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Resource Management Review - the devil is in the democracy

The Resource Management Review - the devil is in the democracy (how much will be allowed?) says DLA Piper

26 July 2019

The Government has released draft Terms of Reference for the Resource Management Review Panel to be chaired by the Hon. Tony Randerson QC. With him will be an expert advisory group.

The Resource Management Act is now 28 years old, and successive governments have attempted many reforms since its inception, says DLA Piper partner Stephen Quinn; “due to these numerous reforms, the current state of the Act is a legislative muddle.”

Appointments to the panel will be made by Cabinet, of individuals with skills across a range of relevant areas. Stephen Quinn says “The difficulty we have assessing the likely efficacy of any reforms is a current lack of information as to the drivers and outcomes sought. Two problems have been identified as urgent: the need for low-cost housing, and the state of NZ’s waterways. Despite their importance, those examples are a small percentage of everything dealt with under the RMA, and larger systemic issues need to be the focus.”

The review will prioritise setting a high level framework for an improved system: removing unnecessary complexity; aligning land use planning and regulation with infrastructure planning and funding through spatial planning; considering whether or not to separate statutory provision for land use planning and environmental protection; and allocating roles between central and local government, the Environment Court, and other institutions.

“One big question is what will the Government do about public participation?” says Stephen Quinn. “Public participation underpins most parts of the Act, but it inevitably slows processes down. A current example is the review of the district plan in Queenstown. It involves large numbers of appeals and hundreds of participants in the Environment Court processes, which will take many months to work through.”

“While the focus of problems raised is frequently on resource consent processes, a key aspect of the RMA that receives less focus” he says, “is the process for making plans. Plans directs whether activities such as housing even needs a resource consent. Plan changes by councils take time. The amendment to the Act in 2017 allowing fast-tracking processes has had very little uptake. You can limit public participation or tighten the time frames using that process.”

Stephen Quinn thinks central Government needs to take the lead in charting a new course for the RMA. “The task has predominantly been left to councils for the last twenty years or so. The more recent approach of express national direction and/or encouraging the use of the streamline planning process could help to expedite processes and achieve consistency.”

The draft Terms of Reference indicate the report is due with the Minister at the end of May 2020, with an issues and options paper to be presented in October this year. These are extremely tight timeframes given the magnitude of the Panel's task.

Stephen Quinn has depth and breadth of experience acting for Crown entities, SOEs, government departments and local government, with emphasis on resource management (RMA), environmental law, and building law. He appears in council hearings, the Environment Court, High Court, and Court of Appeal.


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