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A Changing Landscape: New Direction for Resource Management

Many of the environmental issues we now face are consequences of legislation that strived for a better future, but in practice did more damage than good.  Over the coming months we'll be bringing you a series of articles which will look at the background and issues for resource management, and track the ever-developing changes.  Our first article looks at the motivation to change the resource management space, and where things are at in that process.

The Resource Management Act 1991 (“RMA”) was the first comprehensive and integrated review of the laws governing the management of the country's natural and built resources: land, air, water, and minerals.  The RMA repealed 54 statutes and more than 20 regulations, creating a trail blazing piece of legislation both locally and from a global perspective.  This ‘one stop shop’ wrote into law the principle of sustainable management and provided a framework for mitigating, remedying or avoiding adverse effects on the environment.  The RMA aspired to protect our natural environment while balancing the needs of society in the developing world. 

Fast forward 30 years, and the practical implementation of the RMA has failed to give effect to its original intention.

As a result, the Government appointed Hon Tony Randerson QC to lead the Resource Management Review Panel (“the Panel”) in reviewing the RMA.  The report – New Directions for Resource Management in New Zealand – was issued in June 2020. In it, the Panel made (among other matters) the following key recommendations:

  • The RMA should be repealed and replaced with new legislation;
  • The new regime should:
    • introduce the concept of Te Mana o te Taiao and giving effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi;
    • implement a new purpose and provide new guiding principles;
    • change the national direction mechanisms and role of central government;
    • implement a mandatory plan for each region combining regional policy statements and regional and district plans;
    • establish a comprehensive, nationally coordinated environmental monitoring system. This should be lead by the Ministry for the Environment in consultation with other agencies; and
  • Resourcing should be provided by local and central government to mana whenua to participate in RMA processes.

Consequently, the government has followed the recommendations of the Panel.  In particular, the government has agreed to repeal the RMA and replace it with three new pieces of legislation – the Natural and Built Environments Act, the Strategic Planning Act and the Climate Change Adaption Act.  The government is moving quickly to prepare/create the new regime, with Bill’s for each of the proposed legislation set to be introduced by December 2021.

Currently, there is little information available to understand the extent to which the government will implement the findings of the Panel’s report.  However, given the velocity this process is likely to have, it will be important for stakeholders in the new regime to be responsive once engagement begins.

In our next article, we will step through the Panel’s report in more detail and provide some insight into issues that the new regime looks to address.

Kuru is an Associate in our Māori Legal Team and can be contacted on 07 958 7475.

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