Tweaking parts of the Resource Management Act and a central authority to enforce the rules for consistency, rather than councils, is the way to go, an independent Northland-based resource planner says.
Jeff Kemp, director of Bay of Islands Planning, said the Resource Management Act (RMA) did not need to be repealed in its entirety because to do so would cause problems for resource planners, councils, and the Environment Court in terms of getting up to speed with the replacement laws.
His comments follow a recent Government announcement that the RMA, which came into force in 1991, would be replaced with three new Acts this parliamentary term.
The new Acts will be the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) to provide for land use and environmental regulation and this would be the primary replacement for RMA; and the Strategic Planning Act (SPA) to integrate with other legislation relevant to development.
The third new law will be the Climate Change Adaptation Act (CAA) to address complex issues associated with managed retreat, funding, and financing adaptation.
Government expects the complete NBA and the SPA to be formally introduced in Parliament by the end of this year, with the NBA passed by the end of 2022.
"RMA has so many controls and regulations and the way it's interpreted. There's no black and white, it's all grey, and that's why there are variances in the way it's administered and interpreted," Kemp, a former Far North District Council employee, said.
Goalposts haven't been stuck in the ground and the powers that be have adopted an ad hoc, piecemeal approach to RMA and the previous laws, he said.
Australia has a regulatory planning unit that oversaw resource management rules and New Zealand should have a similar approach, Kemp said.
"Every time you change an Act, it costs money. Planners have to learn again in terms of new legislation and in some ways, you're taking away that knowledge they already have."
But the Northland-based councils are not fussed about the impending changes.
Whangārei District Council chief executive Rob Forlong said the repeal of the RMA has been foreshadowed for a long time, so the move was not a surprise.
"Councils have been dealing with the practicalities of administering the RMA and its complexities, conflicts and complaints for 30 years, so we are glad that we are being consulted throughout this process.
"We look forward to seeing drafts of the new legislation as they roll out. This will be a very difficult law to get right. I have no doubt the new legislation will have its critics when it arrives, but improvements are needed and will be welcomed," he said.
Far North District Council spokesman Ken Lewis said when the RMA was first framed, New Zealand had different priorities and pressures but issues like climate change have since grown in importance.
Updating planning legislation was no bad thing and FNDC looked forward to seeing more detail about the planned laws and timelines for its implementation, he said.
"However, we are confident work we are undertaking to review our District Plan will not be wasted and is more necessary than ever for managing responses to growth, delivering greater affordability for infrastructure, and sustainably managing our natural and physical resources.
"The focus on striking a balance between catering for growth and protecting our natural and built environments will continue to be central to any future legislation," he said.
Kaipara District Council resource consents' manager Wendy Robinson said while a change in legislation was in progress, her council would continue to take guidance from the various planning organisations.
Northland Regional Council chairwoman Penny Smart said given the scope of the proposed changes, there would obviously be a period of adjustment while planners – and the public generally – got to grips with any new laws and their local implications.
The repeal of the out-dated Resource Management Act, and the introduction of new laws to replace it. These are the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), the Strategic Planning Act (SPA) and the Climate Change Adaptation Act (CAA).
What will these do?
The NBA - the main replacement - will be focused on land use and environmental regulation, while the SPA will pull together laws around development, making planning a less cumbersome process, and the CAA will give councils urgently-needed direction and funding around managed retreat from places threatened with climate impacts.
When will they be introduced?
An exposure draft of the NBA Bill - including the most important part of the reforms and the replacement of the RMA's Part 2 - will go before a special select committee inquiry later this year. The complete NBA and the SPA is then expected to be formally introduced into Parliament by the end of this year, with the NBA passed by the end of 2022.