RMA reform looks sensible

The government announced today that it was launching a major review of the Resource Management Act. Environment Minister David Parker said that the comprehensive review of the RMA would "cut complexity and costs and better enable urban development, while also improving protection of the environment."

The other problem the government identified is that the RMA limits the opportunities for public participation, which is absolutely fundamental to giving people a say about what happens in their neighbourhood.

There's no doubt that the RMA has become more complex and unwieldy in the past 30 years. It's apparently twice its original length, and all the amendments have made it more complicated without protecting the environment.

Freshwater quality is getting worse and the RMA isn't aligned with Climate Change Response legislation.

The objectives are:

  • Removing unnecessary complexity from the RMA.
  • Strengthening environmental bottom lines, and further clarifying Part 2 (i.e. sustainable development).
  • Recognising objectives for development (including housing and urban development and infrastructure networks and projects).
  • Ensuring the system has sufficient resilience to manage risks posed by climate change and other natural hazards.
  • Considering an explicit ability to restore or enhance the natural environment.
  • Aligning land use planning and regulation with infrastructure planning and funding through spatial planning.
  • Considering whether or not to separate statutory provision for land use planning and environmental protection.
  • Ensuring that the RMA aligns with the purpose and processes outlined in the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act (once passed).
  • Ensuring that Māori have a role in the resource management system.

They all seem pretty reasonable to me, particularly the stronger environmental protection. There is some comment in the information about whether local authorities need all the powers they have. Some people think the RMA gives councils too much power. However, I wouldn't support reducing councils powers without very good reason because of their role as the community's representative in many of these matters. In fact, Parker says amendments due soon will reverse some of the changes the previous government brought in. An important one for councils is repealing powers the Environment Minister has to make regulations that override council rules.

Anything that makes the process of approving developments smoother and better for the environment has to be good for councils in cities like Porirua that growing fast.

Given that the RMA annoys just about everyone who has anything to do with it, but in different ways, means the outcome is unlikely to please everyone. The Act is designed to find a middle path between different interests, which will still exist. Still, the fact that all the supportive comments I've seen today — from different groups that you wouldn't normally expect to agree — tells me the government's onto a winner here. At least until the panel reports to the government about how it should amend the act.

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