and Climate Change Adaptation Act.

Our report identifies the importance of providing for a much more effective role for Māori throughout the resource management system and we make a number of recommendations about how this can be achieved. Given the unique relationship between the Crown and Māori under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Panel’s firm view is that a future resource management system must provide a direct role for Māori in decision-making and in the design of measures and processes to give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti. We also recommend the creation of a National Māori Advisory Board with a range of functions including providing advice to government and oversight of the resource management system from the perspective of mana whenua.  

While the legislative changes we propose are vital, we emphasise that the success of the new resource management system will depend critically on the capacity and capability of all those involved in it. It is essential that substantially increased funding and resources be provided by both central and local government if the objectives of the new system are to be realised. The failure to provide sufficient resources and build capability has been one of the more important reasons for the failure of the RMA to deliver the results intended. 

There are two matters outside our terms of reference that we wish to briefly comment upon. The first relates to the reform of local government. It has become clear to us that the resource management system would be much more effective if local government were to be reformed. The existence of 78 local authorities in a nation of just five million people is difficult to justify. Much could be achieved by rationalisation along regional lines, particularly in improving efficiencies, pooling resources, and promoting the coordination of activities and processes. Reform of local government is an issue warranting early attention. 

The second issue outside our terms of reference relates to the rights and interests of Māori in our freshwater resources. Our report makes a number of recommendations about the allocation and use of freshwater. We appreciate this is a difficult issue and we understand the Crown intends to take steps to resolve it by other processes subsequent to our review. During the course of our review, we have attended a number of hui throughout the country and gained an appreciation of the real level of concern in the Māori community on this and other topics. The Panel’s view is that it would be desirable for the Crown and Māori to address and resolve this issue sooner rather than later. Without such a solution, we believe the allocation and use of water rights will continue to pose significant difficulties for all those involved in the system. 

We expect our recommendations to result in better quality outcomes for both the natural and built environments and a more responsive system to meet the challenges we face as a nation. These include the need to respond to urban development pressures in our towns and cities, to reverse the deterioration of water quality in our streams and rivers, to address diminishing biodiversity and to deal effectively with the looming threat posed by climate change. Following the individual chapters of the report we have provided a summary of the principal reasons which led to the review and the main recommendations in our report, but note the report itself should be read for a full understanding. 

Our report is a first step in a reform process and will be followed by widespread consultation to develop government policy and the form of future legislation.  

We conclude by recording our thanks for the outstanding support we have received from the Ministry for the Environment and from all those who have taken the time to engage in the process of consultation and submissions which has accompanied the review. On a personal note, I also express my gratitude for the way in which panel members have given their time and valuable support throughout the review. 

Hon Tony Randerson QC 
Chair, Resource Management Review Panel 
30 June 2020 

Summary of the review from the report

Aims of the review

The Resource Management Review Panel was appointed by the Minister for the Environment, the Hon David Parker, to undertake a comprehensive review of the resource management system in New Zealand. The main focus was the Resource Management Act (the RMA) but we were also asked to review the relationship between the RMA, the Local Government Act (LGA), the Land Transport Management Act (LTMA) and the Climate Change Response Act (CCRA). 

The specific aim of the review under our terms of reference was to improve environmental outcomes and better enable urban and other development within environmental limits. 

This summary outlines the principal reasons which led to the review and the main recommendations in our report. The more detailed recommendations follow this summary but the report itself should be read for a full understanding.  

The drivers of the review 

The key concerns prompting the review include: 

  • New Zealand’s natural environment is under significant pressure: the way we use land and water has proved to be unsustainable for the natural environment. The quality of our freshwater, coastal and marine environments is in serious decline, and biodiversity is under significant threat.

  • Urban areas are struggling to keep pace with population growth: poorly managed urban growth has led to increasing difficulty in providing affordable housing, worsening traffic congestion, greater pollution, and reduced productivity.
  • An urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change: the impacts of climate change are already affecting where people live and how we use our environment. Our land and resource use patterns need to change to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change and we need a resource management system that supports New Zealand’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The need to ensure that Māori have an effective role in the system, consistent with the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi: when it was enacted, the RMA was a significant step forward for Māori, offering opportunities for shared management of the environment. However, it has failed to live up to its promise, leaving Māori out of critical decision-making.
  • The need to improve system efficiency and effectiveness: significant criticisms of the RMA have been its increasing complexity, cost and delay caused by its processes, uncertainty, and lack of responsiveness to changing circumstances and demands.

The need for new legislation 

When the RMA was introduced in 1991 it contained a number of valuable principles which it is important to retain. One of these was the principle of sustainability to ensure the needs of future generations are taken into account. However, in the ensuing period of nearly 30 years, the RMA has been subjected to numerous amendments designed to improve its effectiveness but which have instead resulted in a doubling of its original length and an unduly complex patchwork of provisions.

Rather than attempt to amend the RMA, the Panel has concluded that the Act should be repealed and replaced with new legislation which we propose be named the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA). This would have a substantially different approach from the RMA but would also incorporate some of the key principles of the previous legislation which remain appropriate. The aim of the NBEA would be to establish more enduring solutions and bring to an end the series of ad hoc interventions that have been an undesirable feature of legislative change to date. 

The Panel has also recommended a new separate piece of legislation which we have called the Strategic Planning Act. The purpose of the Strategic Planning Act would be to set long-term strategic goals and facilitate the integration of legislative functions across the resource management system. These would include functions exercised under the NBEA, the LGA, the LTMA and the CCRA to enable land and resource planning to be better integrated with the provision of infrastructure as well as associated funding and investment. Our consultation found strong support for greater use of spatial planning to identify areas suitable for development as well as areas or features it is important to protect. Spatial strategies developed at regional level, encompassing land and the coastal marine area, would play a critical part in delivering the outcomes intended for the resource management system.

