Wednesday, 03 March 2021 12:55

Editorial: The rise and demise of the RMA

Written by  Peter Burke
The announcement by Environment Minister David Parker of the repeal of the RMA has been met with little fanfare. The announcement by Environment Minister David Parker of the repeal of the RMA has been met with little fanfare.

OPINION: The demise of New Zealand’s largest, and arguably most controversial, Acts of Parliament has almost been a non-event.

For years political parties of all colours, not to mention farmers and urban business people alike, have been calling for it to be scrapped. But a few weeks ago when Environment Minister David Parker made the official announcement that the RMA was to go, there was hardly a word spoken. It was almost a case of, ‘so what’!

When it first became law in October 1991, it was hailed as being the answer to a much fragmented legal approach to planning and managing the environment. To make way for this omnibus piece of legislation a total of 59 Acts or amended Acts of Parliament were, at the stroke of a pen, repealed and replaced by this 800-page monster.

It had initially been the brainchild of the Lange government back in 1987, who coincidently initiated some of the biggest reforms in local government in 1989. When Labour lost the 1990 election, the RMA was still going through the parliamentary process of being enacted. It was Simon Upton, the new Minister for the Environment, who finally shepherded the Act into law. It was designed to achieve ‘sustainable management’ and to be fair it has done that.

But over time, rural and urban communities alike have found the RMA not to their liking. The slow and cumbersome consenting process alienated some, others felt it didn’t live up to its promises of protecting the environment. Clarity and meaning were sought through the judicial system and it has been amended by parliament eight times in its 30 year history. Unfortunately, so large and complex is the RMA that it didn’t lend itself to ‘tinkering’. It was a bit like trying to convert a Boeing 747 into an Airbus Dreamliner.

With the RMA gone, three new Acts will eventually appear, but this won’t happen overnight. That’s probably why those with any interest in the RMA have shown little interest. Some consultants who are on the road to retirement have said they won’t be bothered studying the new laws and it will take years for their implications to felt at the local level in the form of district or now large regional plans. The new Acts will be a marathon, not a sprint, and a lot of political hot air will go under the bridge for a while yet before the replacement Acts are finally implemented.

So the much maligned monster of an Act, the RMA has seemingly died quietly and peacefully and almost without an obituary.

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