Progress at last on RMA reform; passage in March predicted

By Pattrick Smellie

The select committee deliberating on the largest bill currently before Parliament is due to report back tomorrow.
The select committee deliberating on the largest bill currently before Parliament is due to report back tomorrow.

The government's long-stalled second tranche of reforms to the Resource Management Act is finally on the move again, with the select committee deliberating on the largest bill currently before Parliament due to report back tomorrow.

Tuesday's tabling of the report on the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill comes more than two months ahead of a mid-May deadline, the bill's fourth extension of time since being sent to select committee in December 2015.

The bill covers several pieces of environmental legislation, but at its core are a range of widely supported changes to the RMA, which governs environmental and planning decisions. A few contentious elements have held the bill up as the government seeks agreement with its two-member support partner, the Maori Party.

The Maori Party's main concerns have been over the ability of the Minister for the Environment to override local government decision-making, including on such issues as whether to declare an area off-limits to genetically modified organisms.

Also important has been the detail of new participation rights for Maori in environmental and planning decisions.

The government's other two support partners, the one-MP ACT and United Future parties have opposed the RLA in its entirety, ACT because it doesn't believe the reforms go far enough and United Future because it believes they go too far.

Speaking at the National Party's Blue-Greens conference over the weekend, Environment Minister Nick Smith said the local government and environment select committee had completed its deliberations last Thursday, that the bill would be reported back tomorrow, and that he expected it to pass through the Parliament in its entirety in March.

However, he indicated that negotiations with the Maori Party are not yet finalised.

"Obviously, when the detail of the bill is reported back, we'll need to work with the Maori Party to ensure that the agreement we've reached is translated into the final text of the bill and there will be some discussions there," he said.

He confirmed also that the Productivity Commission is close to issuing a report on the RMA. The report is expected to recommend that environmental and urban planning law be separated to improve the speed and efficiency of decision-making in growing cities such as Auckland, where regulatory processes and planning regulation have been blamed as a significant element in a shortage of housing stock that has contributed very house high price inflation.

That approach is likely to be supported in principle by both the National and Labour parties, although the speed with which such a major reform could be attempted is likely to be regarded as challenging.

- BusinessDesk

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