Mixed response to RMA reform

Photo: ODT files
The most significant planning reform "in a generation" has passed in Parliament, but most of the region’s local government leaders say it will take a while to get their heads around the changes.

The Spatial Planning Bill and Natural and Built Environment Bill passed their third readings in Parliament yesterday and will shortly receive the Royal assent.

Environment Minister David Parker said in a statement "the new system is a once in a generation change".

"The new Bills replace the 30-year-old Resource Management Act (RMA)," he said.

"Despite regular tinkering by successive governments, the RMA was failing to either protect the environment or enable sensible development.

"The RMA had great potential — it just didn’t work the way it was supposed to."

Mr Parker said the new system would feature better environmental protections through new limits and targets, while there would also be planning for positive outcomes — not just managing adverse effects.

The Bills will condense more than 100 RMA plans into 16 regional plans.

Mr Parker said the system would be phased in region by region, to ease transition.

But the Bills are hotly contested.

Act New Zealand wanted them repealed and National said yesterday both would be gone by Christmas if it formed a government after the October election.

David Parker
David Parker
There has also been concern from some local leaders about the speed of the process, and the potential loss of community input.

Dunedin deputy mayor Sophie Barker said the process had been contentious.

"We’ve been swamped by a huge amount of reform in the last few years with limited chances for input — and limited chances to be heard as all the reforms plough through," Ms Barker said.

"It’s always concerning when laws are made with too much speed as the unintended consequences can be very messy."

Ms Barker said she appreciated the intent to simplify resource management and better protect the environment, but "with separate laws, more bureaucracy, complexity and loss of local voice I question whether a new system will deliver in the intent".

Otago regional councillor Elliot Weir said the legislation had taken a while and was certainly not perfect, but they were optimistic the reforms would "cut through some of the existing bureaucracy and enable the right kinds of sustainable growth, while improving our relationship with the environment and native ecosystems".

Fellow councillor Michael Laws said the reforms were a "woke boondoggle" and deliberately rushed "because [Environment Minister] David Parker thinks Labour will lose the election".

"Both National and Act are pledging to revise/replace, so I don’t think it will have a long life in its present form," Cr Laws said.

Otago Regional Council chairwoman Gretchen Robertson said the council remained supportive of the objectives of these reforms.

"The change is complex by its nature, and we acknowledge there is a long road to implement the reform," Cr Robertson said.

"The reforms’ success will hinge on how local government rises to manage the transition, and how we learn and adapt as each region rolls out the new legislation."

Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich said "essentially there were some good changes, such as a clearer role for mana whenua and more emphasis on environmental outcomes, but also some elements we are not enthusiastic about, including the large cost of reform and the ensuing period of increased complexity and uncertainty".

Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) chief executive Mike Theelen said the Queenstown Lakes Spatial Plan and Whaiora Grow Well Partnership — an urban growth partnership between central government, Kāi Tahu, QLDC and ORC — "places us in a good position to anticipate the new Spatial Planning Act and we’re fortunate to have a very up to date district plan as well".