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Adams: Resource Management Reform Bill 2012 - Third Reading

Amy Adams

27 August, 2013

Resource Management Reform Bill 2012 - Third Reading

I move, that the Resource Management Amendment Bill, the Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Amendment Bill (No 2), and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Amendment Bill be now read a third time.

This Bill makes a number of changes to the Resource Management Act which are designed to improve efficiency, enable growth, provide good environmental outcomes and ensure decisions about resource management are reached in a timely and cost-effective way.

The proposals in this Bill build on the positive results which have already been achieved by the Government’s Resource Management reforms.

When National became the Government in 2008, we began a programme of reform to ensure that our planning law was about the sustainable management of our resources, and timely, high quality decisions for New Zealanders and our job-creating businesses.

The first stage of reform in 2009 involved 150 amendments to simplify and streamline the RMA, to reduce costs, uncertainties and delays.

This has improved outcomes for the environment, supported business investment and encouraged stronger economic growth.

These reforms reduced late consents from 31 per cent in 2008 to 5 per cent in 2011. That is a great achievement.

The 2009 reforms also created the Environmental Protection Authority, which enables the efficient processing of major urban and infrastructure projects that are crucially important to New Zealanders.

This process has led to the Waterview and Transmission Gully projects both being consented within nine months.

Previously these critical transport projects could be deadlocked for years.

The trade protection provisions introduced by the 2009 reforms have also helped tackle the so-called supermarket wars, where supermarket groups and other big retailers have spent years and years, and millions of dollars, fighting each other in the courts over their respective expansion plans.

The Bill now before us builds on these successes, and makes several important new contributions to improving the resource management system in a number of key areas.

Firstly, the Bill enacts a six-month time limit for the processing of resource consent applications for medium-sized projects.

This policy is an election manifesto commitment, and will mean that applicants and communities will have greater certainty about the development of regionally-significant projects.

Currently it takes an average of nine months to process applications for medium-sized projects, and there is currently no prescribed time-limit for the overall process under the RMA.

These sorts of applications are typically for new industrial developments, subdivisions, retail developments and regional infrastructure.

Collectively, annual investment in these sorts of projects represents the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure and capital costs.

Reducing the time it takes to process these consents by about one-third will provide increased certainty and economic benefits to communities and applicants.

The Bill also contains provisions to develop a one-off hearings process for Auckland’s first Unitary Plan.

This streamlined process is essential for developing and implementing a consistent planning framework for New Zealand’s biggest city.

Thanks to this process, it is estimated that the Unitary Plan will be in place within three years from its notification, rather than the 10 years it could have taken before the Government approved a streamlined process.

Auckland’s economy is too important to wait ten years for a plan to become operational. Ensuring a high-quality plan is delivered swiftly will allow for work on pressing Auckland issues such as housing affordability to take place sooner, rather than later.

This significant time saving will provide certainty and will have real benefits for both Aucklanders and the country as a whole.

Another significant change introduced in this Bill is a specific requirement for local decision makers to undertake more robust cost-benefit analyses under section 32 of the RMA when considering plan changes and proposals.

A requirement for decision-makers to consider both the positive and negative impacts on employment and economic growth reflects the far-reaching impact that plan changes and proposals at a local level can have on the wider economy.

The scale and scope of the analysis required will depend on the size of the plan change or proposal, which means that while changes of significant impact will require in-depth scrutiny, decision-makers will not have to spend large amounts of time on minor requests and proposals.

This Bill also makes important changes to facilitate the Government’s programme to deliver high-quality, independent environmental reporting in New Zealand.

This change will ensure that that decision-makers and the public have access to high quality environmental monitoring and data. This is an important first step for improving the quality of local government planning and decision making.

At present, Councils collect data independently of each other, and use their own separate methodologies to collect environmental data. There is no common national framework for best practice in how environmental data should be collected, in terms of either common methodologies or standards.

The Government is currently working collaboratively with Councils to develop a consistent framework so that the results of environmental monitoring may be accurately compared across different areas, and provides a representative picture of our core environmental domains.

If this voluntary approach is not adequately implemented on a collaborative basis, this Bill provides a new regulation-making power for the Minister for the Environment to develop a common monitoring framework across the country.

The overall purpose of the changes in this Bill is for decisions about resource management to be processed more swiftly, providing certainty for applicants and communities, as opposed to changing the outcomes of those decisions.

This Bill makes changes which will help make our resource management system more workable, fair and accountable to facilitate better economic outcomes for our communities.

This Bill clarifies how councils may make rules in relation to tree protection.

A rule in a district plan may only restrict the felling, trimming, removal or damaging of trees on private property in an urban environment, if the allotments have been identified by street address or a legal description of the land and the trees are described in a schedule to the plan.

Groups of trees that cover adjacent allotments may be identified, if they form a cluster, grove or line.

This does not affect the ability for regional councils or district councils to identify areas of significant vegetation or to create and use bush protection zones.

However, if trees within these areas in urban environment allotments are identified in a district plan, the rules will need to comply with the requirements of this amendment.

While most councils already operate in this way, the provision will come into force after two years, to allow those that have used blanket rules to update their schedules if they wish.

In addition to the changes outlined in this Bill, I also intend to introduce a further Resource Management Reform Bill later this year.

This next Bill will make our planning system much more efficient and effective.

Making our planning system more proactive, instead of reactive is also a key goal of the next stage of resource management reform.

Ensuring that more planning decisions are made up front in the plan-making stage, as opposed to being continually re-litigated through the consenting process will make our planning system more efficient and provide greater certainty to communities and applicants.

Reforming our freshwater management system will also bring positive environmental and community benefits.

Introducing collaborative freshwater planning will mean communities, resource users and Councils can work together to set limits and objectives for their local freshwater resources which will be durable and less likely to be prone to expensive and timely litigation.

In the meantime, however, this current Bill before the House will make discrete and welcome improvements to the RMA.

The Government’s comprehensive RMA reforms will deliver a system that meets the needs of our communities and our regions by enabling jobs and growth, while also providing for strong environmental protections in a timely and cost-effective way.

They are about breaking the cycle of delay after delay and delivering decisions that provide certainty for all involved.

Our reforms are not about growth at any cost.

I have always said we have to balance our economic opportunities and our environmental responsibilities. That is at the heart of our approach to planning law.

I commend the Bill to the House.

ENDS


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