Natural and Built Environment Bill Reform Series: Environmental limits, targets and management units

26 Jun 23

Drastic consenting implications for breach of new environmental bottom-lines

The Natural and Built Environment Bill (NBE Bill) introduces an environmental limit and target system, which effectively establishes a bottom-line regime to protect our environment. The new regime provides strong powers to decline, monitor, review, and even cancel resource consents that are non-compliant with environmental limits.

In summary:

  • Environmental limits are to be set to prevent further degradation of ecological integrity or to protect human health. Environmental limits must be set for air, indigenous biodiversity, coastal water, estuaries, freshwater and soil, and may also be set for other aspects of the natural environment. The environmental limits must be either a minimum biophysical state for a management unit or a maximum amount of harm or stress to the natural environment that may be permitted in a management unit. Interim limits may also be set.
  • In certain circumstances exemptions to environmental limits relating to ecological integrity may be sought and granted, but no exemptions to environmental limits relating to human health may be sought.
  • Targets are required for each of the mandatory environmental limits, and must be equal to or better than the level of the environmental limit. Discretionary targets (i.e. targets not relating to mandatory environmental limits) may be set for a system outcome, framework outcome or plan outcome. Targets may be expressed as a series of steps, each with a time limit, to achieve progressive improvement over time.
  • Management units must be set for every environmental limit and for every mandatory target, and may be set for discretionary targets. A management unit is a geographic area defined for the purpose of planning and managing activities to meet an environmental limit or target.
  • Environmental limits, targets and management units can either be set within the National Planning Framework (NPF), or the NPF may prescribe the requirement for them to be set in plans. The NPF must also provide for the monitoring and reporting of environmental limits and targets.
  • A plan must achieve the environmental limits and targets, and a resource consent that is contrary to an environmental limit or target cannot be granted. Review of resource consents can be undertaken in order to ensure compliance with environmental limits, and regional consents may be cancelled following review if environmental limits are breached.

While the lead-in time for the enactment of environmental limit regime is likely to be long, if the NBE Bill is enacted as currently drafted the implications for non-compliance with environmental limits can be drastic. These implications are intentional, and reflect a shift in the new legislation to strongly enforce environmental obligations.

General themes submitters raised relating to environmental limits and targets include:

  • Concern that environmental protections can be undermined by large infrastructure projects.
  • Concern that undefined and overlapping concepts will require litigation.
  • Concern concepts are not expressed clearly in the Bills and not well integrated into other provisions.
  • A recommendation for clear prioritisation and a limits and targets framework that provides for a healthy environment and not the existing state.
  • Concern that the environmental limits and targets are inadequate. Some submitters are of the view that setting limits and targets that maintain the existing (possibly degraded) environment are not consistent with and actively undermine Te Oranga o te Taiao.

Want to know more?

Please contact a member of our Environments, Planning and Natural Resources Team if you would like to know more.

PDF version: here.