Govt reveals first changes to Resource Management Act

RMA Reform Minister Chris Bishop. Photo: RNZ
RMA Reform Minister Chris Bishop. Photo: RNZ
Farming, mining and other industrial regulations are being scrapped or amended under the government's first changes to the Resource Management Act.

The changes include revision of stock exclusion, winter grazing, Te Mana o te Wai, mining consenting, and suspension of Significant Natural Area requirements.

RMA Reform Minister Chris Bishop announced the government's plan in a statement today, highlighting five changes the government expected to introduce in its legislation due to be introduced to Parliament in May and passed by the end of the year.

He said the government was aiming to "reduce the regulatory burden on resource consent applicants and support development in key sectors, including farming, mining and other primary industries".

The changes in this bill were focused on changes that could take effect quickly, and give certainty to councils and consent applicants, he said.

The five changes highlighted are:

 - Repeal intensive winter grazing regulations

 - Remove low-slope map from stock exclusion regulations

 - Suspend requirement for councils to identify new Significant Natural Areas for three years

 - Resource consents will no longer need to demonstrate accordance with Te Mana o te Wai heirarchy of obligations, during the review of the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management

 - Coal mining consenting pathways to be re-aligned with other mining activities in the National Policy Statements for Indigenous Biodiversity and Freshwater Management, and the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater

The coal mining changes had already been announced by Resources Minister Shane Jones.

Agriculture Minister Todd McClay Photo: RNZ
Agriculture Minister Todd McClay Photo: RNZ
Agriculture Minister Todd McClay said the stock exclusion and winter grazing changes had been agreed by Cabinet, and were focused on farm-level and regionally suitable solutions.

Te Mana o te Wai was introduced to the Freshwater Management policy in 2014 by the previous National-led government to stop waterways from degrading, and ideally improving the health of freshwater sources.

It has been altered since then, but the latest update in 2020 sets out priorities, with the health and wellbeing of the waterway foremost, the health needs of people prioritised second, and thirdly prioritising social, economic and cultural wellbeing.

It sets out obligations for tangata whenua to preserve, respect and protect freshwater, for decision-makers and New Zealanders to manage freshwater to ensure it sustains future generations, and provides for the health of the nation.

McClay said removing the need for resource consents to show they could meet these requirements would "better reflect the interests of all water users".

Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard said property and catchment specific farm plans made sense, but sector groups and farmers had complained the current system was too complex. They had argued farm environment plans and industry assurance programmes shoudl be integrated with freshwater farm planning, he said.

He said the changes to Significant Natural Areas reflected concerns that "less significant areas are being captured and this can place too much restriction on how land is used".

Federated Farmers' freshwater spokesperson Colin Hurst said the changes "mark the end of the war on farming".

He said the regulations were rushed through by "overzealous regulators" before the 2020 election and had to be amended eight times in three years, making the system confusing and unworkable for farmers.

"These impractical rules have been a complete nightmare since the day they were introduced and farmers will be pleased to see the back of them," he said.

Winter grazing rules would have required 10,000 farmers to get a resource consent to feed their stock a winter crop, while stock exclusion rules requiring waterway fencing added costs for "very little environmental gain".

Farm plans would be a better way of managing winter grazing, stock exclusion and on-farm biodiversity, he said.

Labour's Environment spokesperson Rachel Brooking Photo: RNZ
Labour's environment spokesperson Rachel Brooking Photo: RNZ
Labour's environment spokesperson Rachel Brooking said the changes were short-sighted and put short-term profits ahead of environmental protection.

"These changes are being pushed through fast to avoid public scrutiny. They will water down rules that prevent our rivers from being polluted, and our native species being protected," she said.

"The public deserve to know the detail of these changes, and how far the coalition government is willing to go to destroy our environment and biodiversity. This is just another example of short-term thinking by this government."