Key components of our future resource management system

An overview of the new legislation and how the proposed future resource management system will work.

Overview of the new legislation

The Government plans to repeal the Resource Management Act and enact three new pieces of legislation this parliamentary term.

The new laws are the:

  • Spatial Planning Act (SPA) which requires the development of long-term regional spatial strategies to help coordinate and integrate decisions made under relevant legislation
  • Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), the main replacement for the RMA, to protect and restore the environment while better enabling development
  • Climate Adaptation Act (CAA) to address complex issues associated with managed retreat, and funding and financing climate adaptation.

The Natural and Built Environments Bill and Spatial Planning Bill are expected to be introduced to Parliament later in 2022. The Climate Change Adaptation Bill is likely to follow in 2023.

Five objectives for the new system

The Government has set five objectives for the new resource management system.

  • To protect and, where necessary, restore the environment and its capacity to provide for the wellbeing of present and future generations.
  • To better enable development within natural environmental limits including a significant improvement in housing supply, affordability and choice, and timely provision of appropriate infrastructure including social infrastructure.
  • To give proper recognition to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and provide greater recognition of te ao Māori including mātauranga Māori.
  • To better prepare for adapting to climate change and risks from natural hazards and better mitigate the emissions.
  • To improve system efficiency and effectiveness and reduce complexity while ensuring local input and involvement.

Spatial Planning Act

The Spatial Planning Act will provide a more strategic and coordinated approach to long-term regional planning. It will require spatial planning at the regional level through the development of regional spatial strategies.

The Spatial Planning Act will integrate with the Natural and Built Environments Act and other legislation such as the:

  • Local Government Act 2002
  • Land Transport Management Act 2003
  • Climate Change Response Act 2002.

Substantive changes to these other Acts are not proposed as part of this reform.

Regional spatial strategies

Regional spatial strategies will see central government, local government and Māori working together, in consultation with the community, to identify how their region will grow, adapt and change over the next thirty-plus years. They will focus on significant issues and opportunities facing the region.

Regional spatial strategies will set out a vision and objectives to guide a region’s development accompanied by a set of priority actions to turn the vision into a reality.

Regional spatial strategies will identify areas that:

  • are suitable for development
  • may require protection, improvement and restoration
  • require infrastructure
  • are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and natural hazards.

Key high-level decisions and trade-offs will be identified and resolved during the development of regional spatial strategies. This is likely to reduce disputes later during the development of NBA plans and consent applications.

Regional spatial strategies will be directed by the National Planning Framework and will provide strategic direction for Natural and Built Environments Act plans, putting the emphasis on upfront and robust planning. The regional spatial strategies will provide greater clarity on the spatial parameters within which the Natural and Built Environments Act plans operate. This will flow through to fewer decisions needing to be made at the consenting level.

It’s proposed that regional spatial strategies will be reviewed with full public engagement every nine years with the possibility of partial or full reviews occurring within that timeframe.

Natural and Built Environments Act

The Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) will be the primary piece of legislation to replace the RMA. Like the RMA, the NBA will be an integrated statute for land use and environmental protection.

Integral to the purpose of the NBA is Te Oranga o Te Taiao, a concept drawn from te ao Māori. It emphasises the importance of the health and wellbeing of te taiao for current and future generations.

The NBA will support this by requiring any use of the environment to comply with environmental limits and targets. The environmental limits will be set at the current state of the natural environment at the time the Act is passed to avoid further degradation. Associated targets will also be required to drive improvement in the natural environment. In areas that are already unacceptably degraded, minimum level targets will be required to improve the state of the environment ensuring that existing degradation is not locked in.

The NBA will also set out how the environment is to be protected and enhanced. It will specify positive outcomes to be promoted for the natural and built environments. This is a shift from the RMA which focuses on managing adverse effects rather than achieving positive outcomes.

These limits, targets and outcomes will be provided by the National Planning Framework, a key component of the Natural and Built Environments Act, that consolidates what is known as ’national direction’ in the existing resource management system.

The new system is designed to improve the recognition of Te Ao Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It will require anyone exercising powers, functions or duties under the Act to give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti. Under the current legislation, decision-makers are only required to 'take into account' those principles.

National Planning Framework

A key element of this legislation is the National Planning Framework which will provide a stronger and more active role in the new system for central government on how we use, protect and manage our natural and built environments.

