Minister for the Environment, Hon David Parker, talks about the biggest reforms to the RMA since its inception

The resource management system reform programme: What does this mean for Aotearoa?

Why the system needs reforming

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) has not delivered on its desired environmental or development outcomes nor have RMA decisions consistently given effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti).

Current processes take too long, cost too much and will not address the many new challenges facing our environment and our communities.

New Zealand needs a resource management (RM) system that will manage these challenges more effectively for current and future generations.  

In February 2021, the Government announced it would repeal the RMA and enact new legislation based on the recommendations of the Resource Management Review Panel. The three proposed acts are:

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

About the proposed new legislation

The three proposed new pieces of legislation to replace the RMA are as follows.

Natural and Built Environments Act

The proposed Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) is intended to be the primary piece of legislation to replace the RMA. Like the RMA, the National and Built Environments Act will be an integrated statute for land use and environmental protection. It will work in tandem with the proposed Spatial Planning Act (SPA).

The Act sets out how the environment will be protected and enhanced in the future system, ensuring people and communities use the environment in a way that not only supports their well-being but that of future generations.

This would be achieved by:

  • promoting positive outcomes for both the natural and built environments
  • ensuring that use, development and protection of resources only occur within prescribed environmental limits

The NBA will also improve recognition of te ao Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi. This includes reference to Te Oranga o te Taiao in the Act’s purpose. This concept is intended to encapsulate the intergenerational importance of the health and well-being of the natural environment. Decision-makers would be required ‘to give effect to’ the principles of Te Tiriti, replacing the current RMA requirement to ‘take into account’ those principles.

Under the Act, central government’s proposed new National Planning Framework will provide a set of mandatory national policies and standards on specified aspects of the new system. These will include natural environmental limits, outcomes and targets.

Read the exposure draft of the NBA.

Spatial Planning Act

The Spatial Planning Act provides a strategic and long-term approach to how we plan for using land and the coastal marine area.

Long-term spatial strategies in each region will be developed to identify areas that: 

  • will be suitable for development
  • need to be protected or improved
  • will need new infrastructure and other social needs such as hospitals and schools
  • are vulnerable to climate change effects and natural hazards such as earthquakes.

The regional strategies will enable more efficient land and development markets to improve housing supply, affordability and choice, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The Government has established a new interdepartmental executive board, the Spatial Planning Reform Board, to oversee the development of the Act. This is as part of the wider resource management reforms. 

It will be only the second interdepartmental Executive Board established under the Public Service Act 2020. 

Read more about the Spatial planning board.  

Climate Adaptation Act

This Act will support New Zealand’s response to the effects of climate change. It will address the complex legal and technical issues associated with managed retreat and funding and financing adaptation.

Objectives of RM reform

Together this suite of legislation will:

  • protect and restore the environment and its capacity to provide for the wellbeing of present and future generations
  • better enable development within natural environmental limits
  • give proper recognition to the principles of Te Tiriti of Waitangi and provide greater recognition of te ao Māori including mātauranga Māori
  • better prepare for adapting to climate change and risks from natural hazards, and better mitigate emissions contributing to climate change
  • improve system efficiency and effectiveness, and reduce complexity while retaining appropriate local democratic input.

Basis for the reform

The reform is based on the findings of the comprehensive review of the resource management system which were released last year. The review was carried out by the independent Resource Management Review Panel led by Hon Tony Randerson, QC. It is the most significant, broad-ranging and inclusive review of the resource management system since the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) was enacted.

Read the Panel’s report New Directions for Resource Management in New Zealand.

The way forward for reform

  • The proposed Natural and Built Environment Act is the primary piece of legislation in the reform package and will be progressed initially through an exposure draft. An exposure draft refers to legislation that has not yet formally been introduced into parliament.
  • The exposure draft of the NBA will include the most important sections of the Bill such as the overall purpose of the Bill and what it aims to achieve, the Treaty clause, the National Planning Framework and region-wide plans.
  • The exposure draft will be considered by a select committee inquiry in the second half of 2021.
  • The select committee will report its findings to Parliament and any changes will be made before the full Bill is formally introduced. Other components of the full bill that were not developed in time for the exposure draft will be decided by Cabinet before being included in the full Bill.
  • The Natural and Built Environments Act and the Spatial Planning Act will be formally introduced in 2022.
  • A standard legislative and select committee process will follow with the aim of the NBA being passed into law in this parliamentary term. The CAA will be progressed in this time too.