The Minister for the Environment announced his long-awaited Resource Management Act reform plan today: another working group.

In a Cabinet paper, David Parker said the Resource Management Act “is under-performing in the management of key environmental issues such as freshwater, and in delivering affordable housing and well-designed urban communities”.

He added “there are doubts that the RMA can respond effectively to future challenges such as climate change”.

Parker also blamed the RMA for contributing to the housing crisis.

“While not the sole cause of the housing crisis, planning rules are partly to blame,” he said in a statement. “It is unacceptable for this cornerstone law to be under-performing in a country that values protection of the environment while properly housing its people. Our aim is to produce a revamped law fit for purpose in the 21st century that will cut complexity and cost while better protecting our environment.”

Although the Government is framing its announcement as a “comprehensive overhaul of the RMA,” the only concrete action it has taken is to release terms of reference for the review panel.

The review will focus on the RMA and its interactions with three key pieces of legislation: the Local Government Act, the Land Transport Management Act, and the Zero Carbon Bill.

The working group will be tasked with submitting its final report in May 2020. While the panel won’t be expected to turn in a complete rewrite of the RMA, its report will be put towards that end by the Government, according to the terms of reference.

Former Appeal Court Judge Tony Randerson, who chaired an advisory panel that modified the RMA before it was passed for the National government after the 1990 election, will head the new working group.

The Government previously announced a bill to reform parts of the RMA that need addressing urgently and it plans to continue with this while the review panel takes on more complex questions.

‘Take it out the back and shoot it’

The National party said it was open to working with the Government on reforms, but indicated it would not be interested in anything other than major changes to the legislation.

National’s housing spokesperson Judith Collins said in a statement that “the last thing New Zealanders want or need is yet another working group that kicks an important issue to touch until after the next election.

“My concern is that by waiting so long to undertake this piece of work, the Government has left it too late in the electoral cycle to act on it. This suggests they aren’t confident of getting NZ First and the Greens on the same page,” she said.

“The RMA is no longer fit for purpose and is too easily gamed. One problem is businesses being able to stymie nearby business developments because they are anti-competitive.
“Another is developers trying to stop someone else’s housing development from going ahead because they want to get their houses sold first, to get maximum value.”

Collins minced her words even less when speaking with reporters about the RMA on Tuesday.

“I think we need to take it out the back and shoot it,” she said. “Actually, that would be quite fun.”

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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