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RMA Reform: Proposed changes to the resource consent process

RMA Reform: Proposed changes to the resource consent process

RMA Reform: Proposed changes to the resource consent process

Monday 7 December, 2020

The report of the Resource Management Review Panel, released in July 2020, includes proposals for the comprehensive reform of the resource management system in New Zealand.  The purpose of this article is to consider how the proposed reform will affect the process for obtaining a resource consent.

After a lengthy nationwide consultation process, the Review Panel identified the following key issues with the current resource consent process:

  • The resource consent process is complex, costly and slow;
  • The need to balance efficiency with access to justice, as well as reflecting Te Tiriti o Waitangi;
  • Unnecessary debate, litigation and process involved in notification;
  • The impact of existing use rights, and the permitted baseline test;
  • The process does not effectively address cumulative effects;
  • The capacity and capability of all parties in the process, including mana whenua; and
  • Monitoring of environmental change through consent approvals and enforcement of consent conditions.

Changes are proposed to the resource consent process to address these issues, as well as to respond to the broader recommendations made by the Review Panel regarding the preparation of combined plans for each region combining regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans. The key changes include:

  • Removing non-complying activity status;
  • Enabling a single application to be made using an online consenting process encompassing all consents required under the new combined plan;
  • All controlled activities will be non-notified (unless there are special circumstances) and all discretionary activities will be publicly notified; and
  • For restricted discretionary activities, the combined plan will identify whether notification or limited notification is required, and the parties to be subject to limited notification.

Changes are also proposed to the way that resource consent applications will be assessed including:

  • A shift from assessing the magnitude of effects to focusing on whether the proposal contributes to outcomes in the relevant plan, which by extension will give effect to the purpose and principles of the new legislation;
  • Removing reference to the permitted baseline; and
  • Introducing mandatory environmental limits and binding targets for the biophysical environment.

While the Review Panel proposes to retain the right to appeal to the Environment Court, an alternative dispute resolution method is proposed for minor disputes.  This would enable disputes relating to controlled or restricted discretionary activities to be referred to an independent adjudicator, with leave required for an appeal to the Environment Court.

The proposed reform aims to provide more guidance in National Policy Statements and combined plans regarding the outcomes that are sought, the environmental limits and targets that apply, and the circumstances when notification is required.  The expectation is that the number of resource consents, and the discretion in deciding those consents, will be reduced.


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