Proposed new reforms of the Resource Management Act (RMA) could squander the Waitaki District Council’s efforts in preparing its district plan, Mayor Gary Kircher says.

Last week, environment minister David Parker announced a comprehensive overhaul of the 30-year-old RMA.

Three replacement Acts are to be drafted, and the plan is to have them passed by 2023.

The first, and main, law change will be a Natural and Built Environments Act, governing land use and environmental regulation.

A Strategic Planning Act, to put in place a long-term regional planning philosophy, and a Climate Change Adaptation Act would follow, Mr Parker said.

Under the proposed regime, 100-plus RMA council and regional planning documents would be reduced to about 14.

While Mr Kircher agreed reform of the RMA was necessary, he was frustrated the new proposal put the Waitaki District Council’s district plan, due to be released in the coming months, “up in the air”.

“It’s a lot of wasted effort – with the changes it may be that we’ve spent millions of dollars, and get very little result for that. [It may be] something that is no longer going to be needed and instead people may have to go through the process again,” Mr Kircher said.

There had been changes regarding making district plans more “uniform” and while there were aspects better dealt with regionally, communities should still have their input.

“But equally there are a lot of aspects where local communities want to be able to develop in the way they want to develop, rather than having something sent down from a regional or national level.”

The Act had been the “subject to a lot of tinkering” throughout the years – and not all good. However, he believed it was due for an overhaul.

But the proposed changes were moving away from local decision-making, and the loss of autonomy was a worry.

“I think that’s probably the biggest risk for local communities – they may end up losing their voice that they’ve had,” Mr Kircher said.

“The indication is that they won’t be involving communities as they develop this legislation and that really does go against a democratic process.”

The Act had caused some issues when it came to housing, as it was a long and very involved process.

“I think there was potential compromise in there for matters such as rezoning … to be able to happen more quickly, but still involving the public rather than having a process where it’s 10 or more years.

“Districts have the opportunity to do that along the way, but it’s quite an onerous process, so simplifying that would have been good. The tools are there, they just need to be made a bit easier.”

  • Additional reporting Otago Daily Times