RMA Replacement: Death by a thousand cuts

Despite replacement of many pieces of environmental legislation and regulation, and many individual consents required for projects being reduced by the Resource Management Act (RMA), we have meted this out on the RMA.

 It is now proposed to be replaced by three pieces of legislation. These comprise the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), the Strategic Planning Act (SPA) and the Climate Adaption Act (CAA).

 Mark Batchelor, Planning Manager for CKL Tauranga, shares his views on the changing legislation and its impacts.

The RMA essentially provided a set of national principles and procedures, and allowed communities to decide how they managed development of their community by writing and administering district and regional plans. Despite this, the communities complained about the outcome. There was either too much or not enough management depending on whose experiences and opinions were expressed at the time.  

Continuing changes to the RMA have resulted in what was once relatively easy to interpret and put into practice becoming an increasingly complicated web of plans, procedures and national regulations. This was despite these being promoted as intended to achieve increased efficiency and certainty. The result was the community became increasingly frustrated with the difficulties they experienced trying to navigate their way through the Act and inadequate outcomes.  

While the changes to the Act have continued, its provision for National Policy Statements has become increasingly utilised as a means of addressing specific matters judged by central government as not being effectively addressed by local council planning. These modify, replace or override provisions of resource management plans. They are an effective additional layer of regulation and process. They represent central government desires. They tend to remove or reduce the influence of local government and communities in outcomes.

This included, most recently and controversially, the National Policy Statement for Urban Development (NPS-UD). This provides standard development rules for increased housing intensity across several high growth regions where there is particular difficulty in access to affordable housing. This replaces district plan rules relating to residential development intensity that have been blamed as the cause of difficulties with the housing market.   

In February 2021 the Government announced the RMA will be repealed and replaced by three Acts. These are the ‘Natural and Built Environments Act’ (NBA), the ‘Strategic Planning Act’ (SPA), and the ‘Climate Adaption Act’ (CAA).

The proposed Natural and Built Environments Act and Spatial Planning Act prescribe a regional planning framework requiring Natural and Built Environment plans prepared and administered by the regional councils.  District Council functions appear to be proposed to become a function of the Regional Council. District Councils look like they may become local community boards with a function of advocating for their community unless functions are delegated to them by the regional councils.

The provisions of these plans are expected to combine regional and district matters into a single plan and a single regulatory organisation. This might be expected to be similar to existing unitary authorities in some parts of New Zealand. Present unitary authorities include Auckland Council Gisborne District, Nelson City, Marlborough District and Tasman District.

The strategic plans prepared pursuant to the Strategic Planning Act are expected to provide an intra-regional and region to region focus related to matters that have regional implications and scale and that commonly cross boundaries of districts and those that cross regional boundaries. This, of course, depends on whether central government decides to reserve inter-regional planning for itself. At least coordination of single region-to-region government is easier than a multiplicity of districts with different needs and desires relating to region-wide matters such as roading infrastructure might be expected to be easier.


Mark Batchelor CKL

The result is expected to be a significant simplification of the myriad of plans and policies the community must navigate its way through and increased coordination and alignment of regional and district policy.  This is illustrated below (click on image to view in full).

Immediately obvious examples of outcomes include the location, nature and direction of urban growth and land use within the regions and alignment of this with transportation routes and investment in supporting infrastructure and services. This may be expected to facilitate alignment with nationally and centrally defined outcomes. Examples of this may be coordination of regional and national transportation routes and where urban growth within a region is permitted to occur or the extent and nature of this.   

Similar efficiencies may be expected from more coordinated planning and management of development that presently involves a requirement of consents from both the present district and regional councils, despite being for the same development.  

The more significant regional financial resources may become more easily focussed on issues of significance, rather than being distributed across individual districts.

Local government may come to have a regional focus rather than a local community focus as represented by district councils. This is unless provision for local communities is adopted by regional councils in a manner that represents the particular character and values of local communities.

Combined with the increasing use of national policy statements, such as the NPS-UD referred to above, the result is an increasingly centralised local government regime. This presents a need for local communities to consider how they express their interests within the regional government context.   

Scroll to Top