Environmental / Resource Management

Key recommendations of the Select Committee on the Resource Management Amendment Bill

The Resource Management Amendment Bill was introduced in September 2019 and we reported on it  here.  The Bill includes revisiting restrictions on public notification and appeals, reinstating financial contributions and adding a new specialised process for freshwater decision-making. 

The Select Committee’s report on the Bill is now available here.  We summarise its key recommendations, which include adjustments to the new freshwater planning process and introducing climate change considerations into RMA decision making.

The Select Committee’s key recommendations concerning the new freshwater planning process are:

  • Providing clarification as to what constitutes a “freshwater planning instrument” by requiring regional councils to confirm whether the whole or part of an instrument will undergo the freshwater planning process.  Any part of an instrument that does not include provisions relating to freshwater management (and therefore not constituting a “freshwater planning instrument”) will undergo the standard Part 1, Schedule 1 process (clause 13 of the Bill).

  • Widening the matters that could be “called in” by the Minister to include a change or variation to a regional policy statement, or a request for such a change (clauses 28A to 28K of the Bill).

  • Providing a power for the Chief Freshwater Commissioner to extend various timeframes and providing 40 days (rather than 20) for regional councils to make decisions on panel recommendations (new clauses 46A and 50 added to Schedule 1 by clause 72 of the Bill). 

  • Adding restrictions to cross-examination including that it should be at the request of a party, and not the default position, and should only occur if the panel is satisfied that cross-examination is necessary in the interests of justice.  It is also recommended that the panel may appoint a “friend of submitter” for any submitter (new clauses 46 and 47 added to Schedule 1 by clause 72 of the Bill).

  • Allowing councils in making their decisions to develop alternatives outside the scope of submissions and clarifying corresponding appeal rights.  In that regard it is noted that, if the rejected recommendation from the panel were within the scope of submissions, the council’s decision would also be limited to the scope of submissions (new clauses 51, 54 and 55 added to Schedule 1 by clause 72 of the Bill).

  • Changes to the process for variations, including in particular that variations not be limited to errors or omissions (new clause 52 added to Schedule 1 by clause 72 of the Bill).

  • Adding matters to be taken into account by the Chief Freshwater Commissioner in appointing panels, such as knowledge and expertise in relation to judicial and RMA processes and tikanga Māori and amending matters in relation to costs and panel remuneration (new clauses 58, 59, 61 and 63 added to Schedule 1 by clause 72 of the Bill).

The recommendations introducing climate change considerations are:

  • Removing the current statutory barriers to consideration of climate change in RMA decision-making and adding “emissions reductions plans” and “national adaptation plans” to the list of matters that local authorities must have regard to when making and amending regional policy statements, regional plans, and district plans.  This would be effective from 31 December 2021 to allow for those plans to be developed under the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 processes (clauses 12C to 12G, 25A and 25B of the Bill).

  • This transitional phase would not apply to Boards of Inquiry or the Environment Court where matters are “called in” so that these bodies may take global environmental impacts (including climate change mitigation) into account from the date of the Bill’s commencement.  The report explains that this is to help ensure that large-scale projects that may have high emissions are not brought forward to take advantage of the delayed commencement of provisions concerning the “emissions reductions plans” and “national adaptation plans”.

Somet other matters arising from the Select Committee report are:

  • It notes that section 360(1)(hn) RMA allows regulations to restrict stock from water bodies including prescribing fencing requirements or riparian planting.  It recommends that section 360(1)(hn) be extended to allow regulations to exclude stock from the margins of water bodies, estuaries, and coastal lakes and lagoons (clause 70).

  • There were a significant number of submissions on district planning rules for urban tree protection but on that issue a more efficient process for identifying trees for protection may be considered as part of the wider resource management system review which is also underway.  The Government appointed expert Resource Management Review Panel is due to report by May 2020. 

  • In that regard, the report records the National Party’s view that any substantive changes to the RMA should be awaiting that expert panel’s recommendations and that it does not support the Bill.

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