RMA Stage One Reforms - Select Committee Recommends Significant Change

Introduction

The Environmental Select Committee has now released its report on Stage One of the Resource Management Act Amendment Bill (the Bill). The intention behind the Bill was to reduce complexity, increase certainty, restore public participation opportunities, and improve RMA processes and support the urgent need to improve freshwater management and outcomes in New Zealand. It intended to roll back some of the 2017 reforms that the current Government considers were failings of the previous reforms and fix up the ‘relatively straight forward matters’.

However as the Bill has developed and now through the Select Committee recommendations we are seeing more significant amendments than were originally envisaged within the Stage One reforms. While also making recommendations and clarification to the freshwater planning processes, the Select Committee has recommended significant changes to how the RMA interacts with climate change.

Select Committee Recommendations Addressing Climate Change

The RMA provisions expressly prevent local authorities from considering the effects of an activity on climate change for the purposes of both assessing resource consent applications and when making plan provisions.

There are limited exceptions to this, including when the activity involves the use and development of renewable energy which enables a reduction in a discharge. Local authorities can also plan for the effects of climate change when carrying out their functions under the RMA. For example, plan making in relation to coastal areas which are subject to sea level rise.   

The Select Committee has recommended the removal of these RMA provisions preventing climate change considerations and the addition of provisions which, if passed into law, will mean local authorities must have regard to emissions reductions plans and national adaption plans, when making and amending regional policy statements and regional and district plans.

Further it will mean when processing resource consent applications local authorities will be able to consider the impacts, including the greenhouse gas emissions, of an activity on climate change.

The Select Committee has recommended the removal of these current preventative RMA provisions, which are in conflict with new climate change policies, in order to bring the RMA in line with the new statutory requirements and target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 under the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 (Zero Carbon Act).

These changes, if passed into law, will have significance for local authorities, when both plan making and processing resource consent applications. The changes will also have significant impacts on industries that have previously relied on the RMA provisions restricting any consideration of their activities on climate change when seeking resource consents.

The changes relating to climate change would not come into effect until the end of 2021, allowing sufficient time for national direction to be developed on how councils should assess the impacts of an activity on climate change.

Recommendations - New Freshwater Planning Process

The Select Committee has also recommended changes to the new freshwater planning process, some of which are noteworthy. A recommendation of particular significance will allow submitters to appeal the regional council decisions to accept (in the High Court) or reject (in the Environment Court) recommendations of the hearing panel on matters outside of the scope of submissions where previously there were limited appeal rights of such decisions.

Other recommendations relating to freshwater planning processes include clarifying and placing restrictions on cross-examination at freshwater hearings, providing for the appointment of a ‘friend of a submitter’, clarification around expert conferencing and extending the timeframe to 40 working days (from 20) for regional councils to make decisions on recommendations from the panel.

Stage Two Reforms - Timing of Climate Change RMA Amendments

The role of the RMA in relation to climate change was slated to occur in Stage Two of the RMA reforms. The Stage Two Issues and Options paper, released for public feedback in November last year, included reviewing the relationship between climate change and the RMA. The Resource Management Review Panel is due to report back in May on the matters raised within the Issues and Options paper. With the report of the Panel anticipated to examine the relationship between climate change and the RMA in depth, it was not generally anticipated that the Select Committee would include climate change at this late point of the Stage One reforms.

The Select Committee has acknowledged the wider RMA reform will consider the RMA’s relationship with climate change, however it seems the Select Committee is concerned the Stage Two reform is some way in the future and may not be completed prior to the end of 2021 when the first emission reduction plans are created under the Zero Carbon Act. So the Select Committee has sought to address climate change now in order to bring the RMA in line with the Zero Carbon Bill at the earliest possible opportunity.

What's Next?

While no dates were set this Bill was expected to go through its second and third readings in the house prior to the elections later this year. Whether or not this now eventuates is of course dependent upon the ongoing Covid-19 situation. However given the Government’s desire to amend the RMA and align it with other legislation addressing climate change, the Government seems likely to continue its push to have this Bill passed into law prior to the elections in September.

If you have any questions about the Bill or how the changes may impact upon resource consenting or other RMA processes please get in touch with one of the Adderley Head team.

Disclaimer: This is a brief summary for information purposes only and is not legal advice.

Posted on Wednesday 15th April, 2020 at 05:48 pm