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Select Committee reports back on Resource Management Amendment Bill 2019

Select Committee reports back on Resource Management Amendment Bill 2019

Select Committee reports back on Resource Management Amendment Bill 2019

Thursday 23 April, 2020

On 30 March 2020, the Environment Committee released its report on the Resource Management Amendment Bill 2019 (“the Amendment Bill “). The Amendment Bill was introduced into the House on 23 September 2019. It proposes a new separate process for freshwater planning and proposes to amend a number of changes to the RMA made by the previous National Government in 2017, in order to increase public participation in resource consent processes. The Committee recommended that the Amendment Bill be passed with amendments. The report focuses on the four key areas of reform in the Amendment Bill.

Changes to general resource management processes

The Committee recommended delaying, by three months after the commencement of the Amendment Bill, the introduction of the amendment allowing applicants to suspend processing of their non-notified resource consent application for up to 20 working days, and the amendment allowing councils to suspend the statutory time period for processing a resource consent to allow for time when administrative charges remained unpaid.

The Committee did not change the parts of the Amendment Bill removing preclusions on public notification and appeals for subdivisions and residential activity resource consents. 

The Committee supported the repeal of the collaborative planning process.

New enforcement powers given to the Environmental Protection Authority under the RMA

The Amendment Bill gives significant new powers to the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) that will enable it to initiate its own investigations into breaches of the RMA, assist councils with investigation into breaches of the RMA and intervene in RMA cases to become the lead agency of an investigation and subsequent enforcement actions.

The Committee supported these new powers but recommended changes to clarify that a local authority may resume any enforcement action if the EPA decides to cease its intervention in the council’s enforcement action. Double jeopardy will not be possible.

Significant reform to freshwater management planning processes

Regional or unitary councils carrying out regional freshwater functions will be required to follow the new freshwater planning process for proposed regional policy statements and regional plans set out in the proposed amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management. The process is similar to the Auckland Unitary Plan process.  It establishes a Chief Freshwater Commissioner who convenes freshwater hearings panels. 

Regional councils must prepare regional planning documents, notify, and call for submissions on the freshwater planning instruments.  They will then be referred to the Chief Freshwater Commissioner and then to a hearing panel who would make recommendations.  The council would then make a decision on those recommendations.  Appeal rights would be limited.

The Committee recommends making it clear that all freshwater planning instruments must go through the proposed process and clarifies the powers of the Chief Freshwater Commission and hearing panel in conducting hearings. 

Climate change mitigation and adaptation to be considered in RMA processes

The RMA currently prevents regional councils from considering the effects of climate change when assessing applications or making rules relating to the discharge of greenhouse gases. The exception to this is when the use and development of renewable energy enables a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The Committee recommends removing this barrier to reflect the policy framework under the Climate Change Response Act 2002.

However, the Committee recommends delaying the effect of these changes until 31 December 2021 to allow for direction at a national level “about how local government should make decisions about climate change under the RMA". This will avoid the risks of “inconsistencies, overlap of regulations between councils and emissions pricing, and litigation”.

The Committee recommends amending the matters that local authorities must have regard to when making and amending regional policy statements, regional plans, and district plans to include “emissions reduction plans” and “national adaptation plans”, again with a delayed commencement date of 31 December 2021 to ensure sufficient time to make policy arrangements.

The Committee also recommends amending the provision which allows the Minister to “call in” a matter from resource consent authorities if the Minister considers the matter to be one of national significance, to allow the relevant board of inquiry or Environment Court to take global environmental impacts (including climate change mitigation) into account from the date of the Amendment Bill’s commencement.

Our analysis

The Amendment Bill is the first stage of proposed changes to the Resource Management Act and will be followed by a second stage which is dependent on a wider review of all functions and processes under the RMA. The changes to the previous Government’s amendments are no surprise. However, some of the Committee’s recommendations are quite significant, especially those relating to freshwater management and climate change. The Amendment Bill is waiting for its Second Reading in the House.  There are no timeframes as to when it is expected to be passed into law (assuming it passes its Third Reading).

 


For assistance with questions relating to this article, please contact Bridget Parham.