RMA reforms to save millions but critics say still wide of the mark

By James Perry

The government has introduced two new bills that it says will lead to 'cheaper, faster, better' resource management law.

However, Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer says they don't go far enough to ensure the voice of tangata whenua.

"Go hearty, go the full way. We have Te Tiriti there, go and protect the rights of indigenous people. Go and protect the rights of tangata whenua. That is what we need to see in some of these legislation changes. 

"The RMA reforms were needed but they fall short of that again."

Environment Minister, David Parker says the new system will better protect the environment, while cutting red tape, lowering costs and speeding up the approval process for new homes and infrastructure projects.

"The existing system has made housing more expensive and contributed to a shortage of homes," he said.

RMA reforms need to be better, says Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.

Two bills introduced

“It needs to be faster, cheaper and better. We are doing that, by delivering a system that provides greater certainty and less complexity.

The government has introduced the Natural and Built Environment and the Spatial Planning bills that will replace the Resource Management Act. It says the two bills could see the costs of RMA requirements drop by 19% a year, or $149 million a year.

Infrastructure and Finance Minister Grant Robertson says developers pay more than $1 billion a year on the consent process.

The Infrastructure Commission Te Waihanga estimates costs directly related to resource consents increased 70 per cent from 2014 to 2019 and the time taken to make consent decisions for infrastructure projects has increased by up to 150 per cent over the same period.

“The new resource management system will deliver economic benefits by saving people time and money getting resource consents and getting projects underway. It will also balance this with better protection for the environment,” Robertson said.

Missing the mark

The bills have drawn criticism from both the left and right. Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage says the government has ignored the climate and nature in its reforms. 

“We need a planning and resource management system that will deliver more clean power; thriving natural habitats; liveable towns and cities connected by low carbon public transport; and warm, affordable homes for everyone,” Sage said.

“Everyone agrees the current resource management system, designed and tinkered with by successive governments, has failed. Business as usual is simply not an option. However, what the government has come up with as a solution also falls short of what is required.

"Instead of coming up with new laws that put nature and the climate at the heart of our planning and resource management system, the Government seems to have bought into the outdated idea that there is a trade-off between quality infrastructure and good environmental outcomes. This just isn’t true."

National housing spokesperson Chris Bishop says the reforms "fail the test".

"We will be carefully considering the bills but we are deeply sceptical that Labour’s reforms will meet this test. The new bills will add yet more bureaucracy, add more complexity to the system, introduce significant legal uncertainty, and risk repeating the mistakes of the past.

“More centralisation, bureaucracy and control is not the answer. We need to make it easier for Kiwis to get things done. That means giving New Zealanders certainty as to what they can and can’t do on their land, and reducing the need for the bureaucratic rigmarole we have at the moment and the ability for planners to hold up legitimate development."

Ngarewa-Packer says the government has once again failed to use its parliamentary mandate to make meaningful change for Māori.

"They make lots of promises to our whānau, to our iwi but they always fall short of it. I guess it's the safe line when you haven't got a real tangata whenua focus."

'Faster and easier for whanau'

Associate Environment Minister Kiritapu Allan says the reforms will also help whānau develop whenua.

"What we have sought to do is make sure it is faster and easier for whānau to build. We have looked at ways in which there have been inhibitions and restrictions on the ability to build on whenua Māori. And also just enabling people further to build in a more efficient and effective way."

She says the new bills will also uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi in the same way as is seen in the Conservation Act.

"We saw in 2019 The Supreme Court has given some direction about the way in which Te Tiriti should be upheld with that type of provision. It is a useful and relevant one, so now again that will colour the way in which resource management issues should be managed here in Aotearoa."