In September 2004, the Government announced a comprehensive package of measures designed to improve the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). These measures resulted in the Resource Management Amendment Act 2005, which came into force on 10 August 2005.
The Resource Management Amendment Act 2005 and associated package of improvements represented the biggest ‘tune-up’ of the RMA since 1991. The amendments aimed to improve the operation of the RMA by addressing problems with delays, costs, inconsistencies, uncertainty and national leadership regarding the RMA’s processes and in decision- making.
The amendments focused on five key areas:
The Government sought to provide greater certainty and efficiency in the way the RMA operates, while not sacrificing public involvement and protection for the environment. The programme of work focused on finding solutions to problems identified through consultation with business, local government, environmental organisations and the broader community throughout 2003 and 2004.
The Government established the following set of principles to guide the direction of the review and decision- making about options to improve the law and practice.
There should be a proper assessment of environment effects so that adverse effects can be avoided and mitigated.
Resource consent applicants should have reasonable certainty about how long it will take to obtain a final decision, but the outcome must be determined by a proper assessment of environmental effects.
Resource consent applicants should have reasonable certainty about how much it will cost to obtain a consent.
Communities are well placed to make environmental decisions where appropriate in their areas and should have the opportunity to plan and make decisions.
Those affected by resource consent applications are best placed to identify the adverse effects on them, and should have the opportunity to put these before decision- makers and to seek avoidance or mitigation of adverse effects.
Central government should show leadership and give guidance to those involved in resource management.
The Government established the following five broad categories for the review to focus on when considering options to improve the RMA and the way it operates.
Local authorities are increasingly being asked to consider projects that raise issues of national significance (eg, transport and energy infrastructure) in a policy environment that provides little or no guidance on how competing national benefits and local costs should be weighed.
When the RMA was passed it was intended that local plans would simplify decision- making. However, the process for making plans is cumbersome
The concerns about consent decision- making included lack of consistency between councils; delays and costs; lack of clarity and certainty for applicants; abuse of the process for personal gain, trade competition, or other vexatious reasons; and lack of clarity and consistency about consultation requirements.
Better mechanisms are needed for deciding who can use resources such as water, air and geothermal, especially fresh water on the dry east coast and coastal water for aquaculture development.
The RMA is the most devolved system of environmental management in the world. New Zealand has 86 councils deciding approximately 50,000 resource consents each year. While local authority practice has steadily improved, the performance of some councils could still be better. New Zealand has no equivalent of an ombudsman who could examine decisions under the RMA and few options for central government to address inadequate performance by a council.
Last updated: 6 November 2008