The preparation and approval of spatial strategies under this new legislation would be the responsibility of a joint committee comprising representatives of central and local government as well as mana whenua. 

We expect this new approach to result in stronger coordination between these parties in developing long-term strategic planning for both the natural and built environments, with closer links between land and resource planning and associated funding and investment.

Revised purpose and principles for the NBEA 

One criticism of the purpose of the RMA has been its focus on managing the adverse effects of activities on the environment rather than promoting more positive outcomes. The Panel proposes a new purpose for the NBEA: enhancing the quality of the environment to support the wellbeing of present and future generations. That purpose will be achieved by promoting positive outcomes for both the natural and built environments, ensuring that use, development and protection of resources only occurs within prescribed environmental limits and that the adverse effects of activities on the environment are avoided, remedied or mitigated.  

A further purpose of the NBEA would be to recognise the concept of Te Mana o te Taiao which is an expression of the importance of maintaining the health of air, water, soil and ecosystems and their capacity to sustain life. A similar concept is already incorporated in section 5(2)(b) of the RMA. 

The concept of wellbeing has long been embedded in planning legislation and is also a feature of other legislation including the LGA. In the new legislation it would continue to be widely defined to include social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing as well as health and safety. The environment would also be broadly defined to include the natural and built environments, whether in rural or urban areas. 

In brief, the revised purpose and principles would establish a system designed to deliver specified positive outcomes for both the natural and built environments. The use and development of resources would be enabled so long as this can be achieved sustainably and within prescribed minimum limits to protect natural resources such as water, air, soils and natural habitats. The new legislation would also require the setting of targets to achieve ongoing improvement of the quality of both the natural and built environments.

Protecting and enhancing the natural environment 

The revised purpose and principles under the NBEA now recognise an expanded range of outcomes that are to be provided for in respect of both the natural and built environments. Those relating to the natural environment include many of the features recognised under the RMA such as the protection of the coastal environment, wetlands, lakes and rivers, outstanding natural landscapes, improving the health of ecosystems and avoiding further loss of biological diversity. To improve certainty, the new Act requires the Minister to identify through national direction natural features that are of national significance. Regional councils would identify features that are of regional significance. 

In addition, we have proposed the setting of mandatory environmental limits (sometimes referred to as bottom lines) for biophysical aspects of the environment including freshwater, coastal water, air, soil and habitats for indigenous species.  

We expect the changes we propose in the NBEA will provide a greater level of protection for features of the natural environment which we know are highly valued by New Zealanders and, over time, for the restoration of resources such as our waterways which have become degraded. 

Managing urban growth 

Another criticism of the RMA has been the lack of provision for managing urban growth. This has become particularly urgent in larger urban areas experiencing substantial increases in population but insufficient capacity to accommodate growth. The Panel proposes this be addressed in several ways. The revised purpose and principles of the NBEA will provide for specific outcomes for the built environment, including the availability of development capacity for housing and business purposes to meet expected demands, and the strategic integration of infrastructure with land use.  

These outcomes would be supported by the use of national policy statements such as those currently in use, the greater use of economic instruments and, importantly, by the Strategic Planning Act we propose. We expect that spatial strategies prepared on a regional basis under the Strategic Planning Act would identify areas suitable for urban growth (as well as areas not suitable for development) and would also facilitate the provision of infrastructure necessary to support growth. Effective ways to achieve this integration have been a missing element of the resource management system to date.  

The new purpose and principles under the NBEA would further improve certainty in the resource management system by requiring the resolution of any potential conflicts between the identified outcomes through national direction by the Minister for the Environment or in the combined plans we propose at local government level.

The effects of climate change

The need to address the effects of climate change has been a particular focus of the Panel’s work. The Panel has concluded that the resource management system should complement the CCRA and the emissions trading scheme to help New Zealand achieve the agreed targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. As well, the resource management system needs to enable adaptation to the impacts of climate change and reduction of risk from natural hazards.  

The Panel has recommended these issues be addressed in a number of ways, including by providing outcomes in the purpose and principles of the NBEA designed to reduce risks from natural hazards, improve resilience, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote activities that mitigate emissions or sequestrate carbon and to increase the use of renewable energy. This would be supported by mandatory national direction and through combined plans at local government level. We also expect the regional spatial strategies developed under the proposed Strategic Planning Act will be an important means of identifying areas at risk of inundation as well as climate change mitigation measures consistent with the CCRA.  

Finally, we propose a new discrete piece of legislation which we have called the Managed Retreat and Climate Change Adaptation Act. This would establish an adaptation fund to enable central and local government to support necessary steps to address the effects of climate change and would also deal with the many complex legal and technical issues involved in the process of managed retreat. 

We expect these recommendations to result in a much improved and better co-ordinated response to these challenges.  

Improving engagement with Māori 

Our consultation processes have highlighted the need for a significantly greater role for Māori in the resource management system.  

In the revised purpose and principles for the NBEA we have recommended that those involved in the administration of the legislation should give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi rather than taking them into account as currently provided in the RMA. To provide clarity about what this means in the context of the NBEA, the Panel has recommended that the Minister for the Environment be required to give national direction on how the principles of Te Tiriti will be given effect through functions and powers exercised under the NBEA.  

