Many of the amendments have been touted as being of assistance to contractors in the residential development space by fast-tracking the resource consent stage
RMA amendments – tinkering around the edges? – By Natalie Amos and Amelia Watson
New legislation representing the government’s second phase of reform of the Resource Management Act (RMA) aims to deliver substantial improvements to the resource management system to drive capacity for development and economic growth. But does it go far enough – or is it simply tinkering around the edges?
The Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (‘amendment act’) has had a protracted history. The initial intention was for the amendments to quickly follow the simplifying and streamlining amendments in 2009, but after a series of delays, the amendment act has now been passed with the objective of speeding up parts of the consenting process, unlocking land, and providing consistent plan provisions across the country.
Amendments to consenting
The amendment act introduces a new ten-day fast-track consent process for straightforward consent applications. The truncated process will apply to controlled activity applications for a district land use consent (or any other activities specified in regulations). The standard 20-working-day period will continue to apply for all other resource consent applications.
Amendments have also been made to the resource consent application notification processes. Applications will not be publicly notified (except where there are ‘special circumstances’) where the application is for any of the following activities:
- • An activity for which notification is precluded in a plan or national environmental standard
- • A controlled activity
- • A subdivision or ‘residential activity’ (i.e. an activity relating to one or more dwelling in a residential zone)
- • A ‘boundary activity’ (i.e. activities which infringe boundary rules in district plans, even if that activity is a non-complying activity)
- • Any other ‘prescribed activity’ specified in regulations.
The amendment act also removes appeal rights to the Environment Court for certain residential applications (i.e. an activity relating to one or more dwellings in a residential zone), boundary activities and subdivisions.
Constraints have also been placed on the kinds of conditions that can be imposed on resource consents. Conditions cannot be imposed on resource consents unless:
- • They are agreed by the applicant
- • They are directly related to an adverse effect of the activity on the environment and/or an applicable rule or national environmental standard
- • They relate to administrative matters that are essential for the efficient implementation of the relevant resource consent.
While this is a useful guideline, in practical terms these criteria do not limit the scope of conditions that can be imposed much more than existing case law.
National planning standards
National planning standards (‘standards’) are intended to promote consistency across the local decision-making processes. The standards can prescribe both structural and content requirements for local policy statements and plans, including specific provisions.
When preparing or amending standards, the minister may have regard to whether:
- • The standards support the implementation of national environmental standards, national policy statements, the New Zealand coastal policy statement, and regulations under the RMA
- • If the standards should allow for local circumstances, and to what extent
- • If the standards should apply to a specific area rather than nationally.
The standards aim to streamline the plan formation process, creating a single mechanism for preparing both national environmental standards and national policy statements, and will set the parameters for regional policy statements and plans. If implemented nationally, the standards may assist in creating consistent planning provisions which will aid planning interpretation and hopefully reduce planning costs.
Many of the amendments outlined above were touted as being of assistance to home owners, developers and contractors in the residential development space by fast-tracking the resource consent stage. In reality, they are more likely to be of assistance to small-scale developers or home owners undertaking renovations.
Placing shorter timeframes on resource consent decisions will not reduce the magnitude of the task at hand to meet housing demand. In Auckland, with the added benefit of the Auckland Unitary Plan, the amendment act may assist with enabling infill housing.
A number of concerns have been raised about the reduction in public participation and diminishing of rights of appeal in favour of speedier processes. It will remain to be seen whether the loss of the checks and balances on these processes will outweigh the benefits, in terms of producing durable and robust resource management decisions.
The Resource Legislation Amendment Act received royal assent on 18 April 2017, with a staged approach towards the amendments coming into force. The first suite of amendments (including those mentioned in this article) will come into force in October this year.
Natalie Amos is a senior associate and Amelia Watson a law graduate in Kensington Swan’s environment and planning team; Kensington Swan regularly provides comment on the construction industry on its blog site – check out nzconstructionblog.com