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Changes to Resource Management Planning Signalled in Proposed Legislation

By Anna Bensemann, Senior Planner, Baseline Group | Feb 16, 2023

The recent release of the Natural and Built Environments (NBE) bill has outlined the changes intended by Central Government to better provide for environmental management and land use planning moving forward. This incorporates existing National Policy Statements and standards relating to freshwater and highly productive land resources.

The proposed legislation has a clear focus on outcomes to ensure there is an improvement in natural environment resources. This is proposed to be achieved through stronger central government direction and consistency in application by Council’s throughout New Zealand. Environmental limits are proposed to be set in relation to air, indigenous biodiversity, coastal water, estuaries, freshwater and soil. Other limits may be set for other aspects of the natural environment and can be determined at a regional level. These limits will be for specific management areas and are likely to be measurable. For those areas where prescribed limits are not already achieved, targets will be set, providing the measures to improve the quality or quantity of the natural resource to achieve the identified limits. The detail of targets and limits will either be provided directly through the National Planning Framework (due to be released for comment within 6 months of the NBE coming into effect) or alternatively, the framework may direct new regional entities (to be established as part of the NBE) to provide the specific limits and targets.

Another tool to be used through the NBE to achieve the anticipated outcomes, particularly for freshwater use, is an allocation system that will require all consents to be called in at the same time for reconsenting. This system is already used in some areas for aquaculture activities and requires a common expiry date for all consents so they can be reviewed and reconsidered at the same time. This allows for an overview of the complete resource demand and allocation at the time of reconsenting.

Day to day interaction with the proposed legislation will be with new Natural and Built Environment Plans (NBE Plans), which will be required to be developed using a public consultation process, but with reduced rights of appeal compared with current RMA plan making processes. The NBE plans, replacing district and regional plans, will include rules that trigger the need for resource consents. These rules will have a significantly stronger focus on the government directed outcomes, and little or no consideration of neighbour’s amenity values or views.

The effectiveness of the proposed legislation for better managing environmental outcomes and providing for appropriate land use planning, will not fully be understood until the National Planning Framework is released and each region starts working through what it means in the context of their natural resources. Its also not clear at this stage what it will mean for landowners using the resources on the ground. However, if recent freshwater and highly productive land provisions are a signal it will include highly prescriptive components which will work for some landowners and not for others.

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