Environmental / Resource Management
New Bill Introduced to Assist in the Recovery Efforts Post Cyclone Gabrielle
In an effort to alleviate barriers to the recovery and rebuild following Cyclone Gabrielle and other significant weather events, the Government has introduced a new bill, the Severe Weather Emergency Legislation Bill (Bill). The Minister for Emergency Management presented the Bill to Parliament for its first reading on 14 March. The Bill draws from previous legislation that was enacted following the earthquakes in Christchurch and Kaikōura to prevent any constraints in existing legislation from hindering recovery efforts.
The purpose of the Bill is to assist recovery and improve resilience for the areas affected by severe weather events, and their councils and communities. Specifically, the Bill provides:
- Less onerous notice requirements for council staff who enter properties to carry out emergency response activities;
- Modification of verification timeframes under the Food Act for food businesses in affected areas;
- Extension of the notice and retrospective consent timeframes for emergency works carried out in affected areas;
- Certain emergency response activities carried out by rural landowners and occupiers to be permitted activities, and facilitate planning and decision-making by all local authorities for a limited time; and
- The requirement on local authorities to exclude any content relating to water services from long-term planning during the three waters transition has been amended to enable local authorities to make amendments that relate to water services within their existing long term plans and/or other listed plans or strategies that take effect before 1 July 2024.
The Bill is an omnibus Bill which amends several enactments. The series of Acts which feature amendments include:
- Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002;
- Local Government Act 2002, (LGA);
- Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA);
- Food Act 2014; and
- Food Regulations 2015.
This article will set out the time-limited changes to the LGA and RMA that affect Local Government and land users under the RMA.
Changes to the RMA
For owners and occupiers of rural land, the changes to the RMA will allow for particular emergency or remedial actions to be carried out. The Bill aims to assist rural landowners and occupants in implementing preventative or corrective measures for mitigating loss, injury, or damage without requiring a resource consent. The measures undertaken will be deemed permitted activities for a limited time, providing they do not contravene prohibiting regulations, standards or plans. Notice must be provided to local authorities within 60 working days of the works done to retain the permitted standard.
There will be time frame extensions to advise local authorities that emergency work is to be undertaken and to allow for retrospective applications for resource consents for this work. Where there is an application for retrospective resource consents, the time frame is extended from 20 working days to 160. When emergency works have taken place which would usually require resource consent, the necessity to give notice to local authorities in 7 working days is extended to 100. This change is in consideration that it may not be possible or present challenges for local authorities, infrastructure providers and network utility operators to comply with regulatory requirements or timeframes given the severe weather events.
Under section 330 of the RMA, local authority agents are granted powers of entry without prior notice. This may be necessary to carry out emergency works. As the weather events have caused a number of evacuations, the Bill extends this provision to allow for the rights of entry to a place when an occupier cannot be found, provided the local authority displays a notice in a prominent place on the land which describes the date and reasons for entry, and the contact details of who can provide further information. As soon as practicable, the local authority must serve a written notice of the entry on the ratepayer of the land.
Changes affecting Local Government
Given the scale of damage following the series of weather events, these pose unique barriers to local authority officials to attend meetings. The Bill will amend the LGA to allow for meetings to go ahead via audio or visual link and the member will be marked present and any votes will still be counted.
The Bill recognises that water infrastructure and services have been significantly damaged. In response to this, local authorities are permitted to amend current long-term plans dealing with water services as this is currently prohibited given the recent water services reforms. It also allows for other plans and strategies relating to water services to be made, if those plans or strategies take effect before 1 July 2024. Although other aspects of the Bill only apply to those areas affected by the weather events (the regions of Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, and Hawke’s Bay and the districts of Tararua, Masterton, Carterton, and South Wairarapa), this change is open for all local authorities to improve the resilience to future weather events.
The Bill provides a necessary legal support mechanism to continue recovery efforts in the affected regions. The changes will help provide legal certainty where needed, removing unnecessary red tape for those burdened with recuperating from the extreme weather occurrences.