The Panel is also recommending that mana whenua should participate in decision-making for the proposed regional spatial strategies and in the making of combined plans at local government level. These are important changes that will give Māori an effective role in decision-making on resource management issues at a strategic level.  

The Panel has also recommended the creation of a National Māori Advisory Board to advise central and local government on resource management from the perspective of mana whenua and an integrated partnership process between mana whenua and local government to address resource management issues at local government level. 

We expect the combination of these provisions to provide a significant and effective role for Māori in the resource management system. 

System efficiency and effectiveness 

In our report we have highlighted deficiencies in the resource management system, including undue complexity and inefficient processes leading to unnecessary expense and delay. We have also commented on the provisions of the RMA tending to favour the status quo and which hinder the ability of the system to respond to change.  

To address these issues, we have proposed: 

  • greater use of mandatory national direction by the Minister for the Environment to guide planning at local government level
  • the use of combined plans which would bring together the plans prepared by regional councils and territorial authorities in each region
  • a more streamlined process for the preparation and change of plans
  • a much greater focus on the quality of plans which is expected to provide clearer guidance and a reduction in the time and effort spent on individual resource consent processes
  • providing greater clarity about notification of resource consent applications
  • an alternative process to deal with resource consents raising localised issues such as boundary issues between neighbours
  • an improved ability to have more serious disputes over consents referred directly to the Environment Court
  • improvements in the designation process including extending the default lapse period to better protect opportunities for the provision of public infrastructure
  • a wider range of mechanisms guided by specified principles to allocate resources such as freshwater and the use of coastal space
  • more focus on the use of economic instruments to complement regulatory land use controls
  • enhancing the ability of regional councils to modify or extinguish resource consents for natural resources such as discharges into fresh water where environmental limits are threatened
  • giving territorial authorities the ability to change land use consents in narrowly defined circumstances, such as where necessary to implement a managed retreat process as part of adapting to climate change
  • improving enforcement under the resource management system, including the use of regional hubs to co-ordinate enforcement effort in each region and introducing stronger penalties for offences
  • improving monitoring and oversight of the resource management system, including through a new national environmental monitoring system and an enhanced audit and reporting function for the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Perhaps the greatest single process change is our proposal for mandatory combined plans in each region. At present there are well in excess of 100 policy statements and plans in existence throughout the country.

Under our proposal for combined plans, the number of plans would reduce to just 14. Preparation of these combined plans would be undertaken by a joint committee comprising representatives of the regional council, the constituent territorial authorities in the region along with representatives of mana whenua. The Ministry for the Environment would have an auditing role to ensure quality and consistency.

An independent panel, chaired by a sitting Environment Judge, would hear submissions, review the combined plan and make recommendations on its provisions. Decisions would then be made by the joint committee, and a streamlined appeal process would follow based on the model recently used for the Auckland Unitary Plan. 

Our proposals for plan making are expected to have significant beneficial results: 

  • a simplified and more efficient process
  • better quality plans
  • the resolution of uncertainty arising from overlapping functions of regional councils and territorial authorities
  • greater clarity in plans including by minimising potential conflicts between the outcomes specified in the purpose and principles of the NBEA
  • fewer resource consent applications as a result of clearer guidance in plans.

Next steps

Cabinet is responsible for making all decisions about how to progress the Panel’s report and recommendations. Cabinet has indicated that a broad, open process of public consultation will follow its consideration of the Panel’s proposals. Wide engagement with New Zealanders and stakeholders is anticipated for the introduction of any new legislation. 

Hon Tony Randerson QC, Chair 
Amelia Linzey 
Dean Kimpton 
Kevin Prime 
Rachel Brooking 
Raewyn Peart 

Summary of key recommendations   

Note that further detailed recommendations are made within the discussion section of each chapter of the full report.

Chapter 1 Integrating land use planning and environmental protection

Key recommendation – Integrating land use planning and environmental protection

  1.   An integrated approach for land use planning and environmental protection, encompassing both the built and the natural environments, should be retained in reformed legislation. 

               Chapter 2 Purpose and principles 

Key recommendations – Purpose and principles 

  1. The RMA should be repealed and replaced with new legislation to be called the Natural and Built Environments Act. 
  2. The purpose of the Natural and Built Environments Act should be to enhance the quality of the natural and built environments to support the wellbeing of present and future generations and to recognise the concept of Te Mana o te Taiao. 
  3. The purpose of the Act should be achieved by ensuring: positive outcomes for the environment are promoted; the use, development and protection of natural and built environments is within environmental limits; and the adverse effects of activities on the environment are avoided, remedied or mitigated. 
  4. The environment should be defined broadly to include: 
    • ecosystems and their constituent parts  
    • people and communities  
    • natural and built environments whether in urban or rural areas. 
  5. There should be a requirement to give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 
  6. Current matters of national importance should be replaced by positive outcomes specified for the natural and built environments, rural areas, tikanga Māori, historic heritage, and natural hazards and the response to climate change. 
  7. Mandatory environmental limits should be specified for certain biophysical aspects of the environment including freshwater, coastal water, air, soil and habitats for indigenous species. 
  8. Ministers and local authorities should be required to set targets to achieve continuing progress towards achieving the outcomes. 
  9. There should be greater use of mandatory national direction, including the identification of features and characteristics that contribute to the quality of both natural and built environments, and to respond to climate change. 
  10. Principles to guide implementation should be identified. 
  11. Any conflicts in achieving the outcomes should be resolved through national direction or, in the absence of such direction, in combined plans. 
  12. Indicative drafting of the new purpose and principles identified in this chapter along with associated definitions are provided in appendix 1 of this report. 

