Edmonds Judd

RMA

Suspended while government overhauls RMA

Associate Minister for the Environment, Andrew Hoggard, announced on 14 March 2024 that the government will suspend the Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) requirements while it overhauls the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). It comes as a timely announcement after the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s (GWRC) unsuccessful prosecutions[1] of two rural landowners due to the council having wrongly identified wetlands on private farmland.

So what are SNAs, how do they currently affect our rural landowners and how will they be addressed in the future?

Defining an SNA

SNAs are areas containing ‘significant indigenous vegetation’ and ‘significant habitats of indigenous fauna’ that must be protected to ensure ongoing biodiversity. The basis for defining and identifying SNAs is in section 6 of the RMA:

‘6 Matters of national importance

In achieving the purpose of this Act, all persons exercising functions and powers under it, in relation to managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources, shall recognise and provide [our emphasis] for the following matters of national importance:

. . .

(c) the protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna: . . . ’

 

While the RMA is nearly 33 years old, it was only in August 2023, when the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity came into force, that a mandatory standardised approach and criteria were introduced to protect SNAs under s6. In practical terms, the Policy Statement required regional councils to identify and map SNAs within their territory (including on private land) and include them in their district plans by August 2028.

 

Implications for rural landowners

Once an SNA has been identified, it means that the area is noted on the council’s records. The use to which that land can then be put is more controlled. That doesn’t necessarily mean that existing uses of that land will be stopped – although it could. It does mean, however, that generally speaking existing activities are unlikely to be able to be intensified and new activities are likely to be subject to tighter controls – if permitted at all.

There is no direct government compensation for a landowner who has an SNA identified on their land. The SNA identification process has been somewhat controversial. This is partly because the RMA does not define ‘significant’ and, as a result, it has been left to each council to interpret this, largely using case law and ecological guidance.

Regional councils’ interpretation and identification of areas to protect under the RMA has recently been highlighted by the GWRC’s two unsuccessful prosecutions of rural landowners, one of which has been labeled by the Court of Appeal as a ‘miscarriage of justice.’

In both cases, the GWRC was found to have incorrectly identified wetlands on private farmland. Although the GWRC’s prosecutions were unsuccessful in both cases, they illustrate how severe the penalties can be under the RMA. In one case, Mrs Crosbie was fined $118,742 as the owner of the property, and Mr Page was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment (which he had already served prior to the Court of Appeal hearing).

The future of SNAs

The message from this government has been very clear – stop mapping and imposing SNAs for three years while it reviews the RMA. Mr Hoggard has said that quickly suspending the SNA requirements was to ensure councils did not waste resources and efforts on requirements that were likely to change. He has also asked officials to review existing SNAs.

The suspension, however, will not change the need for councils to protect areas of national importance under s6 of the RMA. Arguably, regional councils could still identify areas on private land to protect, and they may impose restrictions on private landowners on the use of such land. Nevertheless, with the clear message from the government to not waste resources in this area, it is unlikely that we will see regional councils identifying new areas to protect until the government provides further guidance to those councils or new resource management laws are passed.

[1] Page v Greater Wellington Regional Council [2024] NZCA 51 and Greater Wellington Regional Council v Adams [2022] NZEnvc 025.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


To be repealed by new government

The 2023 election has resulted in a National Party-led coalition, that campaigned on a commitment to repeal the Labour government’s Three Waters legislation and the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) replacement legislation. It has confirmed that these statutes will be repealed within its first 100 days in office.

 

Three Waters to be Local Water Done Well

The previous government introduced Three Waters to reform water management by shifting it away from New Zealand’s 67 councils, and handing it to four large co-governed regional entities. It was entitled ‘Three Waters’ as the legislation related to three main types of water infrastructure: storm water, drinking water and wastewater. In April this year, after much criticism, Three Waters was renamed Affordable Water with 10 publicly owned water services entities to be established.

The new government intends to introduce its Local Water Done Well plan that will:

  • Repeal Three Waters and scrap the co-governed mega-entities
  • Restore council ownership and control
  • Set water quality and infrastructure investment rules, and
  • Ensure water services are financially sustainable.

Within one year of repealing Three Waters, councils will be required to deliver a plan detailing how they will transition their water services to the new model that meets water quality and infrastructure investments rules, while being financially sustainable in the long-term. Communities, via their local council, will retain ownership of their assets.

Under Local Water Done Well, a Water Services Regulator will be introduced; its role will be to set and enforce water quality standards across New Zealand. It will also be responsible for developing and enforcing rules around the management of stormwater and wastewater that will include setting standards for acceptable discharge and mitigating environmental risks to rivers and beaches.

Local councils will have to present a model for the delivery of water services that is financially sustainable and meets the strict rules for water quality and water infrastructure. If a council cannot achieve financial sustainability by, for example, gaining access to long-term borrowing, the government will provide limited one-off funding to bridge the gap. Support will be decided on a case-by-case basis; Crown funding can only be used for projects needed to transition to a sustainable footing, not for day-to-day delivery of water services.

