They are Fixing the RMA

Topics covered in this article: RMA, RMA & Local Government

Mark Harding



Phone: +64   027 235 570

Bachelor of Law (Hons), Batchelor of Science


“Crikey they’re at it again fixing the RMA”… except this time it’s not tinkering at the edges but a comprehensive review promising a full overhaul.

On 24 July 2019 the Minister for the Environment released Terms of Reference establishing an expert advisory group to review the RMA. The Expert Panel, lead by retired Court of Appeal Justice Tony Randerson, is tasked with undertaking a comprehensive review of the RMA focused on setting the high level framework for an improved resource management system.  The deliverable for the Panel will be a Report due at the end of May 2020.  Cabinet has already approved the budget for the review.
What this means: - “It’s a comprehensive review”
Stating the obvious, the review is comprehensive, not just tinkering at the edges.
Are they throwing the RMA out?
No - Although the review could recommend significant changes, the review is not starting from a “blank slate”. The review should uphold the core principles of Part 2 of the RMA and build on “previous findings”. However we can expect significant substantive changes.
What are they looking at?
The Review aims to “strengthen environmental protection and better enable urban development outcomes within environmental limits”. Specified areas for review can be grouped into 3 broad baskets:
1. Strengthening environmental bottom lines.
2. Planning and development focussed on urban development.
3. Implementation and process.
A quick look at each of these:
1. Strengthening environmental bottom lines
These are the key environmental challenges which have been highlighted as not adequately addressed under the current regime including:
  • Marine outcomes.
  • Freshwater.
  • Degradation of ecosystems and biodiversity from poorly managed cumulative effects.
  • Climate change -  ensuring the RMA aligns with the upcoming Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Act, and can meet risks of climate change and natural hazards.
2. Planning and urban development 
On the other side of the balance sheet the RMA has been performing poorly in its management of the built environment, in delivering affordable housing, well-designed urban communities and infrastructure. This is a key thrust of the review which includes:
  • Increased role for spatial planning – making way for new technology and planning best practice to find a way into RMA processes.
  • Recognising objectives for development (particularly housing, urban development and infrastructure).
  • Ensuring processes enable sufficient certainty for major infrastructure.
3. Implementation and process
This part of the review is more familiar and includes the “removal of complexity at all levels” within RMA processes as well as:
  • Quality of RMA plans and processes and their ability to be amended and implemented within reasonable timeframes.
  • Interaction of the RMA with other legislation.
  • Inconsistent engagement with Māori and ensuring recognition of Māori interests.
  • Improvement of decision making quality.
  • Improving the coherence and effectiveness of national direction.
Interesting in this basket includes a review of the different functions and powers of the bodies that are within “the system”, including the “allocation of roles” in the resource management system – i.e. who gets to deal with what. While local government reorganisation is outside of the review scope, expect an investigation into councils’ roles and functions, particularly around climate change.  
Is anything off the table? 
The marine environment beyond the 12 nautical mile limit, existing treaty settlements (and we expect Marine and Coastal Area Act orders), and issues with other legislation beyond spatial planning and their interface with the RMA are all out of bounds.  
The Panel wants to hear from stakeholders prior to finalising the scope of the review so there will be some ability to test the scope of the review before the Panel dives into the merits.     
Want to know more? 
If you have any questions about the RMA review or how you can be involved, please contact a member of our Resource Management and Local Government Team. Mary Hill is on the executive of the Resource Management Law Association, which is working closely with the Expert Panel as part of the consultation on the review.
Latest Update: 2 August 2019