Moving in the Right Direction on RMA Reform

Insights Newsletter
5 July, 2024

Another step towards much-needed reform of New Zealand's resource management laws is underway, in the form of a Bill to restore balance and streamline processes.


The Resource Management Act (RMA) and associated regulations have become a serious handbrake on the economy. The primary sector has been impeded by onerous and often impractical regulations. Confidence among farmers and growers has been dire, impacting their prospects and those of the many businesses that buy from and sell to them.


The primary sector contributes over 80% of New Zealand's goods exports, so the economic consequences are significant.


The Resource Management (Freshwater and Other Matters) Amendment Bill begins to address these issues. The National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater Management's hierarchy of obligations puts the environment above all other considerations. The Bill excludes the hierarchy from resource consenting decisions while a review of the NPS is undertaken.


It aligns rules for coal mining with other mineral extraction activities; it delays councils having to identify new Significant Natural Areas on private land; and repeals problematic regulations around stock exclusion on sloped land and intensive winter grazing.  These provide a pause to enable regulations to be made more practical and workable.


The Bill also speeds up processes for national direction under the RMA by eliminating a redundant process for boards of inquiry and making it easier to make minor amendments to existing directives.


The New Zealand Initiative supports the Bill as part of the second phase of a three-phase reform programme. Phase three will replace the RMA with a new Act “based on the enjoyment of property rights, while ensuring good environmental outcomes”.


The Initiative strongly supports this approach for a new resource management system.  It should enable beneficial infrastructure and development projects and allow businesses and individuals to efficiently pursue their activities. We agree it must provide greater respect for property rights while providing for the protection of important environmental values.


It should also embrace economic instruments to better enable trade-offs between environmental, economic and social wellbeing.


Like the Fast Track Approvals Bill, this Bill and wider RMA reform are strongly opposed by environmentalists, upset by a shift in the balance towards economic growth and development.


But New Zealand has sluggish productivity growth and an economy flirting with recession. Reforming the RMA will reduce delays, costs and red tape. That is crucial for boosting confidence, productivity, competitiveness, and economic growth.


The New Zealand Initiative’s submission on the Resource Management (Freshwater and Other Matters) Amendment Bill can be found here.


Nick Clark's submission, Resource Management (Freshwater and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, was lodged on 27 June 2024


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