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Resource Management Review paper sets out issues

Resource Management Review paper sets out issues

First published in Energy and Environment on November 14, 2019.

The Resource Management Review Panel has released its option papers which covers in broad brush strokes many complex issues.

The paper is set out with 14 issues ranging from whether the RMA should be split, through to reducing complexity. Under these are 44 specific questions. (These are listed on page 7).

The review has a dual focus - improving outcomes for the natural environment and improving urban and other development outcomes. The Panel said its “review is expected to resolve debate on key issues, including the possibility of separating statutory provision for land use planning from environmental protection of air, water, soil and biodiversity”.

The document emphasises “enabling a new role for spatial planning”, an emphasis repeated in Cabinet papers released on the review (story on page 2).

The review will also consider the potential impact of and alignment with proposals for reform of other relevant legislation, climate change and resource allocation issues.

The paper said NZ’s natural environment is under significant pressure , while at the same time urban areas are struggling to keep pace with population growth. The current system had a lack of clear environmental protections which has made management of cumulative environmental effects particularly challenging.

There was also a lack of recognition of the benefits of urban development. This meant the positive benefits of housing, infrastructure and other development has hampered planning for development.

“The RMA has been criticised for having too narrow a focus on managing the negative effects of resource use, rather than providing direction on desired environmental and development outcomes or goals. The RMA is a framework law that enables rather than directs. It does not explicitly set out outcomes to be achieved, other than the high level goal of sustainable management. Some argue this has made forward planning difficult. The RMA’s focus on environmental effects can also mean the positive benefits of development and a long-term perspective are under-emphasised, despite these being core aspects of “sustainable management”.

A bias towards the status quo favoured existing users and uses especially when it came to allocation of resources such as water. The RMA currently provides a mechanism for allocation through resource consents and permits. This review will consider whether this mechanism is fit for purpose.

Allocation under the RMA has generally been on a “first in first served” basis, with an expectation by users that access rights will extend over long periods and be renewed. Extending access to a resource for long periods limited the ability of the system to respond to environmental pressures.

The Government is developing freshwater allocation policy through its Essential Freshwater work programme. Likewise, it has work underway to improve management of coastal marine space for aquaculture. “Given increasing resource scarcity and a necessary focus on managing within environmental limits, a question remains as to whether the RMA should provide a more specific framework to guide plan making about resource allocation issues at a general level.”

The resource management system had become unnecessarily complex, litigious, costly, and frequently disproportionate to the risk or impact of the proposal. Matters that should be addressed in plans are left to the resource consenting process to resolve, generating unnecessary uncertainty.

The proliferation of planning documents under the RMA has added complexity and cost, while there was weak compliance, monitoring and enforcement.

“A significant contributor to the problems with the RMA has been insufficient capacity and capability in central and local government to fulfil the roles expected of them. Insufficient resourcing is considered one of the reasons for central government’s failure to implement national direction. Under-resourcing has particularly affected the ability of councils to undertake necessary research and monitoring.” Responses are due by February 3 with a final report to Environment Minister David Parker by May 31.

First published in Energy and Environment on November 14, 2019.

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