Chapter 3 Te Tiriti o Waitangi me te ao Māori

Key recommendations – Te Tiriti o Waitangi me te ao Māori

  1. The concept of ‘Te Mana o te Taiao’, should be introduced into the purpose of the Natural and Built Environments Act to recognise our shared environmental ethic.
  2. Specific outcomes should be provided for ‘tikanga Māori’, including for the relationships of mana whenua with cultural landscapes.
  3. The current Treaty clause should be changed so that decision-makers under the Act are required to ‘give effect to’ the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
  4. A national policy statement should be required on how the principles of Te Tiriti will be given effect through functions and powers exercised under the Act.
  5. A more effective strategic role for Māori in the system should be provided for, including representation of mana whenua on regional spatial planning and joint planning committees.
  6. A National Māori Advisory Board should be established to monitor the performance of central and local government in giving effect to Te Tiriti and other functions identified in the report.
  7. The current Mana Whakahono ā Rohe provisions should be enhanced to provide for an integrated partnership process between mana whenua and local government to address resource management issues.
  8. The current legislative barriers to using the transfer of power provisions and joint management agreements should be removed and there should be a positive obligation on local authorities to investigate opportunities for their use.
  9. The current definitions of the terms ‘iwi authority’ and ‘tangata whenua’ should be replaced with a new definition for ‘mana whenua’.
  10. Provision should be made for payment of reasonable costs where Māori are undertaking resource management duties and functions in the public interest.
  11. The funding and support options recommended in this chapter should be implemented.

Chapter 4 Strategic integration and spatial planning

Key recommendations – Strategic integration and spatial planning

  1. There should be a new Strategic Planning Act to promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of present and future generations through the long-term strategic integration of functions exercised under the Natural and Built Environments Act, LGA, LTMA and CCRA.
  2. The Strategic Planning Act should provide a framework for mandatory regional spatial planning for both land and the coastal marine area.
  3. Regional spatial strategies should set long-term objectives for urban growth and land use change, responding to climate change, and identifying areas inappropriate to develop for reasons such as their natural values or their importance to Māori. 
  4. There should be flexibility for:
    • the responsible Minister to determine sequencing, timing and priorities for preparation of these strategies 
    • spatial strategies to cover two or more regions or to focus on sub-regions in response to particular issues.
  5. Regional spatial strategies should set a strategic direction for at least the next 30 years, informed by longer-term data and evidence as appropriate, such as 100 year plus projections for climate change.
  6. Regional spatial strategies should be strategic and high level with project and site-level detail provided through separate implementation agreements and subsequent combined planning and funding processes.
  7. Regional spatial strategies should be prepared and approved by a joint committee comprising representatives of central government, the regional council, all constituent territorial authorities in the region, mana whenua and an independent chair.
  8. There should be significant stakeholder and community involvement in the preparation of these strategies, including through public submissions and a process similar to the special consultative procedure under the Local Government Act. 
  9. Joint committees should seek consensus, but dispute resolution procedures should be provided including a facilitated mediation process and power for the Minister to resolve any remaining disputes.
  10. Regional spatial strategies should be consistent with national direction under the Natural and Built Environments Act.
  11. Combined plans and regional and local funding plans should be consistent with spatial strategies.
  12. Regional spatial strategies should be fully reviewed at least every nine years with flexibility for review within that period when required. 

Chapter 5 A more responsive system: addressing status quo bias

Key recommendations – A more responsive system

  1. The principles that should guide the design of a more responsive resource management system are:
    • sustainability
    • fairness and equity
    • early notice and adequate time for transition
    • balancing responsiveness with certainty for investment.
  2. These principles are reflected in the recommendations in chapter 6 Climate change and natural hazards, chapter 7 National direction, chapter 8 Policy and planning framework, chapter 9 Consents and  approvals and chapter 11 Allocation of resources and economic instruments. The protections generally afforded to existing uses and consented activities should be retained except that:
    • the powers of regional councils to modify or extinguish regional consents should be strengthened to achieve agreed outcomes and be more responsive to change
    • the powers of territorial authorities should be extended to enable them to modify or extinguish existing land uses and land use consents in specific circumstances. These should be confined to:
      1. where necessary to adapt to the effects of climate change or to reduce risks from natural hazards or 
      2. where there is high risk of significant harm or damage to health, property or the natural environment, for example by the breach of an environmental limit.

Chapter 6 Climate change and natural hazards

Key recommendations – Climate change and natural hazards

  1. Outcomes should be introduced for the following matters in the purpose and principles of the proposed Natural and Built Environments Act:
    • reduction of risks from natural hazards 
    • improved resilience to the effects of climate change, including through adaptation
    • reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
    • promotion of activities that mitigate emissions or sequestrate carbon
    • increased use of renewable energy.
  2. Mandatory national direction should be required for:
    • climate change mitigation consistent with the emissions reduction plan under the CCRA and in a way that aligns with and supports emissions pricing 
    • climate change adaptation and reduction of risks from natural hazards consistent with the national climate change risk assessment and national adaptation plan under the CCRA.
  3. Regional spatial strategies developed under the proposed Strategic Planning Act should be used to address at a strategic level:
    • climate change mitigation, informed by the emissions reduction plan under the CCRA
    • climate change adaptation and natural hazard risk reduction, informed by the national adaptation plan under the CCRA.
  4. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, climate change adaptation and reducing risks from natural hazards should be included in the functions and powers of both regional councils and territorial authorities under the proposed Natural and Built Environments Act.
  5. Combined plans should be used to regulate land and resource use to give effect to the national direction and implement spatial strategies. This would include provisions under the proposed Natural and Built Environments Act to allow for adaptive planning measures. 
  6. Powers under the Natural and Built Environments Act to modify established land uses should be used to address climate change adaptation and reduction of risks from natural hazards.
  7. A Managed Retreat and Climate Change Adaptation Act should be introduced to:
    • provide for managed retreat, powers to change established land uses and to address liability and options for potential compensation 
    • establish an adaptation fund to enable central and local government to support necessary steps to address climate change adaptation and reduction of risks from natural hazards.

