Govt reaches agreement on RMA overhaul

Environment Minister Nick Smith (Getty)
Environment Minister Nick Smith (Getty)

The Government will introduce significant changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) following "intensive" negotiations with the Maori Party.

Environment Minister Nick Smith made the announcement this afternoon and says the changes will have a flow-on effect for a number of other pieces of legislation, including the Reserves Act, the Public Works Act and the law governing the exclusive economic zone.

In all, 40 major changes are proposed, which Dr Smith says will reduce bureaucracy, increase housing development and support business growth.

The Bill will be introduced for its first reading next Thursday. It has the numbers to pass following an agreement with the Maori Party, who had been against the proposals.

The party will support the legislation through its first reading so it can go through the Local Government and Environment Select Committee.

"The Bill is about reducing the bureaucracy that gets in the way of creating jobs, building houses and good environmental management," Dr Smith says.

He believes the changes will streamline the "cumbersome planning processes" currently under the RMA.

Changes include standardising planning templates, which will stop councils "reinventing the wheel and having dozens of ways to measure the height of a building".

The Maori Party and United Future, the Government's usual partners, had been opposed to the proposals - in particular the environmental clauses – which effectively stalled progress on the legislation.

The Maori Party had also wanted to ensure early involvement of iwi in council planning development.

Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell says it was important to keep the environmental protection in the RMA.

"Kaitiakitanga or the protection and enhancement of our environment must remain central to the RMA. We will remain vigilant during the progress of this Bill to ensure it remains so."

Co-leader Marama Fox says while the party was staunchly opposed to changes, it had worked with the Government for nine months on the issue.

She says the party supports reducing unnecessary red tape.

"The Bill is a compromise," Dr Smith says.

As a result of months of "intensive" negotiations, some of the proposals from 2013 were cut from the reforms.

Changes included altering sections six and seven, which balanced economic and environmental concerns.

Other changes under the proposed legislation included the consenting process becoming simpler and requiring only people who are directly affected to be consulted.

For example, Dr Smith says, a homeowner wanting to extend a deck only has to consult the affected neighbour. Councils will also have the ability to decide whether they need resource consent for minor issues.

The Government will be seeking support from other political parties for the changes. All parties except the Greens have acknowledged the need for reform, Dr Smith says.

He hoped to pass the legislation next year, however he said the complex nature of it could mean it may take some time.

Labour's environment spokeswoman Megan Woods says it'll consider the proposals, and says the offer to work on "sensible reforms" was still on the table.

But the party's housing spokesman Phil Twyford doesn't think the changes go far enough to fix Auckland's housing crisis.

3 News