Our Senior Advisor, Grace Hall, recently attended the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) Conference in Ōtautahi Christchurch. The theme Transforming Aotearoa, was focused on the Government’s environmental reform agenda.

One of the conference sessions focused on the Government’s reform of the resource management system and included presentations by Hon Tony Randerson QC (Chair of the Resource Management Reform System), Greg Severinsen (Senior Policy Advisor, Environmental Defence Society), Jade Wikaira (Managing Director, Wikaira Consulting) and James Palmer (Chief Executive, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council).

Hon Tony Randerson QC provided some thoughts on the drafting of the exposure draft of the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA). He raised a number of issues, including:

  • The need to address whether there is any hierarchy between the environmental limits set out in the exposure draft.
  • The omission of the Panel’s recommendation that one of the purposes of the NBA should be to enhance the quality of the environment. He suggested because of this omission, the Panel’s recommendation to get rid of amenity values may need to be revisited. The quality of the environment (and particularly the built environment) is still an important consideration.
  • The quality of the built environment appears to have been left out of the exposure draft altogether. For example, the exposure draft talks about urban areas that are well functioning and responsive to change but doesn’t make any mention of the quality of the environment.
  • The outcomes identified for rural areas appear to be focused on development, as opposed to accommodating land use change as the Panel recommended.

Randerson’s view is that the proposed regional NBA plans are the single greatest means through which efficiency can be achieved in the new system. He suggested that to ensure this is the case, clarity is needed around the degree to which the proposed planning committees should operate autonomously from constituent local authorities.

Greg Severinsen spoke about environmental limits and how they will fit with other parts of the new system, including objectives and policies in NBA plans. He raised questions around how local limits should be, the importance of limits applying to other legislation (including the proposed Spatial Planning Act) and the need to explore in further detail the institutional arrangements for setting environmental limits. EDS seems to be of the view that it may be more appropriate for an agency like the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to set environmental limits, instead of the Minister or planning committees.

Jade Wikaira spoke about the role of Māori in the new system. While she was supportive of Māori having a more strategic role, and the proposed requirement to ‘give effect to’ the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Jade’s key message was that the big issue is how the proposed changes are delivered. She emphasised the need for diversity of engagement with mana whenua to design the new system, and work through transition and implementation arrangements. Jade suggested that power sharing should be a key feature of not only the new system itself, but also through the engagement process to design it.

James Palmer spoke about the role of spatial planning and what it can deliver for the environment. James spoke about spatial planning being a key way to address cumulative effects and take more of a planned approach to how we use finite, natural resources. He spoke about the important role that spatial strategies/plans can play in integrating the various statutory instruments that local government is responsible for preparing and delivering on, including new NBA plans and Long-Term Plans.

James noted the difficulty that there is in making decisions efficiently under the current resource management system, but questioned whether solving those issues through complex and convoluted drafting is the best solution. He expressed a view that one of the key challenges that needs to be worked through is communities’ lack of faith in the people they elect to make decisions about the environment.

We’ll continue to surface and share the wide-ranging perspectives that different users of the resource management system have on the proposed changes as work on the reform programme continues over the coming months.