Chapter 7 National direction

Key recommendations – National direction

  1. The current forms of national direction should be retained: national policy statements, national environmental standards, national planning standards and regulations.
  2. The present functions of the Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Conservation should be continued, including the mandatory requirement for a New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement.
  3. The purpose for national direction should be setting objectives, policies, limits, targets, standards and methods in respect of matters of national significance to give effect to the purpose and principles in the Natural and Built Environments Act and to resolve any conflicts between these matters.
  4. Mandatory national direction should be required on the topics specified in section 9(3) of the purpose and principles of the Natural and Built Environments Act.
  5. The power for the Minister for the Environment to issue discretionary national directions should be retained with some modification of the matters to be taken into account before deciding whether to do so.
  6. There should be a single board of inquiry process for the preparation and review of both national policy statements and national environmental standards, except for minor changes for which an alternative process can be adopted.
  7. All existing and new national direction should be brought together into a coherent combined set and any conflicts between them resolved.
  8. National directions should be reviewed every nine years but intermediate changes should also be allowed for as necessary.
  9. The respective roles of national policy statements and national environmental standards should be clarified and provision should be made for them to be issued separately or in a single instrument.
  10. The making of regulations should generally be confined to their traditional role of dealing with administrative matters but regulations to address substantive issues should be allowed in limited circumstances and subject to appropriate safeguards.
  11. National planning standards should have a more confined role and should be established by a process overseen by an expert advisory group which would make recommendations to the Minister for the Environment.
  12. To improve responsiveness to national direction:
    • the ability to review existing regional permits and consents should be strengthened
    • land use consents granted by territorial authorities and existing land use rights should be able to be reviewed but only in exceptional circumstances. These should be confined to:
      1. where necessary to adapt to the effects of climate change or to reduce risks from natural hazards, or 
      2. where there is high risk of significant harm or damage to health, property or the natural environment, for example by the breach of an environmental limit.

Chapter 8 Policy and planning framework

Key recommendations – Policy and planning framework

  1. There should be a mandatory plan for each region combining regional policy statements and regional and district plans.
  2. The functions of regional councils and territorial authorities should be clarified in the way described in this chapter.
  3. The combined plans should be prepared by a joint committee comprising a representative of the Minister of Conservation and representatives of:
    • the regional council
    • each constituent territorial authority in the region 
    • mana whenua.
  4. The role of combined plans in the new system should be to demonstrate how the outcomes set out in the purpose of the Natural and Built Environments Act will be delivered in a region, including resolution of any conflicts or tensions between outcomes (if not resolved through national direction).
  5. The joint committee should have authority to prepare and notify the combined plan and to make all decisions relating to the plan and subsequent processes without the need for ratification by the constituent local authorities.
  6. The joint committee and the secretariat supporting it should be funded by the constituent local authorities.
  7. The evaluation process currently undertaken under section 32 of the RMA should be retained under the Natural and Built Environments Act but should be modified in the way described in this chapter. 
  8. Prior to notification the Ministry for the Environment should undertake an audit of the plan.
  9. After notification and receipt of submissions by interested parties, including the constituent local authorities and mana whenua, a hearing should be conducted by an independent hearing panel chaired by an Environment Judge.
  10. The independent hearing panel should make recommendations to the joint committee which should have authority to decide which recommendations to accept or reject.
  11. In respect of any recommendation rejected by the joint committee there should be a right of appeal to the Environment Court on the merits by any submitter. Where recommendations are accepted by the joint committee the right of appeal should be to the High Court and limited to questions of law.
  12. This process should also apply to plan changes with some variation to account for the nature, scale and complexity of the change.
  13. The preparation of combined plans should usually be undertaken after the preparation of a spatial strategy for the relevant region and reviewed at least every nine years with flexibility to review more often.
  14. Private plan changes should still be possible but with greater constraints on when and in what circumstances that may occur.
  15. These new provisions should replace all plan-making processes available under current legislation including the current Schedule 1 process, and streamlined processes and collaborative planning.

Chapter 9 Consents and approvals

Key recommendations – Consents and approvals

  1. Current resource consent types should remain: land use and subdivision consents, and water, discharge and coastal permits.
  2. The current list of activities should remain, except for the non-complying category which should be removed.
  3. The current rules on notification of consent applications should be substantially changed by removing the ‘no more than minor’ effects threshold and replacing existing provisions with a combination of presumptions and plan provisions specifying when notification is to occur and in what form.
  4. Information requirements should be proportionate to the nature, scale and complexity of the issue.
  5. The matters to be considered on an application for resource consent should be amended in various respects including shifting the focus to identified outcomes and removing the ‘subject to Part 2’ reference and the permitted baseline test.
  6. The direct referral process should be modified. Where the relevant consent authority declines to consent to the referral the Environment Court should be permitted to approve direct referrals on stated criteria.
  7. An alternative dispute resolution process should be established for controlled or restricted discretionary activities in prescribed circumstances. Parties to the process should still be able to exercise rights of appeal but only by leave of the Environment Court.
  8. An ‘open portal’ for consent applications should be established to coordinate agency responses and encourage the bundling of applications.
  9. Proposals of national significance should remain but with a simplified process involving Ministerial referral to the Environment Court in accordance with prescribed criteria.

