The Government has passed new legislation under urgency to make legal changes as a result of the recent severe weather events.
The Severe Weather Emergency Legislation Act (the Act) eases some compliance requirements for businesses and people affected by the events and streamline the response to the recent events. It will come into force very shortly.
These measures are similar to new legislation made in response to earlier large-scale emergency situations, where existing laws have been suspended or amended on a temporary basis to allow the emergency situations to be dealt with.
What are the key changes made by the Act?
Some of the key changes in the Act include:
Resource Management Act 1991
The key changes to the Resource Management Act 1991 include better enabling local authorities to enter premises for emergency works, extending the time frame for advising local authorities and applying for consent for emergency works, and new provisions added to allow rural landowners and occupiers to take preventative or remedial action in response to severe weather.
The changes are limited to areas affected by the severe weather events of Cyclone Hale and Gabrielle, as well as the heavy rainfall in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, and the Bay of Plenty.
Rural landowners and occupiers
The main change the Act makes is to deem preventative or remedial activities undertaken by rural landowners and occupiers to mitigate loss, injury, detriment or damage, as permitted activities under the Resource Management Act. This means that those activities will not require retrospective consent unless it is classified as a prohibited activity in district or regional plans, regulations, or national environmental standards.
Any person who acts under the new powers will need to give written notice to the relevant local authority within 60 working days of starting the activity or such extended period that the consent authority allows by written notice. If notice is not given, the permitted status is revoked, and the landowner or occupier could face enforcement proceedings.
The Act also provides that permission is needed from the relevant iwi or hapū if the activity is undertaken on culturally significant land or will impact it. The exemption from applying for consent will last until 1 April 2024, after which, consent applications will need to be made.
Changes to authorities’ powers in responding to emergencies
Normally, when local authorities enter a property to take action to address the effects of severe weather events, they are required to give notice to the occupier of the property.
The Act modifies this requirement so that local authorities in the affected areas will only need to leave a prominent notice containing certain details on the land and that the ratepayer is served a notice with the same details as soon as practicable. This directly addresses issues that local authorities in the affected areas face with giving notice for vacant properties and will allow them to carry out emergency works more easily when occupiers are not present.
The Act also extend timeframes for local authorities where emergency works are undertaken. Previously, where works are undertaken that would require resource consents, the local authority must be notified within 7 days and retrospective resource consents would need to be applied for within 60 working days. The Act extends this time frame to 100 working days and 160 working days respectively.
Food Act 2014 and Food Regulations 2015
The Act also make changes to the Food Act and Regulations, directed at easing the requirements for affected businesses.
The Act defines affected businesses as food businesses located wholly or partly in the following regions: Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, and Hawkes Bay. The districts of Tararua, Masterton, Carterton, and South Wairarapa are also encompassed within this definition. The Act allows
affected businesses to operate without the renewal of their registration until 16 May 2023.
After this, they will be able to operate until they are notified whether their registration has been renewed if the renewal fee was paid before the end of the period.
Similar changes are made to the Food Regulations, lasting 12 months from the date the changes come into force. The Act allows affected businesses to operate when they do not satisfy verification requirements and are due to comply with food control plans between 8 January and 16 May. It also provides an exemption from the National Programme for businesses due to comply from 8 January to 16 August.
The national programme regulates lower and medium risk businesses and requires that they must register the business, meet food safety standards, and keep certain records. However, the businesses must comply with the verification requirements “when compliance with those requirements is next due.”
Local Government Act 2002
The main changes to the Local Government Act 2002 are to temporarily enable until 30 September 2024, remote attendance for local authorities at meetings and allow for councils to respond to damage to the water infrastructure.
In relation to water infrastructure, the Act also make changes to enable councils to amend their long-term plans to include matters related to water services. This will allow councils to respond to the infrastructure damage caused by the weather events and to plan for future weather events that occur before 1 July 2024.
Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002
The changes to the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002 Act primarily seek to centralise the management and coordination of the response and recovery to severe weather events. The Act’s changes primarily relate to Controllers and Recovery Managers.
The Act addresses situations where there may be both a local and national state of emergency in place at the same time and ensures the national allocation of resources takes priority over local decision-making. The Act clarifies that Group Controllers and Recovery Managers must not exercise power in a manner that is contrary to the priorities for the use of resources and services that have been determined at the national level.
The controllers are appointed during a state of emergency while the recovery managers are appointed for the transition period after the emergency. Both the changes to the Controllers and Recovery Managers will be in place until 30 September 2024.
The Act further changes how the declaration of a national emergency or transition period affects local declarations of emergency or transition, enabling a local response where there is already a nationwide one in place. Previously, a declaration of national emergency made in an area would mean that the local state of emergency would cease to have effect.
With the proposed changes, a declaration of national emergency or transition period while there is already a state of emergency or national transition period will no longer mean they cease to have effect if they are in respect of another emergency.
Furthermore, a state of local emergency or transition will be able to be declared if there is already a state of national emergency or transition period in force in respect of that area, with a local transition period additionally requiring that it relates to a different emergency.
Special thanks to law clerk Will Gale for preparing this article with support from Partner Nick Crang. For further information, please contact a member of the Disaster and Recovery Support, Agribusiness, Public Law or Resource Management teams.
Disclaimer: The content of this article is general in nature and not intended as a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter and should not be relied upon for that purpose.