Natural Resource Management in New Zealand: Lessons for New South Wales
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Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 13/1999 by Stewart Smith
- In February 1999 the NSW Government released a discussion paper on plan making under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. The discussion paper is open for public exhibition for a four month period, with submissions closing on 30 June 1999. The paper canvassed several options available to the Government and community in relation to reform of the planning system. One identified option was to adopt a system similar to that currently operating in New Zealand, known as the Resource Management Act 1991. This Briefing Paper explains the background and operation of that Act.
- New Zealand's Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) covers land, air, water, coastal, geothermal and pollution management. It is the principal framework for managing natural and physical resources, including land use of the built environment. It replaced some 59 previous resource and planning statutes, and its introduction was preceded by the reform of central and local government. The framework of the RMA is based on a single purpose which is to promote sustainable management of natural and physical resources (page 2).
- The RMA sets out a series of duties and restrictions. Everyone under the Act has a duty to avoid, remedy, or mitigate adverse effects on the environment, notwithstanding terms and conditions of consent permits. The duties and restrictions set up a presumption against the use of natural resources unless the use is permitted under the Act. Whereas the presumption for use of natural resources is very strict, the reverse applies to land uses such as buildings and structures. Here, activities are deemed to be permitted unless constrained by provisions in statutory plans under the Act (pages 2-4).
- The RMA operates principally through statutory plans which sets out policies and rules. Rules provide for consent requirements. Regional authorities produce plans for natural resource management, such as use of river water. Territorial (city and district, ie local) authorities produce plans for land use control. Both regional and territorial planning systems have to conform with superior regional policy statements. There is also provision for overarching national level policy statements and national environmental standards (pages 4-7).
- Worldwide, many commentators have stated that the Act is considered a model at least worth exploring for possible adoption in their respective countries. Several critiques of the Act are presented (pages 7-11).
- However, seven years after the implementation of the RMA, the New Zealand Minister for the Environment Hon Simon Upton MP noted that the perception in the community of land use restrictions seemed to be as extensive as ever. In response to these concerns, the Minister has released discussion papers on amendments to the Act. These changes, and public submissions, are briefly summarised (pages 11-14).
- The NSW Government discussion paper Plan Making in NSW makes reference to an option of NSW adopting a natural resource management regime similar to that in New Zealand. The key components of such a change are listed (page 14).