Chapter 10 Designations, heritage and water conservation orders

Key recommendations – Designations

  1. Eligibility to exercise designation powers should be centred on public-good purposes. 
  2. Those eligible should include: 
    • a list of approved requiring authorities in the legislation: Ministers of the Crown, local authorities, and network utility operators that meet specified criteria
    • other requiring authorities approved by the Minister for the Environment based on specified criteria.
  3. A new default lapse period of 10 years should be available for all designations, with extensions of up to another 10 years subject to specified criteria.
  4. There should be two stages in the designation process: 
    • a notice of requirement defining the designation footprint 
    • a construction and implementation plan confined to addressing construction and operational effects. 
  5. Flexibility to combine these two stages should be provided.
  6. The relevant considerations for a designation requirement should be modified to also include:
    • consistency with the regional spatial strategy 
    • its contribution to the outcomes identified in the Act, any national direction and the combined plan 
    • the opportunity for co-location of infrastructure within the designation.
  7. Requiring authorities should prepare a construction and implementation plan. This should consider the environmental effects of the construction and implementation of the work and the appropriate controls to manage those effects.
  8. Notices of requirement should continue to be publicly notified with appeal rights retained. 
  9. The construction and implementation plan should be available for public and territorial authority comment prior to construction works commencing.
  10. Consideration should be given to extending designations into the coastal marine area. 

Key recommendations – Heritage orders

  1. The Ministry of Culture and Heritage should continue its Strengthening Heritage Protection project as part of resource management reform. This work should include:
    • investigating potential provisions for national direction on heritage
    • reviewing heritage order provisions
    • exploring options for dealing with ‘demolition by neglect’ issues. 
  2. This work should also investigate the interface between the Natural and Built Environments Act and the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 to provide greater clarity about which agency has primary responsibility for which aspects of heritage protection.
  3. Subject to the outcomes of the review above one option for heritage orders could be to provide interim protection for a heritage site while more enduring solutions are explored.

Key recommendations – Water conservation orders

  1. The water conservation order process should be included in the Natural and Built Environments Act, retaining the current purpose, but with the following changes:
    • applications should be heard by the Environment Court in a one-stage process, with a draft order and recommendations made by the Court and referred to the Minister for the Environment for final decision-making 
    • applications should include a statement of proposed changes to the relevant planning documents which would be required to give effect to the order
    • the Court’s recommendations should include changes to relevant planning documents to give effect to the order
    • ministerial approval of the order would include changes to planning documents which would give direct effect to the order without further process
    • hearings should be held at the closest practical location to the water body in question 
    • the application and hearing process should include mana whenua 
    • any relevant planning documents should ‘give effect’ to any order 
    • once an order is made it should be a matter for consideration in any consent applications that may impact on the water body. 
  2. Further work should be undertaken by the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation to investigate and develop policy on the effectiveness of water conservation orders as discussed in this chapter. 

Chapter 11 Allocation of resources and economic instruments

Key recommendations – Allocation of resources and economic instruments

  1. The Natural and Built Environments Act should retain the current allocative functions for resources in the RMA. 
  2. Allocation principles of sustainability, efficiency and equity should be included in the new Act to provide greater clarity on the outcomes sought and a consistent framework for the development of more detailed measures.
  3. The allocation principles should not be included in the purpose and principles of the Natural and Built Environments Act but should be in a part of the Act focused on allocation. 
  4. A combination of regulatory and market-based mechanisms is needed to allocate resources. These should be enabled under the Natural and Built Environments Act and developed in the context of specific resources through strategic planning, national direction and combined plans. 
  5. To enable sustainable, efficient and equitable allocation of resources, the Natural and Built Environments Act should adopt a more balanced approach to the prioritisation of existing users in resource consent processes. This includes:
    • encouraging shorter permit durations, with flexibility to provide longer-term permits for major infrastructure 
    • providing stronger powers to review and change consent conditions 
    • providing for a wider range of matters to be considered in consent renewal processes
    • providing powers to direct common expiry of permit terms.
  6. To promote more competitive urban land markets, national direction should be used to require the use of data on urban land prices, analysis of regulatory stringency, and a clear and flexible approach to urban land use regulation.
  7. Further work should be undertaken to explore the use of targeted rates to capture uplift in land values as a result of public works.
  8. To encourage greater use of economic instruments:
    • future legislation should ensure there is a broad mandate for the use of tradeable rights and permits, incentives and environmental taxes and charges
    • central government should provide institutional support for the development and use of economic instruments by local authorities through a combination of national direction, guidance, and support for capability.

Chapter 12 System oversight 

Key recommendations – National environmental monitoring system

  1. The Ministry for the Environment should establish in consultation with other agencies a comprehensive, nationally coordinated environmental monitoring system with the following features:
    • it should incorporate and build on the current National Monitoring System, with improvements to be more systematic about the data it collects and to make it easier for councils to use
    • it should be supported with sufficient resourcing to improve the capacity and capability of central and local government, including science and data capability. 
  2. The Minister for the Environment should provide national direction on how the system should be implemented, including national direction developed with Māori on how to incorporate Māori perspectives and mātauranga Māori into the system.
  3. The Ministry for the Environment should be responsible for implementing the system and monitoring performance of the system at a national level.
  4. Local authorities should continue to have primary responsibility for the collection of data and the monitoring of system performance at local government level.
  5. Combined plans should provide for monitoring and reporting. 

