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Government confirms commitment to resource management reform

Government confirms commitment to resource management reform

Government confirms commitment to resource management reform

Monday 15 February, 2021

The Government confirmed on 10 February 2021 that it will repeal the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) during the current parliamentary term and replace it with new laws in order to simplify planning processes and reduce the time and cost to obtain resource consent.  The new laws are proposed to improve the natural environment, enable more development within environmental limits, provide an effective role for Maori, and improve housing supply and affordability.

What will replace the RMA?

The RMA will be replaced by three new Acts:

  • Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) will be the primary replacement for the RMA. It will provide for land use and environmental regulation. The Government will introduce mandatory national policies and standards to support natural environmental limits, outcomes and targets prescribed in the NBA. 

  • Strategic Planning Act (SPA) will require long-term regional strategies around the use of space for development and infrastructure, consistent with the Government’s desire to strengthen national strategy implementation and move to one single combined plan per region. The SPA will, for the first time, integrate functions essential to development which currently sit in a number of different Acts.

  • Climate Change Adaptation Act (CAA) will address complex issues associated with how to plan for, fund, and finance managed retreat from areas which will be significantly affected by climate change. 

The announcement of the RMA’s replacement by three new Acts triggered a sense of déjà vu for Tompkins Wake’s senior Environmental Law Partner Theresa Le Bas who, nearly 30 years ago to the day, started a final year law paper focused on the then eagerly anticipated Resource Management Bill which was promoted as the ultimate solution to the fragmented and outdated regime of the Town and Country Planning Act, Water and Soil Conservation Act and Clean Air Act, to name a few.  “I do hope that the next step in the evolution of our environmental law regime is well informed by the learnings of the last three decades.  We have people and communities relying on us not to repeat the mistakes and missed opportunities of the past.”

How will this affect housing development?

The Government believes that restrictive planning has limited housing development, impacting both quality and supply of housing. It wants central and local government and mana whenua to work together to plan future housing and urban development, with the intention of coordinating future infrastructure with future development. Regional and district councils will be required to collaborate with central government and mana whenua to prepare a combined plan for each region.  The Government predicts that this initiative alone would result in more than 100 plans across the country reduce to about fourteen.

In theory, this should simplify the process of obtaining resource consent when building or developing land for housing. Greater coordination and consistency both across and within regions should make developments easier and outcomes more predictable.   The Government hopes that an emphasis on better urban design and natural environmental outcomes, and less on subjective amenity matters, may speed up the development process.

However, the Government acknowledges that housing problems are a complex mix of demand, costs, financing, capacity and supply and there is no silver bullet.

What about coastal development?

The effects of climate change are expected to increasingly impact coastal settlements through storm erosion or rising groundwater levels. Local Government New Zealand has estimated that $2.7 billion of council-owned infrastructure could be at risk if the sea level rose just half a metre. Local government does not currently have the resources or capacity to adapt to climate change or fund large-scale managed retreats. The new CAA will provide a legal framework to enable councils to respond to climate change threats, potentially giving them the power to withdraw resource consent for buildings in high-risk areas.


The Government has proposed the following process for the introduction of the three new Acts:

  • Due to the significance and complexity of the NBA, the Government plans to prepare an exposure draft which will be subject to a select committee inquiry process from May 2021.  The exposure draft will contain the main structure and likely headings of the full NBA with certain aspects fully drafted. 

  • Consultation will take place with the Maori collective, local government, and other stakeholders.

  • The complete NBA and the SPA are expected to be introduced to the House at the end of 2021 and will then proceed through the usual select committee process. 

  • While the CAA will be developed in parallel with the NBA, the exact timing of its introduction to the House has not yet been confirmed.

  • All three pieces of legislation are intended to be passed by late 2022, within the current term of government.

The main avenue for engagement by interested parties will be by making a submission during the select committee process.  Once the Government releases draft versions of the new legislation in the second half of this year, we will be informing our clients of how they will be affected and assisting them to make submissions.


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