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June 2024

The RMA lives on

27 May 2024, Learn, Legal, Prove Your Know How

The formation of a new Government has shed light on the next steps for environmental laws and regulation within New Zealand. The Coalition Agreements (Agreements) contain notable commitments and confirm a mandate to repeal many of the environmental initiatives implemented under the previous Government. So what does that mean for builders? 

To progress specific initiatives, the Government has already repealed existing legislation such as the Natural and Built Environment Act 2023 and Spatial Planning Act 2023. In the short term, reform will be achieved through amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), with a view to replacing the RMA in the long term. 

The following ‘short-term’ list captures commitments within a 100-Day Action Plan or intended to be completed ‘as soon as practicable’. ‘Mid-term’ captures some further commitments to be progressed in the early years of coalition. 

Overarching Objectives

The Agreements contain several consistent themes that clarify the purpose of pending repeals and promulgation of new legislation: 

  • Prioritising regionally and nationally significant projects. 
  • Enabling new infrastructure and facilitation of primary activities. 
  • Promotion of a liberal democracy, with a focus on the enjoyment of property rights, especially with respect to interpreting the Treaty of Waitangi. 

Improving cost-efficiency and reducing red tape in relation to the creation and compliance with environmental regulation. 

Commitments (Short Term)

The short-term commitments are to be supported by the introduction of new legislation, such as the Regulatory Standards Act, ministerial portfolio for Regulation, and a National Infrastructure Agency. The purpose of these initiatives is to promote the principles of economic efficiency during the drafting of new legislation, and regulation as well as coordinating funding (including procurement from government agencies or private funding) for projects of regional and national significance. 

The following changes to the RMA and secondary legislation processes that will impact those in the construction industry have either already been implemented or will be commenced in the short-term: 

  • Amend the RMA to establish a fast-track consenting and permitting process for regional and national projects of significance (the Bill for this has had its first reading and is currently being reviewed by select committee). 
  • Extension of time for councils to meet their obligations under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM) (pending work on a replacement). 
  • Cease implementation of new Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) and seek further advice on the operation of existing SNAs as part of the Government’s programme to reform the RMA. 
  • Repealing the legislation supporting the Three Waters/ Affordable Water Reform, ensuring that ownership of assets to remain with councils, and beginning the implementation of a new plan for Local Water Done Well.  Repeal the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration. 
  • Make any additional Orders in Council needed to remove red tape to speed up cyclone and flood recovery efforts. 
  • Stop the review of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) system. The review was designed to assess if changes are needed to provide stronger incentives for businesses to transition away from fossil fuels. Ceasing the review is intended to instil confidence in the existing ETS regime and stabilise the value of New Zealand Units. 

Commitments (Mid Term)

We can then expect to see further changes commenced in the mid-term, including: 

  • To make the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS) optional for councils, with the need for councils to ratify any use of MDRS, including existing zones. 
  • Amending the RMA to streamline  the plan preparation process in Schedule 1. 

National’s Going for Housing Growth Policy proposes to remove LUC-3 land from the National Policy Statement – Highly Productive Land. We understand that this commitment has not been overridden by the Agreements. 

We note that the commitments identified above are not intended to be an exhaustive list of all matters contained within the Agreements. 

If you have any questions, please get in touch with our team at duncancotterill.com/expertise/resource-management . 


This article is provided by Duncan Cotterill is a full-service law firm with offices in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Queenstown and Christchurch. If you have any questions about the RMA, please contact your local Duncan Cotterill advisor (duncancotterill.com). Disclaimer: the content of this article is general in nature and not intended as a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter and should not be relied upon for that purpose

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