Understanding the Resource Management Act

Recently another Resource Management Bill was introduced to Parliament. As we start the debating process for it, it is important to note just why this Act was written in the first place and begin to understand – even if one does not agree, which many will not – its form and function.

In 1983 with concern over the exploitation of natural resources around the world, and fears of a Malthusian outcome for an accelerating human population, the Brundtland Commission was formed. It had the task of examining the problem on a global scale and how the world might address an increasingly intricate mish mash of environmental issues, economics, societal pressures and politics. It struck a chord with the then Labour opposition in the New Zealand House of Representatives, angered as it was by the antipathy of the National Government to environmental issues here.

In 1989, the then Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer announced a plan to massively overhaul the state of local government in New Zealand. The numerous Catchment Boards all over the country would disappear into larger entities called Regional Councils in the Local Government Act 1989. The Regional Councils would have the job of overseeing the long term sustainable management of natural resources, whilst City and District Councils would undertake to manage physical resources. The Resource Management Act 1991 was the blue print for a sustainable future in which economic growth would be balanced against the needs of the environment.

Peoples understanding of Act varies substantially. This is a factual explanation of the primary Parts of the Act intended to show the basic structure of the Act.

  • Part 3 (Sections 9-23) deals with the duties and restrictions of the Act. These include but are not limited to activities in various environments, discharge requirements and noise.
  • Part 4 (Sections 24-42)deals with the functions, powers and duties of local and central government. These include but are not limited to the powers, duties and functions of the Minister for Environment and the Minister for Conservation. Part 4A deals with the Environmental Protection Agency and its functions.
  • Part 5 (Sections 43AA-86G) deals with the development and implementation of plans, standards and policy statements by which councils, and central Government will implement their statutory requirements
  • Part 6 (Sections 87-139A)deals with Resource Consents – what they are, who should apply, how, when, the processing phase, notification and granting, among other matters. Part 6A (Sections 140-150AA)deals with decisions of national importance
  • Part 7 (Sections 151AA-164)deals with coastal tendering. Part 7A (Sections 165-156ZZA) deals with occupation of common marine and coastal areas.
  • Part 8 (Sections 166-198M)deals with designation orders and heritage
  • Part 9 (Sections 199-217)deals with Water Conservation Orders
  • Part 10 (Sections 218-246)deals with Subdivision and land reclamation
  • Part 11 (Sections 247-308)deals with the Environment Court, its functions and powers

This is not an exhaustive list of the parts of the Resource Management Act. It is just intended to briefly lay out the ones that most people will encounter.

Is the Resource Management Act perfect? It is as good as the people who implement it. A common challenge facing territorial authorities is striking an appropriate balance between having sufficient planning staff to fulfill statutory requirements, and keeping council rates at a level that is tolerable. One way of looking at the constant criticism is to remember that the Act is neither designed to prohibit economic development, nor is it intended to encourage uncontrolled development – the vast majority of resource consent applications are actually granted and most of the time this successfully happens within statutory time frames that resource consent investigators have to meet.

It is beyond the scope of this post – and far too much to write for a blog item – to make mention of the key sections in the Act. In saying that, addressing those will explain many of the misconceptions surrounding how the Act is implemented.

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