National leader Judith Collins brands proposed RMA reforms 'a grab at wokeism'

"A grab at wokeism" is how National leader Judith Collins has described the Government's proposed Resource Management Act (RMA) reforms. 

"Why all this fluff? Nothing in there about the details," Collins told reporters on Tuesday after viewing the draft Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), the primary replacement for the RMA, which the Government has promised to repeal and replace.

"We thought these people were actually doing some work," Collins said. "The real risk is that at the end of this process we end up with something that is more costly, complicated and cumbersome than we already have."

The RMA has been blamed for holding back development of new housing due to its complexity, and in July last year an independent review panel recommended repealing it and starting again.

The Government plans to replace it with three new laws this parliamentary term but the overall process will take years. Below the NBA will sit the Strategic Planning Act (SPA) and the Climate Adaptation Act (CAA), to address complex issues associated with managed retreat.

A major criticism of the RMA is that, despite being convoluted with overlapping regulations, it hasn't adequately protected the environment. One of the reasons for this is that it lacks environmental bottom lines.

That would change under the draft NBA unveiled by David Parker. As Environment Minister, he would be required to set environmental limits, framed as a "minimal acceptable" cap on the amount of damage that can be done.

Under the NBA, the new National Planning Framework (NPF) will provide strategic and regulatory direction from the Government. One NBA plan will be developed per region, which will set limits and expectations on natural and built environments.

An important aspect of the NPF is that housing supply must be included in national planning - a timely consideration given New Zealand's lagging housing stock, which is widely accepted as one of the reasons why houses are so expensive.

But Collins is skeptical about the approach taken.

"When Labour does eventually pass their new laws it looks set to see town planning become even more complex today. Labour's Natural and Built Environment's Act empowers regional planning committees to set rules for everything from biodiversity, climate change, ecological integrity and housing supply," she said. 

"This is madness."

National leader Judith Collins holds a copy of the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), the primary replacement for the Resource Management Act (RMA), which the Government has promised to repeal and replace.
National leader Judith Collins holds a copy of the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), the primary replacement for the Resource Management Act (RMA), which the Government has promised to repeal and replace. Photo credit: Newshub

Collins fears that, given the legislation will go before the Environment Select Committee chaired by Green MP Eugenie Sage, it will become too focussed on environmental concerns rather than making resource consent more streamlined. 

"New Zealanders should be very concerned when David Parker is sending this Bill to Eugenie Sage to get her to do the work on it."

ACT leader David Seymour shared similar concerns. 

"Environmental standards are important but strict bottom lines risk creating a regulatory nightmare. Recognising that trade-offs do occur but can be managed if the end outcome is an improvement to the environment is needed to ensure sustainable development."

Sage says the environment must be the top priority. 

"Nature and our climate are both in crisis; with extensive habitat destruction, 4000 species threatened or at risk of extinction, and the urgent need to substantially reduce our greenhouse emissions," she said. 

"The new legislation and how it functions need to avoid the trap of so-called 'balancing' or making trade-offs between the environment and the economy."

But Parker said the environmental bottom lines won't be entirely set in stone. 

"There will have to be the occasional exception to that," he told reporters. "If you have stricter rules, for example protecting estuarine areas, then you still occasionally have to have a motorway that intrudes upon them, so you can't have a hard and fast rule that says there will never be any intrusion into a wetland or estuarine area."

Parker said he does not believe environmental concerns have held up development. 

"Well, that's actually not generally correct, I don't think," Parker said, but he recognised there has been conflict between development and protection objectives.

"Unfortunately, under the RMA, those conflicts have been often through slicing a little bit more off the environment cumulatively, having very significant effects on degraded waterways or increasing climate change emissions.

"So how we propose to remedy that is to have more strict national bottom lines below which you won't be able to easily get a consent."