Future of RMA changes unsure

by Hannah Norton30 Mar 2015
Results of Northland’s by-election could mean reforms of the Resource Management Act could take much longer, an environmental law specialist says.

There is no doubt the Government will have to go back to the drawing board following the Northland by-election loss to New Zealand First’s Winston Peters, Prime Minister John Key told Morning Report this morning.

The result reduces the number of National MPs in Parliament to 59, and given only Act leader David Seymour supported proposed change to sections 6 and 7 of the Act, the Government no longer has majority for the proposal.

Speaking to NZLawyer, Brookfields partner and environmental law specialist Andrew Green said the election result was likely to cause delays in reform.

“I would say watch this space. I’d say the speed of change of reform is likely to be much slower.”

He considered the proposed changes as “very important” to New Zealand as a whole, and believed they are necessary.

“The RMA underpins how we collectively make decisions on the protection, use and development of our environment.

“In my view the principles underlying the RMA remain sound. But after 25 years it needs to be re-written to improve legislative coherence and increase uniformity of application.

“However, I don’t consider the current Government capable of passing updated legislation without diluting the purpose of sustainable management.”

When Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith outlined the proposed changes in January he described them as the “most significant overhaul of the Act since its inception 25 years ago”.

“The Minister has stated that the current process is too adversarial and the RMA needs to be re-engineered away from litigation toward collaboration,” Green said.

“While he hasn’t detailed the form of this re-engineering, we expect a greater emphasis on up-front collaborative processes, possibly in combination with limited appeal rights. We also expect stronger direction around mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution prior to the use of Judge time.”

There were a couple of aspects of these reforms that suggest that the Minister may not succeed, he said.

“Limiting of appeals rights will heighten the risk of judicial review, changes to how Part 2 works may result in lost case law authority and the need to re-litigate, and the introduction of increased recognition of property rights may result in a spike of litigation - at least in the short term.”