Environmental / Resource Management

Resource Legislation Amendment Bill 2015: National Direction

We recently reported on the introduction of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill (the Bill) by Minister of the Environment, Hon Nick Smith. Click here for information relating to, and a copy of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill 2015.

"The overarching purpose of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill (the Bill) is to create a resource management system that achieves the efficient and sustainable management of natural and physical resources".

Resource Legislation Amendment Bill

The Bill proposes amendments to the national direction of resource management law in several ways discussed in further detail below. However, the legislation also proposes amendments in the following areas, each of which we will be commenting on in the coming weeks.

  • the current plan making process
  • the consenting process
  • courts and appeals
  • process alignment

National Direction

Stronger national direction is a key feature of the reform and part of this is to facilitate more efficient National Policy Statements (NPSs), National Environmental Standards (NESs) and overall national guidance for better environmental results at lower costs.

Local authorities largely implement resource management legislation. However, central government can provide national direction in a number of ways, including NPSs, NESs, regulations, Ministerial intervention powers, the use of special legislation, and amendments to the purpose and principles or the statutory functions and powers of decision makers in resource management legislation.

Proposals

Changes to the NPSs and NESs

The Bill proposes to strengthen the process involved in developing national instruments. Clauses 24-36 amend the provisions relating to NESs, NPSs and the New Zealand Coastal Policy statements (NZCPS). Some of the proposed changes include:

  • empowering the making of regulations prescribing NESs, NPSs and NZCPS to be made generally or to relate to specific regions or districts;
  • amending section 43B of the RMA to clarify that a rule or resource consent that is more lenient than a NES prevails over that standard only if the standard expressly permits a rule or resource consent to be more lenient than the standard;
  • a new section 45A which sets out the contents of a NPS and provides that the only mandatory element is the current requirement to provide objectives and policies for matters of national significance; and
  • a new section 55A which provides that a combined process may be used to prepare a NES and a NPS.

National Planning Template

New sections 58B to 58J provide for a new national planning template (NPT) to create more consistency between local authorities in developing district plans, policies and statements. The planning template will assist in achieving the purpose of the Act and provide requirements relating to any aspect of regional policy statements and plans to address matters that the minister considers to be nationally significant or to require national consistency.

As such, the NPT may specify the structure and form of the regional policy statements as well as the objectives, policies or methods that must be included in regional plans and regional policy statements. It may also specify the matters relating to district plans set out in new section 45A(2).

When preparing a NPT, the Minister may have regard to matters set out under the current section 45(2)(a) to (h). Prior to approving the NPT, the Minister is required to prepare a draft NPT and prepare and have particular regard to a section 32 report. If the Minister approves the NPT after consideration of the report and recommendations, the Minister must ensure that the approval is publicly notified and a copy of the report provided to every local authority.

The new sections also contain procedures for revoking and changing a NPS, provide for local authorities to recognise the NPT by amending its plans as directed by the NPT, and require the first NPT to be in place within 2 years after the date on which the Bill receives Royal assent.

New regulation making powers to provide national direction through regulation

Under the new section 360D, the Minister's powers are extended to make regulations which specify permitted land uses, and also prohibit unreasonably constraining restrictions on residential development. The Bill will enable the Minister to prevent local authorities from making and imposing unreasonably restrictive provisions that are not required to achieve the purpose of the Act.

Regulations that permit or prohibit certain rules are not to be made unless the Minister is of the opinion that the rules are overly restrictive on land use for residential development and duplicate, overlap or deal with the same subject matter as is included in other legislation. However, the power is not unconditional and the Minister is required to notify the public, local authorities and iwi authorities of the proposed regulations with adequate time to comment.

In addition, the Minister also has the power to prescribe the content, form and conditions for water and discharge permits and to require consent authorities to fix fees or charges.

Natural Hazards and Hazardous substances

Pursuant to section 30(1)(d)(v) of the RMA, regional councils and territorial authorities are required to manage risks from natural hazards. The Bill proposes to amend the RMA by including this requirement as a matter of national importance under section 6 of the RMA.

In order to avoid duplication with other legislation, proposed amendments to Part 4 of the RMA remove the function of territorial authorities and regional councils to manage hazardous substances, which is provided for in the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996.

Strengthen the requirements on councils to improve housing and provide for development capacity

Section 30 of the RMA will be amended to include as a function of a regional Council the review of any objectives, policies, and methods to ensure there is sufficient development capacity in relation to residential and business land to meet the long term demands in each region.

Housing affordability is a contentious problem and this will enable better provision of residential and business development capacity and contribute to improved housing affordability outcomes.

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The contents of this publication are general in nature and are not intended to serve as a substitute for legal advice on a specific matter. In the absence of such advice no responsibility is accepted by Brookfields for reliance on any of the information provided in this publication.

 

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