By: Kirstie Wyss
On 26 November 2015, the Minister for the Environment, the Honourable Nick Smith, announced the long-awaited details of the suite of reforms to the Resource Management Act 1991 ("RMA") and other environmental legislation proposed in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill.

The main objectives of the reforms are to achieve better alignment and integration across the resource management system, proportional and adaptable processes, and robust and durable decision making.

The proposed reforms aim to (among other things):
  • provide greater national direction from central government across the spectrum of resource management processes;
  • improve consistency in plans and policy statements at a nationwide level:
    • including the provision of national planning templates; and
    • measures to improve housing affordability;
  • introduce two different plan development options:
    • a streamlined process; and
    • a collaborative process;
  • improve consistency in iwi engagement; and
  • provide for a simpler and more efficient processing of resource consent applications.
There are no substantial changes to Part 2 of the RMA (Purpose and Principles), except the proposed addition of "the management of significant risks from natural hazards" as a new matter of national importance under section 6.

If the Bill is enacted, we can expect to see more planning processes like those we have experienced recently in Canterbury, including:
  • expedited plan-making and hearing processes;
  • area-specific committees; and
  • reduced appeal rights.
These reforms signal a paradigm shift in the way environmental issues will be managed under the RMA in the future.

The Bill will have its first reading in Parliament and will likely be referred to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee. Watch out for the timeframes (yet to be announced) to have a say and participate in the development of this Bill. 
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