Prime Minister John Key says he wants major reforms of the Resource Management Act to be underway before the end of the year, and has also hinted for the first time that the most controversial part of the reforms could be shelved.
After being sworn in as Prime Minister yesterday, Mr Key said the reforms were a matter of urgency and he hoped to have a bill in front of the House before Christmas. He said amending the RMA was central to Government's goals of higher economic growth and making housing more affordable.
The draft legislation which stalled last term because of opposition from National's coalition partners could now be passed by National with Act's support.
But Mr Key said yesterday he wanted broad support for the changes: "I meant what I said on [election night] which is we want to govern for all New Zealanders."
He has asked new Environment Minister Nick Smith to "go away and look at that draft legislation" and "see whether we can accommodate ... concerns from an environmental perspective and what impact that would have on the legislation".
This could mean reviewing the most controversial part of the RMA reforms, the changes to Section 6 and 7. These sections set out environmental bottom lines for land, air and freshwater.
In the draft legislation, these two sections would be combined, and equal weight would have to be given to economic and environmental matters in any consent decisions.
The proposed merger of the sections prompted massive protest by environmental NGOs and was rejected by National's coalition partners United Future and the Maori Party, stalling the reforms.
Mr Key said yesterday that one of Government's considerations could be to keep the two sections separate, but add some provisions to Section 7 which would require any consents to take into account economic matters.
NGOs had been lobbying for this option.
Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor said it would allow Government to pursue its goals such as improving housing affordability, but without sacrificing the environment in the process.
"There is definitely a way forward in which the government's economic imperatives and the desire of others to protect the environment can be reconciled."
He said it was pleasing that Mr Key had fulfilled a pre-election commitment to "hit the refresh button" on the reforms.
The Prime Minister said that apart from the changes to section 6 and 7, the rest of the RMA proposals were relatively uncontroversial and were supported by environmental groups.
These changes included giving councils better guidance for national priorities such as housing affordability and natural hazards, and the introduction of strict timeframes for simple consents.