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Mandate to Repeal

The formation of a new Government has shed light on the next steps for environmental laws and regulation within New Zealand. The Coalition Agreements (Agreements) contain notable commitments and confirm a mandate to repeal many of the environmental initiatives implemented under the previous Government.

The commitments will result in significant changes for those in primary industries (in particular, dairy and forestry sectors) as well as those progressing large infrastructure projects. Given the commitments made in relation to national policy statements, Councils who have notified plan changes concerning freshwater management, significant natural areas, and housing intensification may need to promptly review the direction of those plan changes.

Further detail will likely be released as the Government progresses it’s 100-day plan, but there will be much interest in whether the commitments are feasible on these timelines or not. There will also be intense focus on procedural propriety, where interested parties will seek to ensure that all repeal and cessation orders are undertaken lawfully.

Commitments to Reform

To progress specific initiatives, the Government has committed to repealing existing legislation such as the (very recent) Natural and Built Environment Act 2023, and the Spatial Planning Act 2023 by Christmas. In the short term, reform will be achieved through amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), but with a view to replacing the RMA in the long-term.

We have broadly grouped the commitments into ‘short-term’ and ‘mid-term’. The ‘short-term’ captures commitments that have been clearly placed within the 100-Day Action Plan timeline or on a ‘as soon as practicable’ basis. ‘Mid-term’ captures the balance of commitments to be progressed in the early years of coalition but excludes matters such as the fundamental RMA reform.

Overarching Objectives

The Agreements contain several consistent themes that clarify the purpose of pending repeals and promulgation of new legislation:

  • Prioritising regionally and nationally significant projects.
  • Enabling new infrastructure, and facilitation of primary activities.
  • Promotion of a liberal democracy, with a focus on the enjoyment of property rights, especially with respect to interpreting the Treaty of Waitangi.
  • Improving cost-efficiency and reducing red tape in relation to the creation and compliance with environmental regulation.

Commitments (Short Term)

The short-term commitments are to be supported by the introduction of new legislation such as the Regulatory Standards Act, ministerial portfolio for Regulation, and a National Infrastructure Agency. The purpose of these initiatives is to promote the principles of economic efficiency during the drafting of new legislation and regulation as well as co-ordinating funding (including procurement from Government agencies or private funding) for projects of regional and national significance.

We can expect the following changes to the RMA and secondary legislation processes to be commenced in the short-term:

  • Amend the RMA to establish a fast-track consenting and permitting process for regional and national projects of significance (Bill to be drafted within 100 days).
  • To exempt councils from obligations under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM) (pending advice).
  • Cease implementation of new Significant Natural Areas (SNA’s), and seek further advice on the operation of existing SNA’s as part of the Government’s programme to reform the RMA.
  • Cease implementation of Three Waters/ Affordable Water Reform, with ownership of assets to remain with council.
  • Repeal the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration.
  • Make any additional Orders in Council needed to remove red tape to speed up cyclone and flood recovery efforts.
  • Stop the current review of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) system. The present review was designed to assess if changes are needed to provide stronger incentives for businesses to transition away from fossil fuels. Ceasing the current review is intended to instil confidence in the existing ETS regime and stabilise the value of New Zealand Units.

Commitments (Mid Term)

We can then expect to see the changes to the following RMA and secondary legislation processes to be commenced in the mid-term:

  • Replace the NPS-FM and National Environmental Standards for Freshwater to achieve the following objectives;
    • rebalance Te Mana o te Wai to better reflect the interests of all water users.
    • allow councils more flexibility in how they meet environmental limits.
  • To make the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS) optional for councils, with the need for councils to ratify any use of MDRS, including existing zones.
  • Amend the RMA to streamline the plan preparation process in Schedule 1.
  • Update the Crown Minerals Act 1991 to clarify its role as promoting the use of Crown minerals.
  • Explore the potential for a critical minerals list, where such minerals would have a preferential pathway for development once identified.
  • Review the methane science and targets in 2024 for consistency with no additional warming from agricultural methane emissions.
  • Amend the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF) regulations to place a duty upon harvesters to contain and remove post-harvest slash.
  • Replace the existing National Policy Statement for Renewable Electricity Generation (NPS-REG). Public consultation on the April 2023 draft NPS-REG has now closed.
  • Adopt standardised farm level reporting requirements. It is unclear what regulatory method of implementation is proposed to introduce standardised reporting.
  • National’s Going for Housing Growth Policy proposes to remove LUC-3 land from the National Policy Statement – Highly Productive Land. We understand that this commitment has not been overridden by the Agreements.

Commitments (Long Term)

Ultimately, the Agreements confirm that fundamental overhaul of the RMA is anticipated. A timeline for this is not allocated within the Agreements, but work is likely to commence in parallel to the short and mid-term commitments identified above.

We note that the commitments identified above are not intended to be an exhaustive list of all matters contained within the Agreements.

If you have any questions or would like further information on the content covered above, please get in touch with our Resource Management team.

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.

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