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Urgent Changes To System Through First RMA Amendment Bill

Hon Chris Bishop
Minister Responsible for RMA Reform

Hon Todd McClay
Minister of Agriculture

Hon Andrew Hoggard
Associate Minister for the Environment

The coalition Government is delivering on its commitment to improve resource management laws and give greater certainty to consent applicants, with a Bill to amend the Resource Management Act (RMA) expected to be introduced to Parliament next month.

RMA Reform Minister Chris Bishop has today outlined the first RMA Amendment Bill which will make urgent changes to the resource management system.

"RM Bill 1 focuses on targeted changes that can take effect quickly and give certainty to councils and consent applicants, while new legislation to replace the RMA is developed,” Mr Bishop says.

“This Bill will reduce the regulatory burden on resource consent applicants and support development in key sectors, including farming, mining and other primary industries. These sectors are critical to rebuilding the New Zealand economy.”

Five changes will be included in the Bill, these will:

  • Make it clear that, while the NPS-FM is being reviewed and replaced, resource consent applicants no longer need to demonstrate their proposed activities follow the Te Mana o te Wai hierarchy of obligations, as set out in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM).
  • Amend stock exclusion regulations in relation to sloped land.
  • Repeal intensive winter grazing regulations.
  • Align the consenting pathway for coal mining with the pathway for other mining activities in the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (NPS-IB), NPS-FM, and the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F).
  • Suspend the NPS-IB requirement for councils to identify new Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) for three years.
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Agriculture Minister Todd McClay says improving primary sector profitability is key to boosting our largest exporting sector. Regulations need to be fit for purpose and not place unnecessary costs on farmers and growers.

“Removing the need for resource consent applicants to demonstrate that their activities follow the hierarchy of obligations will better reflect the interests of all water users,” Mr McClay says.

“Cabinet has agreed changes to stock exclusion and winter grazing regulations representing a move to a more risk-based, catchment-focussed approach.

“We’re proposing to remove the problematic and contentious low slope map and for regional councils and farmers to determine where stock need to be excluded, based on risk. The focus is on farm-level and regionally suitable solutions. This will reduce costs for farmers.

“Importantly, effective non-regulatory measures are already in place to support the continued improvement of winter grazing practices going forward. Sector groups have confirmed their continued and collective commitment to work alongside farmers and regional councils to ensure good outcomes.”

“Regional councils tell us there have been significant improvements in winter grazing practices, with farmers changing where they plant fodder crops and how they manage winter grazing. The national requirement for farmers to obtain prescriptive and expensive winter grazing consents is being removed in time for the 2025 season, and instead being managed through good practice and regional council plans,” Mr McClay says.

Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard says freshwater farm plans will enable farmers and growers to find the right solutions for their farm and catchment.

“Property and catchment specific farm plans make sense because they can be used to identify environmental risks and plan practical on-farm actions to manage those risks,” Mr Hoggard says.

“Sector groups and farmers have told us the current system is too complex, so the Government is working at pace to simplify and improve the freshwater farm plan system.

“We have heard that many in the sector would like existing environmental programmes, including farm environment plans and industry assurance programmes, to be integrated with the freshwater farm plan system.”

The freshwater farm plan roll-out began in Southland and Waikato in 2023 and expanded to areas of the West Coast, Otago, and Manawatū/Whanganui earlier this year.

“The first RMA Bill will also give effect to the previously announced changes to suspend the identification of new SNAs through the NPS-IB for a period of three years.

“The criteria for identifying new significant natural areas within the NPS-IB were an attempt to provide a standard approach to identifying the most important areas of biodiversity.

“However, there are concerns less significant areas are being captured and this can place too much restriction on how land is used.” Mr Hoggard says.

RM Bill 1 is expected to be introduced to Parliament in May and passed into law later in this year.

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