Key recommendations – Environmental reporting

  1. The Ministry for the Environment and the Government Statistician should continue to be responsible for regular reporting to the Minister for the Environment on environmental outcomes at a national level. 
  2. There should be clear links between the Natural and Built Environments Act and Environmental Reporting Act.
  3. Local authorities should be required to report regularly to the Ministry for the Environment on the state of the environment in their regions and districts.
  4. Reports on the state of the environment should be made publicly available.

Key recommendations – Oversight of system performance

  1. The Ministry for the Environment should have primary responsibility for oversight of the effectiveness of the resource management system, including the effectiveness of the Natural and Built Environments Act and national direction made under it. 
  2. The combined planning joint committees should have oversight of the performance and effectiveness of combined plans.

Key recommendations – Auditing of system performance and responding to evidence of poor outcomes

  1. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s role should be expanded to include a more formalised and independent auditing and oversight role of the performance and effectiveness of the resource management system and on the state of the environment.

Key recommendations – Auditing of system performance and responding to evidence of poor outcomes

  1. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment should be required to provide regular reports to Parliament on the performance and effectiveness of the resource management system and on the state of the environment.
  2. These reports should be made publicly available and the Minister for the Environment should be required to identify steps to be taken to respond to issues identified.
  3. Local authorities should also be required to state how they will respond to issues identified that relate to their regions and districts.

Chapter 13 Compliance, monitoring and enforcement

Key recommendations – Compliance, monitoring and enforcement

  1. System links should be established between compliance monitoring, state of the environment monitoring and monitoring progress towards outcomes.
  2. New regional hubs should be established to undertake resource management compliance, monitoring and enforcement options.
  3. The offence and penalties regime should be strengthened, including by:
    • increasing the maximum financial penalties 
    • deterring offending by extending the circumstances in which commercial gain may be taken into account in sentencing 
    • adjusting the maximum imprisonment term so most prosecutions may be heard as judge-alone trials
    •  prohibiting insurance for fines and infringement fees under the Natural and Built Environments Act
    • enabling creative sentencing options 
    • developing new Solicitor-General prosecution guidelines for environmental cases.
  4. A number of new compliance, monitoring and enforcement measures should be introduced and existing measures improved, including by:
    • enabling regulators to recover costs associated with permitted activity and unauthorised activity monitoring 
    • amending the power to require disclosure of information about those carrying out the allegedly contravening activity
    • creating a new offence for contravention of a condition of consent
    • enabling abatement notices for the contravention of a consent notice, or any covenant imposed by condition of consent
    • establishing a new power to allow a regulator to apply for a consent revocation order in response to serious or repeated non-compliance
    • providing for enforceable undertakings. 

Chapter 14 Institutional roles and responsibilities

Key recommendations – Institutional roles and responsibilities

  1. Additional resourcing should be provided to the Ministry for the Environment to undertake its expanded role, including providing support for local authorities and mana whenua.
  2. Additional resources should be provided to the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to enable the Office to undertake expanded oversight and auditing roles.
  3. Participation by mana whenua in resource management processes should be supported by central government and local government funding and capability-building assistance. 
  4. The Ministry for the Environment should work with professional institutes and organisations to ensure those administering the reformed RMA are appropriately equipped and upskilled to implement it.
  5. The Ministry for the Environment should provide easily accessible public guidance on all the essential aspects of a reformed RMA.
  6. A climate change adaptation fund should be established, and hazard risk management guidance provided by central government, to enable local authorities to take pre-emptive adaptation action on climate change effects.

Key recommendations – Environment Court

  1. A sitting or retired Environment Judge should chair boards of inquiry on proposed national direction.
  2. A sitting Environment Judge should chair independent hearing panels considering combined plans.
  3. The Environment Court should continue to have all its present jurisdiction and a new appellate role in the combined plan/independent hearing panel process. 
  4. The Environment Court should hear all applications for proposals of national significance.
  5. Consideration should be given to a potential role for the Environment Court under separate legislation on managed retreat.
  6. The changes recommended in this chapter to improve access to justice should be adopted.
  7. The number of judges, commissioners and registry staff at the Environment Court should be increased as necessary to ensure the Court has sufficient capacity to carry out the increased range of functions we propose.

Chapter 15 Reducing complexity

Key recommendation – Reducing complexity

  1. The RMA should be repealed and replaced by the Natural and Built Environments Act to reduce complexity and improve overall coherence of the legislation. 

Chapter 16 Transition to a reformed system

Key recommendations – Transition to a reformed system

  1. Work on developing transitional arrangements as part of implementing the reforms we propose in this report will need to balance stability and a smooth transition with implementation of the reforms as soon as practicable.
  2. The key components of the transition are:
    • the timing and sequencing of national direction, regional spatial strategies and combined plans 
    • the impact on existing processes, consents and activities under the RMA
    • the financial and resourcing implications to develop and implement the reformed system 
    • supporting the change in culture.
  3. Work should commence as soon as possible on the preparation of the Strategic Planning Act, the Natural and Built Environments Act and the Managed Retreat and Climate Change Adaptation Act. 
  4. The Strategic Planning Act should come into effect before or at the same time as the Natural and Built Environments Act, but the Managed Retreat and Climate Change Adaptation Act could come later. 
  5. The new legislation for the reforms we propose should be in place by the time the proposed COVID-19 recovery legislation expires.
  6. We would expect mandatory national directions to be completed within three years of the introduction of the Natural and Built Environments Act.
  7. We would expect the overall transition process to be completed within 10 years of the introduction of the Strategic Planning Act and the Natural and Built Environments Act. 
  8. Some work should commence immediately, such as data collection and analysis to establish a robust evidence base for setting targets and limits. 
  9. The Minister should select one region to develop the first regional spatial strategy, followed by development of the combined plan, to provide a model for other regions to follow. 
     

