RMA Reforms Will Make Climate Change Central To Consent Decisions

And Public Notification and Rights of Appeal Will Be Restored

The Minister for the Environment David Parker has announced major changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) on two issues of major interest in the Thames-Coromandel 

  • the reintroduction of public notification of resource consents relating to subdivision or residential activities
  • climate change.

A local example of why these reforms are needed

An indication of how important these two issues are was apparent when TCDC granted a resource consent for the new Richmond Villas 72-unit apartment complex on the foreshore at Thames in 2017.  The application was not publicly notified meaning that very few people in Thames knew about this proposal until after the consent had been granted by the Council. 

I have been informed that even the local Thames District Councillors were unaware of the proposal. (Under the previous Mayor, local Community Boards were given a chance to comment on all non-notified resource consents, but this policy was axed when the current Mayor took office in 2016.)  

Almost no attention was paid to climate change when the Richmond Villas resource consent was considered.  The Council accepted as “evidence” a 16-year-old projection of sea level rise, and dismissed the entire New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement in a one-line statement.  Because the application for this resource consent was not publicly notified there was no opportunity for local businesses, individuals or community groups to make a submission or to appeal the decision.

The preclusions on public notification and appeals for subdivision and residential activity resource consents will be removed in Stage One of the reforms which will be introduced into Parliament this year.

The other major change to the RMA relates to climate change –

The RMA does not directly manage the effects of the emission of greenhouse gases on climate change. However, many activities that affect New Zealand’s emissions arise as a result of planning decisions made under the RMA.

While the RMA provides some ability to consider the positive effects from an activity on New Zealand’s transition to lower emissions, there is currently within the Act itself no strong and specific directive to do so. This has implications for the decision-making exercise undertaken when considering resource consent applications and considering plan provisions.

The aim of the reforms is to elevate the importance of climate change within the RMA framework so that decision-makers are able to fully consider both the effects of climate change on development (adaptation), and the effects of development on climate change (mitigation).

The role of the RMA in relation to climate change will occur in Stage Two of the review of the RMA in 2019.

Cabinet Paper on proposed reforms