Controversial changes to the way iwi can be involved in resource management consents do not amount to co-governance, Prime Minister Bill English says.

Planning reforms which have been four years in the making returned to Parliament today amid a backlash about how they would benefit Maori.

The reforms are wide-ranging and will provide relief for homeowners by allowing them to carry out minor renovations like extending their deck or building a fence without needing consent - as long as neighbours agree to the plans.

They will also require councils to prioritise housing affordability and allow the introduction of environmental regulations such as a requirement for farmers fence off waterways.

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But much of the debate today focused on provisions known as iwi participation agreements.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the iwi provisions would take New Zealand into "a racially divisive abyss" and claimed they would require people to consult with up to 19 iwi to get resource consent. He promised to repeal the legislation if his party came into power in September.

His comments followed a publicity campaign by the NZ Centre for Political Research, headed by former ACT MP Muriel Newman, which claimed the iwi provisions would "allow iwi chiefs to sit alongside elected council members" and give iwi co-governance rights.

Their claims were roundly rejected by Prime Minister Bill English, Environment Minister Nick Smith, and Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox, who said today that councils would retain their decision-making powers on consents.

"There is no change in the obligations under the RMA to consult with Maori, either in the planning stage or in respect of individual resource consents," Smith said.

"But ... it's very confusing about which iwi people are required to consult, or the particular issues that iwi might be concerned with.

"And so the iwi participation arrangements provide an opportunity for council to sit down and actually come up with an agreement, where they need to be consulted, and how they are involved in the planning process."

Smith gave an example. The iwi in his Nelson electorate were frustrated that they received large numbers of consents on building heights and other areas in which they had no interest in, he said.

Under the new agreements, Nelson iwi would be able to specify that the pristine Waikoropupu Springs was highly important to them, and they would want to be consulted on any consents to take water. They would also be able to clarify to councils which of the local eight iwi would need to be consulted.

There was no compulsion for councils to agree to iwi requests, and there was a legal requirement that the agreements were "efficient", Smith said.

Another contentious proposal, which would have given the Environment Minister powers to override councils on issues such as genetic modification, has been diluted after lobbying by the Maori Party.

But Act Party leader David Seymour said the ministerial override powers should have been scrapped altogether. The compromise struck by National and Maori Party had made the legislation "even worse," he said.

Labour and the Greens say they will vote against the bill.

RMA reforms - where do they stand?

FOR

National: Has been working for four years to pass law changes which make it says will make it faster and easier to get resource consent and will make housing more affordable.
Maori Party: Will support reforms after getting concessions on iwi's role in consent decisions and reducing ministerial powers to override GE-free regions.

AGAINST

Labour: Says it is a terrible piece of legislation opposed by developers, environmental groups and lawyers.
Green: Says the bill encourages uncontrolled urban sprawl and weakens protection for freshwater quality while giving the minister more powers to override councils.
NZ First: Offered to support reforms if all references to the Treaty of Waitangi were removed - which Govt rejected.
Act and United Future: Unsuccessfully sought last-ditch deal with National, saying it would back the reforms in exchange for 3 concessions - the removal of powers to override councils, greater recognition of property rights, and the exclusion of iwi consultation requirements.