What is the Resource Management Act (RMA) reform and the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA)?
In February 2021, the Government announced it intended to replace the Resource Management Act with three new laws. These would be the:
- Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), to protect and restore the environment while better enabling development, as the primary replacement for the RMA
- Strategic Planning Act (SPA), to help coordinate and integrate decisions made under relevant legislation, through requiring the development of long-term regional spatial strategies
- Climate Adaptation Act (CAA), to address complex issues associated with managed retreat.
None of these bills has been introduced to Parliament yet. However, a parliamentary paper containing an exposure draft (draft version) of the Natural and Built Environments Bill has been presented to the House.
Objectives of RM reform
- protect and restore the environment and its capacity to provide for the wellbeing of present and future generations
- better enable development within natural environmental limits
- give proper recognition to the principles of Te Tiriti of Waitangi and provide greater recognition of te ao Māori including mātauranga Māori
- better prepare for adapting to climate change and risks from natural hazards, and better mitigate emissions contributing to climate change
- improve system efficiency and effectiveness, and reduce complexity while retaining appropriate local democratic input.
What WRPS wants to see:
- The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) has not delivered on its desired environmental or development outcomes nor have RMA decisions consistently given effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti).
- WRPS wants to see that a provision to address the interaction between the Bill and Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area Act (WRHAA) 2008 be included in the bill. This means that the purpose of the WRHAA and the objectives set out in it are given effect to, in all planning instruments and decisions relating to the WRHA.
- WRPS want to see the NBA with an environment-first focus, strengthening environmental protections, rather than balancing use and protection of the environment
- We want clarity and simplicity. Any legislative framework replacing the RMA should aim to overcome procedural complexities by, in particular, avoiding unnecessary and overly complex processes.
- The new concept of ‘te oranga o te taiao’ in the Bill’s purpose should be defined to more closely resemble the carefully constructed hierarchy of ‘te mana o te wai’ in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, where the needs of the environment come first.
- It is important that provisions for environmental limits be strengthened, including by giving them a clearer place in the purpose of the legislation.
- ‘Offsetting’ and ‘compensation’ should be removed from the definition of ‘mitigation’, thereby removing any implied right to pollute if one ‘pays’ for it.
- There are some recommendations that warrant caution. For instance, there is talk of creating ‘exceptions’ where environmental limits do not have to be complied with. This is a potentially concerning loophole.
- The language of ‘pursuing’ rather than ‘promoting’ should be used, and decision-makers should be obliged to pursue synergies between environmental and other outcomes, rather than jumping straight to trading them off against each other, which we fear would lead to a race to the bottom
- A stronger emphasis should be placed specifically on indigenous biodiversity rather than just protecting biodiversity or ecosystems.
Summary of State of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area 2018 Report
See below for areas relevant to WRHA in need of improvement/focus:
- Pest plant and animal control
- Biosecurity and kauri dieback
- Water quality; ecological quality of lakes and streams
- Subdivision and development/Auckland Unitary Plan
- Growth of tourism and recreational activity
- Tāngata whenua concerns
- Coordination between council and community groups across the Heritage Area
- Accuracy of data collection and monitoring
- A general lack of funding proportionate to the HA being a nationally significant area
Summary of the health of Tamaki Makaurau/Auckland’s natural environment in 2020 Auckland Council’s State of the Environment Report
- Several forest ecosystem types are severely depleted and many remaining forests are small and fragmented.
- Streams continue to be nutrient enriched, have declining visual clarity, and generally high levels of E.coli.
- Health of monitored lakes continues to decline, with elevated nutrients and declining water quality particularly for nitrogen, water clarity, and sediment.
- Ecological impacts from increased sedimentation have been detected in all harbours and estuaries.
- The 2015 report documented a declining health of land and water environments.
- River water quality: monthly at 36 streams. Instream macroinvertebrates and habitat quality is monitored across 76 sites. 4 lakes are monitored, increasing to 16.
- The dune and volcanic lakes: Pupuke, Wainamu, Tomaratam Rototoa are still in poor ecological condition.
- “The health of many environmental domains in the Tāmaki Makaurau region remains degraded”.
- This report referred to a lot of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM) as an important piece of work to increase gains in water quality.
- The natural environment targeted rate is enabling increased investment in kauri dieback management, improving data management and supporting community conservation projects.
We are keeping an eye out for Government response to 2021 submissions on the Three Waters Reform that is due to happen in 2024. WRPS is maintaining a watching brief on possible changes to Watercare’s assets and reservoirs/dams in the Waitākere Ranges.
Managing our wetlands submission October 2021
This submission was in regards to the document put out by the Ministry for the Environment; Managing our Wetlands: A discussion document on proposed changes to the wetlands regulations.
WRPS holds concern that the proposed changes to the wetlands regulations, in particular redefining ‘wetlands’ as well as introducing ‘consenting pathways’, would dilute the protection the Heritage Area Act 2008 currently offers.
WRPS strongly opposes the idea of ‘consenting pathways’ for mining, quarrying, and urban development within 100m of wetland areas as they are currently defined. These proposals effectively strip wetlands of any meaningful protection, and are contrary to the express requirements of section 6 of the RMA and the NZ Coastal Policy Statement (NZCPS).
WRPS also strongly opposes the changes to the definition of wetlands as there is a great danger to biodiversity in excluding areas of improved pasture from the wetland definition.
Changes to the national freshwater planning regime in 2020 significantly restricted development in wetlands. This was a commendable and progressive move. The National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM) includes policies to avoid the loss of natural wetlands, and the National Environmental Standards on Freshwater (NES-F) set standards, including prohibiting activities likely to result in drainage of a wetland. The current proposal has far-reaching implications for wetlands across NZ.
It could enable dumps to destroy wetlands, urban development to drain our waterways, and hundreds of quarries and mines to bulldoze through fragile native ecosystems. The current proposal would exclude many significant wetlands from protection. We must listen to the Climate Change Commission’s advice and keep carbon in the ground by stopping wetland destruction. Given the widespread loss of wetlands, policies protecting them needed to be robust.