 

Resource Management Act 1991

In February 2021, the Labour government announced that the RMA would be repealed and replaced with three new statutes: the Spatial Planning Act, the Natural and Built Environment Act and the Climate Adaption Act. The first two statutes were passed in August; the Climate Adaption Bill did not pass before October’s general election. Early in its election campaign, the National Party labelled the RMA-replacement legislation as complex and pledged to repeal them within its first 100 days of office.

The National Party had agreed that the RMA needed fixing but instead campaigned on its own changes.

The National Party’s coalition agreement with ACT and New Zealand First reflects all parties’ commitment to reduce red tape. In particular, the government wants to make it easier to obtain consents for infrastructure (including renewable energy), building houses, and aquaculture and other primary industries. The coalition agreement also presents a desire for ‘allowing farmers to farm’ which suggests the red tape cut from the RMA will lead to a reduction in bureaucracy and more time spent actually farming.

The new government has stated that it will begin to work on a longer-term programme to repeal the RMA, however the detail of this plan is yet to be announced. We will keep you informed during that process.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Freshwater farm plans

Roll out by regions starting 1 August

Freshwater farm plans are part of the Essential Freshwater package introduced in 2020. Its purpose is to:

  • Stop further degradation of New Zealand’s freshwater resources and improve water quality
  • Reverse past damage, and
  • Bring New Zealand’s freshwater resources, waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation.

To that end[1], freshwater farm plans are now beginning to be required by all farms that have:

  • 20 hectares or more in arable or pastoral use
  • Five hectares or more in horticultural use, or
  • 20 hectares or more in combined use.

Southland and Waikato roll out first

The order sets out[2] which of New Zealand’s regions must have their plans underway.

The first regions to prepare their plans from 1 August 2023 are Southland and Waikato. The remaining regions must start the process at various times up to 1 July 2025. Due to the effects of Cyclones Hale and Gabrielle earlier this year, the timing of the implementation of these plans in Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti is yet to be decided.

Within 18 months of the order coming into effect for a particular region, plans must be ‘certified’ by a certifier who will be appointed by the local regional council. Plans must be audited within 12 months of the date of certification, with the timing of further audits dependent on the results of the initial audit.  Auditors will be appointed by the local regional council. Plans must be recertified every five years.

The process

The freshwater farm process requires farm operators to identify on-farm risks to freshwater and to determine actions to manage those risks based on the:

  • Farm’s landscape features and natural environment
  • Farming activities, and
  • Environmental health, and cultural and community values of the local catchment.

The intent of the legislation is to ensure that the on-farm actions are practical and effective in relation to a specific farm, rather than having a one-size-fits-all approach to the issue.

It is the responsibility of the ‘farm operator’ who is the person with ‘ultimate responsibility for the operation of the farm’ to prepare the freshwater plan.

Under Section 217E of the Act, the main duties of the farm operator are to:

  • Prepare a freshwater farm plan in accordance with Part 9A of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and Regulations
  • Submit the plan to a certifier for certification
  • Ensure that the farm operates in compliance with the certified freshwater farm plan, and
  • Arrange for the farm to be audited in accordance with Part 9A of the RMA and any regulations for compliance with the certified freshwater farm plan.

Keep the plan current

The farm operator must also keep the certified freshwater farm plan fit for purpose by amending  the plan as necessary to reflect the Act and Regulations.

Section 217F sets out what the freshwater farm plan must contain. Basically, it must:

  • Identify any adverse effects of activities carried out on the farm on freshwater and freshwater ecosystems
  • Specify requirements that are:
  • Appropriate for the purpose of avoiding, remedying, or mitigating the adverse effects of those activities on freshwater and freshwater ecosystems, and
  • Be clear and measurable
  • Demonstrate how any outcomes prescribed in any Regulations are to be achieved
  • Comply with any other requirements in the Regulations, and
  • Comply with section 217L.[3]

There are a variety of templates and guidance tools made available by MPI here and other resources are available to farmers to help them complete their freshwater farm plans.

If you need some help in navigating the freshwater farm plan regime, please don’t hesitate to be in touch. We are here to help.

[1] Under part 9A of the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Resource Management (Application of Part 9A –Freshwater Farm Plans) Registrations 2023.

[2] Resource Management (Application of Part 9A – Freshwater Farm Plans) Order 2023.

[3] Section 217L states that a freshwater farm plan may contain a requirement that relates to an activity on the farm that is subject to a ‘specified instrument’ (a resource consent, conservation order or similar requirement). This section is intended to ensure that compliance with the freshwater plan does not supersede any obligation to comply with any such specified instruments.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


cowsHave you driven down the road and had your windscreen splattered with effluent as farmers irrigate their paddocks with nutrient-dense animal waste? Has your washing been hanging on the line all day and now has a pungent odour? Many farmers use a travelling irrigator or muck spreader on the farm, so what are your obligations to protect the general public from the effect of your permitted farming activity?

While most farmers Continue reading