RMA reform: New laws combating housing crisis won't come at expense of farmers - Agriculture Minister

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. Photo credit: Newshub

The Agriculture Minister says farmers have no need to be worried, with changes to the Resource Management Act on the way.

Last week the Government announced the Act would be torn in three and replaced by the Natural and Built Environments Act, the Strategic Planning Act and the Climate Change Adaptation Act. 

It's hoped the changes will help combat the country's housing crisis, but there are concerns the changes could negatively impact the farming sector and those living in rural parts of the country.

Karen Williams, Federated Farmers spokesperson for the Resource Management Act, says while the current legislation is overdue, she is worried by the speed and scale of the proposed changes. 

"Our concern is what is the consultation and exercises going on engaging with communities, including rural communities? And about what [the Natural and Built Environments Act] might look like, particularly the impact on our lives that this will have," Williams told Magic Talk's Rural Exchange over the weekend.

A draft of the Natural and Built Environments Act will be referred to a select committee in the middle of this year. But Williams says this does not give communities enough time to "absorb, consider and submit on the contents of the Bill".

"As we all know from our regional or district plans around the country they're complex and they're interrelated and there's trade-offs and there's pros and cons to different approaches. So all those things need to explored in the context of what we do in our business world what our aspirations are in terms of our environment, our future generations, our social impacts, employment and jobs and wellbeing, and those are difficult conversations that can't be hurried, otherwise, we can have the consequences of something poorly drafted and we're no further ahead, we're no better off," she said.

Willams said the RMA had "plenty of broken parts" and acknowledged the legislation needed to be overhauled to address the country's worsening housing crisis. However, she said the principles on which the legislation is based are sound, and it's important the aspects of the law that work are retained.

"But certainly the tortuous processes, the delays, the eye-watering amount of costs we spend on lawyers and planners...that's not sustainable going forward. 

"We need a flexible, robust system that enables progression and cares for the things that are important to us, and that includes our environment," she said.

"Certainly the housing crisis is real and it's having a massive impact on people and communities and that needs urgent attention, what we can't fall into the trap of doing is fixing all the other issues under considerable pace. 

"We still need to run really robust processes where we understand all the implications of our decisions. We all know about our own patch and how things affect us but we don't walk in other people's shoes and understand what that might look like for them, and that is the point of a good thorough consultation process, to get alongside people, understand and work out what would be the best way forward."

"Everyone knows that it needs to be shaken up"

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said farmers had no need to fear they would be adversely affected by the changes.

"There's quite a process to go through and I think we have to make sure that the aspects of rural living, the aspects of farming and land management from our perspective are considered," he told Rural Exchange over the weekend.

"I think everyone knows that it needs to be shaken up - it's just making sure that it delivers for everyone, and making improvements is the challenge," he said.

"That's what we want to do and there will be lots of people making submissions on how we can have more houses, which we desperately need, but they won't necessarily be at the expense of farming."

He said although the new legislation would split the RMA up, there would still be a crossover between land utilisation and housing regulations.

"Taking onboard the natural values and the intrinsic values that are part of it now [and] that have been added into that RMA from the start, then we have to make sure that what we want to try and achieve - which is sustainable land utilisation and good profitable farming - can operate within the framework," he said.

The horticulture industry has also expressed concern prime growing land could be lost as a result of poor planning.

Last week Mike Chapman, Horticulture New Zealand's chief executive, said it was important to consider growers as well as the demand for housing in the new laws.

He said only around 5 percent of the country has suitable land to grow high-quality fruit and vegetables, and it is crucial that land is protected, which still leaves 95 percent of the country left for housing.