Shifts in the Resource Management Landscape

Following on from the repeal of the Natural and Built Environment Act 2023 and the Spatial Planning Act 2023 late last year, the resource management landscape is set to continue shifting with the government’s pursuit of another round of changes.

Fast-track Approvals

While a fast-track consenting process was retained from the Natural and Built Environment Act 2023, the Fast-track Approvals Bill looks set to bring in an expanded version with notable changes in how consenting applications are decided. This Bill’s focus is on projects “with significant regional or national benefits” and it will include an initial list of projects with rights to utilise the process. The final list of these projects is still being considered and will be introduced into the Bill at a later stage.

With the aim of offering a more-enabling and efficient process, the Bill seeks to set up a ‘one-stop-shop’ which prioritises New Zealand’s infrastructure and development needs over usual considerations. This involves infrastructure providers and developers with qualifying projects being able to apply under an alternative, joint pathway for consents and approvals under various legislation such the Resource Management Act 1991, the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 and the Wildlife Act 1953. As currently drafted, the final decisions on such applications mainly rest with the Minister for Infrastructure, Minister of Transport and Minister of Regional Development (rather than, for example, relevant government departments, local authorities or any expert panel).

Due to the way it shifts how applications are decided, the Bill has attracted considerable attention from both industry and environmental groups alike. Approximately 27,000 submissions have been made on the Bill, a figure much higher than usual. For comparison, the Natural and Built Environment Bill (which was set to bring about wide scale resource management reform) attracted less than 3,000 submissions in November 2022 and the Residential Property Managers Bill (which is also currently being considered by Parliament) only attracted around 157 submissions.

The interest in the Bill was likely increased due to campaigns by groups such as Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand and Greenpeace. These groups are concerned about the potential long-term environmental effects of projects consented under the proposed new fast-track process, the reduced opportunities for public involvement and the role of Ministers with development-focussed portfolios in decision-making. While the Bill does have support as well, many submitters have raised changes needed to the Bill’s drafting to ensure that the fast-track process operates as efficiently as intended and in a way that helps with issues like New Zealand’s infrastructure deficit.

Overall, this Bill represents both an opportunity for developers and infrastructure providers to explore a more efficient pathway for project consenting and approvals as well as a risk to those who might be affected by such projects due to the reduced or time-constrained ability to be involved in the consenting process.

Heading Targeted amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991

Expanded fast-track approvals also are not the only shift that we might see in the coming months. The government has introduced another Bill into Parliament with a suite of “targeted amendments” to the Resource Management Act 1991. 

This latest Bill, the Resource Management (Freshwater and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, represents potential changes ranging from altering how resource consent applications must assess the obligations in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management to potentially increasing the opportunities for coal mining in wetlands and significant natural areas to reducing restrictions around stock access to water bodies and intensive winter grazing.

The Bill has been referred to the Primary Production Select Committee for consideration and we expect that public submissions will be sought shortly.

What does this mean for the Resource Management landscape?

The final landscape resulting from the Bills and any other changes only will be known once the relevant laws have completed the full parliamentary process. It is entirely possible that this will be different to what has been put forward now. 

We will be keeping a watching eye on all potential resource management law changes and provide a more detailed update once the final details are confirmed. In the meantime, if you have any queries about these upcoming changes, please do contact our resource management team.

For independent advice from someone who understands the shifts in the Resource Mangement Landscape, and will have your best interests at the centre of their negotiations, contact a member of Govett Quilliam's Environment & Planning Team today.