Smith finally tables RMA reform after doing deal with Maori Party; National fails to get section 6 & 7 reform to focus on economic development

Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith talking to reporters on NZTA land at Manukau on May 29. Photo by Lynn Grieveson for Hive News

By Bernard Hickey

Environment and Housing Minister Nick Smith has finally tabled a massive set of reforms to the Resource Management Act (RMA) for consideration by Parliament after doing a deal to support the reforms through to the select committee stage with the Maori Party.

The Government had hoped to reform the key sections 6 and 7 of the RMA to introduce economic development and housing affordability as first principles for the Act, but had to abandon that after New Zealand First won the Northland byelection earlier this year. National’s support partners David Seymour, Peter Dunne and the Maori Party had opposed the changes to sections 6 and 7 of the Act, which lay out its first principles, arguing it watered down protections for the environment.

After the loss of the Northland seat, National needed either the support of Dunne or the Maori Party to progress legislation. Dunne remained opposed to some of the 40 measures included in the reforms, but the Maori Party had said it would support the reforms through to select committee stage after securing commitments on consulting Iwi and allowing Iwi farmers to access ground water for stock, Smith said.

The changes include the introduction of new 10 day fast-track consents for simple issues, fixed fees for standard consents and the removal of the need for consents for some areas covered by other acts. It also introduces standard planning templates “so we don’t have every council reinventing the wheel and having dozens of different ways of measuring the height of a building,” Smith said.

“The Bill contains dozens of provisions that will improve the process of resource management decisions. There will be millions of dollars in savings from simpler, plain language public notices that enable the detailed information on plans and consents to be accessed on the web,” Smith said.

‘Iwi Participation Agreement’

The Maori Party secured the inclusion of new “Iwi Participation Agreements, which would involve Iwi early in the resource consent process. It also ensured corporate farmers, including Iwi and trusts, will be able to secure water for stock without obtaining resource consents in the same way as individual farmers currently do.

The 180-page Resource Legislation Amendment Bill comprises 40 changes contained in 235 clauses and eight schedules. It makes changes to the Resource Management Act 1991, the Reserves Act 1977, the Public Works Act 1981, the Conservation Act 1987, the Environmental Protection Authority Act 2011, and the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012.

Smith said the Bill would simplify the consenting process.

“It narrows the parties that must be consulted to those directly affected – meaning a homeowner extending a deck only has to consult the affected neighbour. Councils will have discretion to not require resource consent for minor issues,” Smith said.

The new 10-day fast track would be available for simple issues, while Councils would be required to have fixed fees for standard consents.

“Consents will no longer be required for activities that are already properly regulated by other Acts. These measures will reduce the number of consents required each year by thousands,” he said.

(Updated with more details)