Natural and Built Environment Bill Reform Series: Introduction

26 Jun 23

A new, broader and future-focused, system

The Government is continuing to progress its resource management system reforms following the introduction of the Natural and Built Environment Bill (NBE Bill) and the Spatial Planning Bill (SP Bill) to Parliament in last year.

The Bills are currently before Parliament and are being considered by the Environment Committee. Submissions closed on 5 February 2023 with the Committee hearing over 3000 submissions.

The next stage is for the Environment Committee to report back to Parliament on submissions and Committee recommendations, on the 27 June 2023.  As we build up to the Environment Committee’s report, which will attempt to address the very wide ranging concerns expressed in respect of the Bills, we are publishing a series of articles on the Bills’ key features, and concerns raised in Submissions.

This first article looks at the intent of the purpose section of the new Natural and Built Environment Bill (NBE Bill), which is to update the Resource Management Act’s (RMA) focus on sustainable management. In particular, the purpose of the NBE Bill is to enable the use, development and protection of the environment in a way that: supports the well-being of present generations without compromising the well-being of future generations; promotes outcomes for the benefit of the environment; requires compliance with environmental limits and targets; and continues to manage adverse effects. In addition, the purpose is to recognise and uphold Te Oranga o te Taiao, a new concept addressing the health and interconnectedness of the environment.

Subsequent sections in the NBE Bill require that the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi are given effect to, and detail system outcomes and decision-making principles. In summary, the sections:

  • State that all persons exercising powers and performing functions or duties under the NBE Bill must give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
  • Require the promotion of ‘system outcomes’, which broadly address: protection of the environment; reduction in greenhouse gases and natural hazards; appropriate land-use allocation; and provision for and protection of the relationship of iwi and hapū with the land and customary rights.
  • Provide decision-making principles, which effectively circle back to the system outcomes and management of effects.

This is a change from a primarily effects-based RMA system to a broader, future-focussed, system which attempts to require proactive planning to achieve positive outcomes.

General themes expressed to the Environment Committee by submitters relating to the purpose provisions include:

  • Widespread concern the purpose of the NBE Bill is not clear and leaves key legal tests to be tested in through litigation.
  • Recommendations to strengthen Te Oranga o te Taiao as current wording in the NBE Bill does not adequately recognise and provide for tangata whenua. Provisions must empower and enable mana whenua to articulate the terms, concepts and principles and what they will look like upon implementation.
  • Concern that the purpose and outcomes as currently drafted are a return to the overall broad judgement approach. Submitters believe this can be addressed by identifying a hierarchy of system outcomes.
  • Some concern the NBE Bill does not have the environment as the central purpose. Submitters consider the current drafting in the NBE Bill focuses too much on human use and development rather than on protecting and restoring the natural environment.
  • Conversely some submitters consider the purpose of the NBE Bill leans too heavily toward environmental protection and fails to recognise the benefit of infrastructure to New Zealand.
  • Submitters recommend a visionary and aspirational purpose of the NBE Bill for enhancement and improvements for both the natural and built environments beyond just enabling use, development and protection.
  • Concerns the two Bills are not consistent in their recognition and provision for Māori rights and interests.
  • Submitters suggest redrafting outcomes in the NBE Bill to include the future vision for the Resource Management System with System outcomes weighted dependent upon location and circumstance.
  • Concern there is no system outcomes hierarchy in the NBE Bill leading to conflict and trade-offs, with submitters likening the result to a return to the overall broad judgment approach.
  • Submitters propose the lack of hierarchy for system outcomes can be fixed by moving ‘decision making principles’ into section 6 of the NBE Bill.
  • Submitters were also concerned at the lack of implementation guidance particularly given the current lack of weighting for System Outcomes.

The Ministry for the Environment has indicated it intends for the Bills to be passed in mid-2023 before Parliament dissolves for the General Election this October.

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.