In the current resource management system national direction is provided across 23 different national policy statements, national environmental standards, national planning standards and regulations. These documents will be consolidated into a comprehensive National Planning Framework, contributing to a more cohesive and efficient system.

The National Planning Framework will provide direction for regional spatial strategies and the NBA plans that flow from them.

It will set:

  • policies and standards for construction and development activities
  • natural environmental limits relating to water, estuaries, air, soil and indigenous biodiversity
  • targets for development within those environmental limits.

The National Planning Framework will also provide consistent policies and technical standards for all plans and consenting decisions around infrastructure. This will provide greater clarity, mean fewer decisions are made at consenting level and support the acceleration of housing and infrastructure.

Natural and Built Environments Act plans

The Natural and Built Environments Act will require each region to develop a Natural and Built Environments Act Plan (NBA plan). These will be combined plans covering both resource allocation and land use for a region.

More than 100 regional policy statements and regional and district plans will be consolidated into around 14 NBA plans, simplifying and improving the integration of the system.

NBA plans will be developed by regional planning committees comprising representatives from hapū, iwi and Māori along with local government. NBA plans must help achieve the goals set out in the regional spatial strategies, and put the direction set out in the National Planning Framework into practice. Early and wide-ranging public participation will be encouraged at the earliest stages of plan development.

Regional planning committees will lead development of the NBA plans. The emphasis will be on early collaboration and decision-making and a shift away from time-consuming and costly appeals.

Independent hearing panels will be appointed to consider submissions against the draft plan. If the regional planning committee accepts the recommendation, appeals will be limited to points of law.

How the proposed future resource management system will work

National Planning Framework

The National Planning Framework will provide clear direction to inform the development of regional spatial strategies and NBA plans.

The strategic decisions made in a regional spatial strategy will not be revisited or relitigated at the NBA plan level, except where new or more specific information becomes available.

Regional planning committees

The proposed system includes regional planning committees which would develop and make decisions on regional spatial strategies and NBA plans.

Composition of committees: 

  • Regional spatial strategies: local government, hapū, iwi and Māori and central government
  • NBA plans: local government and iwi/hapu representatives

Other committee proposals include:

  • membership and structure being decided on a region-by-region basis
  • committees having full autonomy on final decisions supported by feedback from local authorities and hapū, iwi and Māori
  • mechanisms to ensure local visions, objectives and priorities are reflected
  • secretariats to support the committees including staff and resources from local authorities and technical and mātauranga Māori expertise.

Consenting

Resource consents will still be part of the resource management system as an NBA plan is unable to anticipate every type of activity. Consents are a flexible tool to help implement NBA plans, the National Planning Framework and the NBA.

We want to front-load the system to be more directive and certain, reducing the need for consents along with more robust and rigorous compliance monitoring and enforcement processes and a more effective role for Māori.

The National Planning Framework and the NBA plans will categorise activities more consistently and play a key role in identifying who may participate in consenting. The NBA will ensure considerations at the consenting level will be more focused on positive outcomes.

The National Planning Framework and NBA plans will:

  • provide direction on where consents are needed and their activity class (such as controlled or discretionary)
  • provide direction on the level of notification required
  • permit activities subject to conditions to ensure environmental protections remain
  • provide clear processes for decision-making.

Existing RMA resource consent types: land use consent, subdivision consent, coastal permit, water permit and discharge permit will be retained.

The number of activities categories will reduce from six in the RMA to four in the NBA.

The four proposed NBA activities categories are:

  • permitted: activities where positive and adverse effects, including cumulative effects, are known
  • controlled: activities where potential positive and adverse effects, including cumulative effects, are generally known but tailored management of effects is required. Councils will have limited discretion to decline
  • discretionary: activities that are less appropriate, have effects that are less known or go beyond regional boundaries, and/or were unanticipated at the time of plan development. Councils will have a broad discretion to seek information and the ability to decline
  • prohibited: activities that do not meet outcomes and/or breach limits; no applications will be allowed.

With stronger regional and national direction, the NBA plans will be able to identify activities that could be permitted as long as they align and meet the environmental outcomes sought for the region.

If a greater number of permitted activities are prescribed in the National Planning Framework and NBA plans this will reduce unnecessary consents. Decisions made at each level will be better supported from above, increasing certainty for applicants.