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Time's up on the RMA

By Mike Vincent, Associate, Baseline Group | Feb 11, 2022

Love it or hate it, the RMA has shaped the development of New Zealand over the past 30 years. From two lot subdivisions to the exponential growth of towns like Rolleston and major infrastructure projects such as “roads of national significance”, the RMA has been the overarching document that has directed local government. But is time up for the RMA?

Among the public and professionals alike, there is a broad view the RMA is not working as originally intended. Thirty years of adjustments reflect a document which is corrupted and no longer bears resemblance to its original form.

Consequently, criticisms have been levelled at the case-by-case litigation of projects, seemingly losing sight of the Act’s main purpose (being the sustainable management of natural and physical resources). In some respects, the management of resources will always be different between Manukau and Leeston, but should they be so different between neighbouring post codes, or even neighbouring streets?

Other criticisms highlight that the RMA is susceptible to personal interpretations of amenity value. This in turn has impeded development in urban settings leading to housing shortages and congested road networks, contributing to poor social or economic outcomes. There is a common view that RMA timeframes are lengthy and frustrate the process of positive development, leading to uncertainty for major (and minor) projects.

Notwithstanding these issues, it is recognised the previous 30 years has seen genuinely important and momentous infrastructure development within New Zealand, and planning professionals can be proud of the advances made. However, with the passage of time brings new interpretations and with it, the opportunity to reinvest the lessons of 30 years of planning experience into new modern legislation.

In 2022 the Government will release three new pieces of environmental legislation: The Proposed Natural and Built Environments Act, Proposed Strategic Planning Act and Proposed Climate Adaptation Act. Whilst these documents are neither the be all and end all of planning legislation, it is hoped that this new approach will allow for clear and consistent direction on achieving the collective purpose of these new Acts.

No matter their application, development projects will still require professionals and those professionals will continue to provide expert advice and give you the answers you need for your development.

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