The Government has officially begun the process of delivering the biggest shake-up to the Resource Management Act (RMA) since its inception close to 30 years ago.

It wants to make sure that climate change is at the heart of the legislation and that it becomes easier for Kiwis to build houses.

Whether or not the law should be broken up into different parts so issues to do with land and planning are handled separately to environmental issues would also be considered.

Environment Minister David Parker this morning launched a "comprehensive overhaul" of the RMA, which for years has failed to deliver its intended outcomes.

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"It is unacceptable for this cornerstone law to be underperforming in a country that values protection of the environment while properly housing its people."

Parker has appointed retired Appeal Court Judge Tony Randerson to lead the overhaul process and expects to have a reformed RMA bill in front of Parliament midway through next year.

The RMA is the main law that sets out how the environment should be managed, as well as the regulating of land use and the provision of infrastructure such as housing.

The bill, according to the terms and reference document released this morning, would enshrine a number of key elements into the legislation.

This includes ensuring the RMA has the resilience to manage risks posed by climate change and that it aligns with the purposes of the Zero Carbon Act.

Early morning fog settled over Hastings - the new-look RMA would look to make it easier to build houses and would have a climate change focus. Photo / Warren Buckland
Early morning fog settled over Hastings - the new-look RMA would look to make it easier to build houses and would have a climate change focus. Photo / Warren Buckland

Speaking to media, Parker said the new look RMA would address climate change through adaptation, rather than mitigation.

A future focus would be on low-lying land.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the RMA review would ensure the environment was prioritised and would also help create liveable cities.

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The new-look RMA would also look to align land use planning and regulation with infrastructure planning – meaning it would become easier for people to build houses.

Randerson would also look into whether a new, urban development law was needed which would be separate to the environmental RMA rules.

But Parker told media he did not have a firm view on this issue.

"We're open to that debate, but we haven't got a strong view as to whether we need a separate law, or a law that combines both in a new form."

National RMA spokeswoman Judith Collins said the Government's RMA reform was just another working group.

She said Parker should work with National if it wants to get the RMA across the line.

"The fact is, it would have been a lot smarter if rather than trying to appease the Greens and NZ First together, which must be hell to do, that they actually talk to us about it."

ACT leader David Seymour welcomed the Government's RMA overhaul and said fundamental changes were long overdue.

"I never thought Labour would be more promising than National on RMA reform, but right now that's where we are."

He said he was prepared to work with the Government on the reforms.

The RMA has been amended multiple times since becoming law in 1991 and is now more than twice its original length of 450 pages.

Parker said the law was "unwieldy to interpret and hampering its effective implementation".

In a Cabinet paper presented to ministers, he called it "unnecessarily complex".

The overhauled legislation would fix that, Parker said.

"Our aim is to produce a revamped law, fit for purpose in the 21st century, that will cut complexity and cost, while better protecting our environment."

One of the biggest criticisms of the RMA was that its regulations have made it much harder for houses to be built.

Parker acknowledged this, while also noting that environmental outcomes – such as issues around freshwater – have been disappointing.

He said a thorough overhaul of the law would help fix these and other issues with the legislation.

The new-look RMA would address issues around urban development, environmental bottom lines and effective, but not overly complex participation, including by Māori.

Although Parker has aimed for an overhaul, the RMA review's terms and reference document said a complete rewrite of the law was not the desired outcome.

Rather, Randerson and his team should find solutions to current issues with the legislation.