Environmental / Resource Management

Resource Management Act changes – New approaches to plan-making

First published in Inside Tourism, August 2016

Public hearings of submissions on the Government's "Resource Legislation Amendment Bill" (Bill) have now finished, with a select committee report to Parliament due in September 2016.

The Explanatory Note describes the Bill as comprising "over 40 proposals aimed at delivering substantive, system-wide improvements to the resource management system".

This brief update focuses on two important changes proposed in the Bill to the way we make resource management plans in New Zealand – that is, the district plans, regional plans and regional policy statements that govern how we can use and develop land and other natural and physical resources. The two initiatives are:

  • A "national planning template" (NPT).
  • Two new alternative plan-making processes for councils.

National planning template

The NPT will specify (among other matters) the structure, form and content of regional policy statements, regional and district plans. In its present form, the Bill would allow the NPT to specify objectives, policies, methods, rules, and other provisions that must or may be included in plans. It is intended to achieve greater consistency across the country, reduce complexity, and improve the user friendliness of plans. Setting the scene for the proposal, the Minister for the Environment has noted that across the country we have:

"... over 50 definitions of how to measure the height of a building. There are dozens of different descriptions of what you are allowed to do in a commercial area. The answer is standard planning templates, as proposed in this bill."

Two new alternative plan-making processes

The two new processes proposed, which would sit alongside the traditional "Schedule 1" process for producing district (and other) plans, are:

  • A streamlined planning process (SPP) – a council would formally ask the appropriate Minister or Ministers for a plan-making process that suits its local circumstances. Bespoke processes, similar to those used in recent times in Auckland and Christchurch, could then be implemented without the need for special legislation.
  • A collaborative planning process (CPP) – based on the approach taken by the Land and Water Forum, this process encourages greater front-end public engagement and co-operation to resolve resource management issues, through the establishment of a 'collaborative group'.

What are the issues?

Over 750 submissions were lodged on the Bill, meaning that the select committee has a lot to digest between now and September.

There has been a measure of support for the proposals described above. For instance, in the case of the NPT, there has been some recognition that introducing a more standardised approach to the structure and form of plans, and some plan content (e.g. common definitions of terms), is likely to be beneficial.

Equally, however, concerns have been raised about aspects of the proposals. For instance:

  • In the case of the NPT, some submitters have expressed concerns that, as proposed, the template would stray too far into matters of policy and national direction.
  • Concerns have also been raised in relation to the SPP and CPP, e.g. as to the implications of the proposal to limit appeal rights.

It will be particularly interesting to see how the select committee's report grapples with the issues of scope – e.g. should the NPT extend to matters of detailed policy and rule-making, and if so should that content be optional or mandatory for council plans?

What does this mean for the tourism industry?

For now, it's a case of 'watch this space'.

However, the proposals have the potential to affect anyone involved in the tourism industry, given the central role played by RMA plans in our system of resource management. The SPP and CPP proposals could profoundly change the way we interact with councils and other stakeholders over the preparation of the plans that regulate industry activity. As to the NPT, while its scope is presently something of an unknown, the template could have a marked impact on the process of getting resource consents.

The select committee's report is due on 6 September 2016.

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