Committee "make-over" improves RMA Amendment Bill

The Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Bill is better for the make-over it got from the select committee, says Chapman Tripp partner John Hassan.

“The Bill, while not perfect, is a big step forward and most of the changes the committee is recommending will improve it,” he said.

In two important areas, the committee had wisely reversed proposals in the Bill:

  • The proposal to narrow plan appeals to points of law had been rejected.  Wide rights of appeal provided an important protection given the often poor quality of council planning processes, and
  • the decision to transfer the authority to make designations from utility operators to councils had been held over for more in depth consideration of infrastructure issues as part of the planned Phase 2 RMA and Public Works Act reforms.

“Some concerns, however, remain.

“The radical sanctions against businesses using the RMA to frustrate their competitors by holding up commercial developments may give rise to increased litigation. 

“The right to refer consent applications directly to the Environment Court may be abused by some councils as a way to transfer costs from their own budgets to the Environment Court’s budget – or from ratepayers to taxpayers.  It is helpful though that the direct referral track has been clarified as only being available for notified applications.

“And the changes the Bill makes to planning processes are not sufficient to fix the very significant costs and delays which are the daily experience of the RMA framework although, fortunately there will be a second opportunity in the Phase Two reforms to address some of these problems.”

John Hassan said that although attention had naturally focused on the big innovations in the Bill – the creation of the Environmental Protection Authority and the 90-day priority consenting track – it may be some of the smaller changes which deliver the biggest dividends.

He was referring to the refinements to the notification regime.  Applications can either be notified to the general public, notified only to those who will be affected or not notified at all depending on their significance.

Currently public notification is required where the effect of a development will be pronounced even if that effect will be confined to a defined catchment of people – for example where a new office complex would cast shade onto a neighbouring apartment.

“The Bill makes clear that a limited notification, rather than full public notification, can be used in these circumstances.  This small change should speed up the approvals process while still giving incentive for applicants to negotiate resolution with affected parties.

“The new ability to have a notice of requirement for designation dealt with on a limited or non-notified basis will also be helpful in streamlining the consents for minor upgrades to corridor infrastructure such as for telecommunication and electricity networks, and for minor road upgrading,” John Hassan said.

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Related topics: Environment, planning & resource management; Resource management law reform

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