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ORC Responds To Govt’s Proposed Resource Management Reforms

ORC is seeking to work with the new coalition Government on its proposed changes to replace the National Policy Statement for Freshwater 2020 in our Region, says ORC Chair Gretchen Robertson.

It is the Government’s intention to repeal key elements of the nation’s current resource management framework: the Natural and Built Environment Act 2023 and the Spatial Planning Act 2023 as well as the National Policy Statement for Freshwater 2020, Cr Robertson says.

Minister Responsible for RMA Reform, Chris Bishop, wrote to multiple parties across New Zealand as well as ORC yesterday (13th) broadly outlining its intent for resource management reforms. (see attachment)

Cr Robertson thanked the Minister for the update and says she and Councillors are looking forward to meeting with him and the Minister for the Environment, Penny Simmons, to discuss the context for Otago and the further detail around the resource management reforms.

“Given Otago’s work to date and intent to notify a new plan in June 2024, it’s critical now because our Council and the wider community desperately need certainty about any future changes and how they may impact our plan process,” she says.

“Whether it’s an irrigator, an exporter relying on strong environmental-stewardship reputation, or a camper swimming in a local waterway - we all need certainty,” she says.

Cr Robertson noted that today there was an Environmental Science and Policy committee full day briefing in Dunedin where a draft LWRP was presented to Councillors. The ORC has been working to meet a Ministerial timeline for notification of mid-2024.

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This reflected the need to address a current Plan that is not fit for purpose.

This specific requirement for ORC has not been removed.

Other councils have been working to December 2024, however, the letter from Minister Bishop indicated that this will be pushed out by three years to December 2027.

Cr Robertson says following the briefing today, Councillors discussed Mr Bishop’s letter of intentions and will shortly send an invitation letter to the minister along with the Minister for the Environment to meet with ORC.

“All New Zealanders value healthy rivers, lakes and streams and local government needs to be actively involved with central government, we’re both key players. We need to start discussion with key ministers, invite it and welcome it,” Cr Robertson says.

In Mr Bishop’s letter he acknowledged that over the last two years or more ORC may have committed significant time and resources into the broader resource management reforms.

Cr Robertson says in recent years there had been “significant work” undertaken by ORC and communities across the region to develop a new Regional Policy Statement (RPS) and its draft Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP); with both focussed on protecting and enhancing Otago’s environment.

“Both local and central government want to ensure we can thrive and retain not only a strong international, but also domestic reputation. We also don’t want to stifle both economies and community visions with any uncertainty,” she says.

For the ORC’s draft LWRP there have been three consultation rounds completed during the past two years.

The third round just completed comprised 12 public drop-in sessions around Otago and two on-line meetings which attracted more than 370 people over two months, ultimately prompting a total 573 online public responses from individuals and organisations being lodged with ORC by 7 November.

“The visions of Otago’s people have been interwoven in a notified RPS and the draft Land and Water Plan. This has taken thousands of hours of voluntary community input and huge ratepayer investment in science and planning,” she says.

Cr Robertson says ORC and communities “face real challenges” as the current LWRP plan is old and unworkable unless addressed and communities have set their visions for their waterways.

“We have a bulk of expiring short-term water take consents in 2026-27 awaiting certainty through a new plan. ORC is best to proceed given the likely length of time involved in the statutory processes in developing a resource management framework reform for New Zealand,” she says.

Changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management

Mr Bishop says among the proposed changes the Government has decided to review and replace the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM) in this term of Government, following normal RMA processes for national direction.

“We will also use the repeal legislation mentioned above to extend the RMA’s statutory deadline for notifying freshwater planning instruments to implement the NPS-FM by three years to 31 December 2027. This will allow time to replace and then implement a revised NPS-FM,” he says.

Mr Bishop says Government intend to use the planned RMA amendment bill to progress changes to the application of the hierarchy of obligations contained in the Te Mana o te Wai provisions of the NPS-FM.

Process for legislation to revert to the Resource Management Act 1991

The Government’s other intentions are to repeal the Natural and Built Environment Act 2023 and the Spatial Planning Act 2023 before Parliament rises at the end of 2023. Once that repeal is finalised, legislation will revert to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

In a second phase of reforms, the Government will amend the RMA to make it easier to consent new infrastructure including renewable energy, allow farmers to farm, build more houses, and enable aquaculture and other primary industries.

A third phase of the reform will replace the RMA with new resource management laws based on the enjoyment of property rights.

Mr Bishop notes a “limited number” of Natural and Built Environment Act functions will be retained, including the fast-track consenting process while the Government develops a replacement fast-track consenting regime – which will be introduced within the Government’s first 100 days of taking office.

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