The comprehensive review of the resource management system was undertaken in recognition that the current RMA Act (1991) is no longer considered fit for purpose.

New Zealand faces a number of pressing environmental problems that need to be addressed.  These include:

  • increasing pressure on New Zealand’s natural environment
  • urban areas struggling to keep pace with population growth
  • the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change
  • the need to ensure that Māori have an effective role in the system, consistent with the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  • the need to improve system efficiency and effectiveness.

The outcome is a report that is far reaching and recommends substantial changes to the present system with the aim of establishing enduring solutions. 

Scope of the review

The scope of the review included looking at the RMA and how it interfaces with these other pieces of legislation, as shown in the diagram below: 

  • Local Government Act 2002 
  • Land Transport Management Act 2003 
  • Climate Change Response Act, to be amended by the Zero Carbon Amendment Bill. 

The review considered a new role for spatial planning, looking at plans and processes across the RMA, LGA and LTMA. This considers new ways that planning could respond to the pressures of urban growth, and better manage environmental effects. This has the potential to help us make better and more strategic decisions about resources and infrastructure over longer timeframes.

The review also sought ways to improve intergenerational wellbeing by strengthening environmental protection and better enabling urban development outcomes within environmental limits.

Diagram showing what is and isn’t in the scope of the review

Blue areas are in scope and grey areas are not in scope.

Resource Management System review scope

Venn diagram showing the scope of the review. The RMA is within scope of the review, including how it interfaces with the Local Government Act, the Land Transport Management Act, and the Climate Change Response Act. This includes spatial planning which works at the intersection of the RMA, the LGA and the LTMA. Areas of others Acts which do not intersect with the RMA are out of scope.

Review process

Cabinet agreed to undertake a comprehensive review of the resource management system in July 2019. The resource management review was officially launched by Hon David Parker, Minister for the Environment, on 24 July 2019. 

A panel of experts was appointed to undertake the review. Meeting weekly throughout the review, they worked with officials to thoroughly examine the current resource management system.

Panel members

The review was led by the Resource Management Review Panel (the Panel).

randersonHon Tony Randerson QC - Chair

Hon Randerson is a former lawyer and judge with extensive experience in resource management law. He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1996. He was subsequently appointed as a High Court Judge in 1997 and was made the Chief High Court Judge in 2004. In 2010 he was appointed to the Court of Appeal where he served until his retirement in May 2017. He is a Distinguished Fellow at the Faculty of Law at University of Auckland. In 1990, Hon Randerson chaired the group that reviewed the Resource Management Bill before it was enacted as the RMA in 1991.

 

Photo of Rachel BrookingRachel Brooking 

Rachel Brooking was a specialist environment and local government lawyer. She is a Senior Associate of law firm Anderson Lloyd. Rachel has a degree in ecology and previously worked for the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Rachel is Chair of the Otago/Southland branch of the Resource Management Law Association. 

 

 

photo of Dean KimptonDean Kimpton 

Dean Kimpton has been Chief Operating Officer at Auckland Council and Managing Director at engineering and planning consultancy AECOM. He is currently a member of the Building Advisory Panel for the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, and has previously been a board member of Infrastructure New Zealand. He is a qualified civil engineer and is a Past President of Engineering New Zealand.

 

 

photo of Amelia LinzeyAmelia Linzey 

Amelia Linzey is a leading planner. She is Senior Technical Director of the planning team at engineering and planning consultancy Beca. Amelia has been a member of the Advisory Board for the New Zealand Sustainable Business Council and an editor for the New Zealand Planning Institute’s official journal. 

 

 

photo of Raewyn PeartRaewyn Peart MNZM 

Raewyn Peart has extensive experience in environmental law and policy. She is currently the Policy Director at the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) and was leading its Reform of the resource management system project. She was a member of the collaborative Sea Change - Tai Timu Tai Pari - Stakeholder Working Group which successfully prepared a marine spatial plan for the Hauraki Gulf, the first in New Zealand. 

 

 

Photo of Kevin PrimeKevin Prime MBE ONZM 

Kevin Prime is of Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Whatua, Tainui and Welsh descent. He is a beef farmer, forester, and conservationist based in Northland. He is an Environment Commissioner with the Environment Court. Kevin has served on committees and advisory groups pertaining to a wide range of issues, including Māori affairs, conservation, health and fresh water. 

Full Report

New Directions for Resource Management in New Zealand

Issues and options 

The panel released its Issues and options paper in November 2019.

The period for submissions on the issues and options closed on 3 February 2020.

The panel previously released the Preliminary outline of the issues and options [PDF, 75 KB]. 

Terms of reference

See the Terms of reference for the Resource Management Review Panel [PDF, 806 KB].

You can also read the Draft terms of reference which were released earlier in the year. 

Cabinet’s decisions about the review 

See the folllowing Cabinet papers:

Ministers’ letters 

The Environment Minister invited other ministers to suggest what the review should cover. Some of their responses are available below.