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Focusing on the positives: Spatial planning to be a major part of resource management re-think

In this second article of three, we look at the proposed Strategic Planning Act (SPA). The SPA is the second major piece of legislation that the Resource Management Review Panel (Panel) has recommended should replace the often highly criticised, Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). The SPA would set the long-term strategic goals in resource management and would also focus on regional spatial planning.

Alignment of land-use and infrastructure plans

As touched on in my previous article about the NBEA, the “effects-based” approach used in the RMA has been criticised as focusing on mitigating the negative effects of resource use as opposed to focusing on the positive outcomes that will result from good use of resources. The Panel’s view is that this defensive ‘culture’ is not a useful basis for strategic planning.

The SPA would facilitate the long-term strategic integration of functions exercised under specified legislation. This would include:

  • Local Government Act 2002 (LGA);
  • Land Transport Management Act 2003 (LTMA);
  • Climate Change Response Act 2002 (CCRA);
  • Proposed Natural Built and Environment Act (NBEA).

Having a statute that sets out overarching long-term strategic goals for resource use, would provide focus and consistency across the resource management system. In its current form, it is argued that the framework is disjointed and results in inconsistent outcomes. The overarching goals could direct or guide decision-making under other legislation.

Mandatory regional spatial planning is also proposed under the SPA, which would significantly alter the focus of our resource management system.

Spatial Planning

‘Spatial Planning” is a type of strategic integrated planning that covers a large geographic area, such as a region or major urban centre. The timeframe for such planning is typically 30 years and beyond. Normally, spatial plans will visually illustrate, at a high level:

  • Areas suitable for development;
  • Areas that should be protected from development;
  • Areas subject to constraints; and
  • A broad pattern of existing and future infrastructure.

Aside from a statutory obligation on Auckland Council to have a spatial plan, there is no mandate in legislation for local authorities to engage in spatial planning. Some councils have looked to develop long-term spatial plans, but without supporting statutory provisions, the legal effect (and therefore value) of these plans is limited.

The Panel recommends compulsory spatial planning by local authorities. The spatial planning process would give rise to resulting “spatial strategies”. The strategies would set long-term objectives for urban growth and land use change and would be prepared and approved by a joint committee comprising:

  • Representatives of
    • Central government;
    • The regional council;
    • All constituent authorities in the region;
    • Mana whenua; and
  • An independent chair.

There would be significant community involvement in the preparation of the strategies, including through public submissions and a process similar to the special consultative procedure under the LGA. The special consultative procedure requires a local authority to  prepare a statement and/or summary of a proposal, with interested persons being given the opportunity to present their views.

Specified Content for Regional Spatial Strategies

The SPA will set out the primary content that should be included in regional spatial strategies insofar as it is applicable to a particular region, while also recognising the need for consistency with national direction as set out in the NBEA and in other relevant government policy statements.  Regional Spatial Strategies will be the new equivalent of the current Regional Policy Statements.  The following is a list of some of the specified content that the Panel recommends for inclusion in regional spatial strategies:

  • Major existing and future infrastructure such as ports, airports, wastewater treatment plants, water treatment plants and opportunities to make better use of existing infrastructure networks;
  • Additional development capacity required to accommodate growth, and scenarios for how the region may develop in the future;
  • Regionally significant ecological areas, landscapes and recreational space that should be protected or enhanced; and
  • Areas of historic heritage value and areas or resources of significance to mana whenua that should be protected or enhanced.

The regional spatial strategies would have a long-term view and would focus on high level strategic issues and opportunities for a region. They would not comprehensively address all resource management issues at a lower-level. Such issues could be planned for under the NBEA, LGA, CCRA and LTMA processes.

The Panel considered the legal weight that should be given to regional spatial strategies, including their influence on the proposed combined plans (which would combine regional policy statements and regional and district plans) under the proposed NBEA. A requirement that combined plans be “consistent with” spatial strategies was suggested to be appropriate, as it would give clear guidance to local authorities with room for flexibility when integrating the strategies into specific land use rules.

Feedback to the Panel on the SPA and its emphasis on broad spatial planning has been positive and it is hoped it is a mechanism by which the new and improved resource management system can deliver targeted outcomes, rather than control or mitigate the adverse effects of resource use.

You can read the full version of the Report (New Directions for Resource Management in New Zealand) here:

If you have a question about the Report or need any assistance with a resource management issue, please contact Joan Forret, our Partner in the Resource Management team.

This article is current as at the date of publication and is only intended to provide general comments about the law. Harkness Henry accepts no responsibility for reliance by any person or organisation on the content of the article. Please contact the author of the article if you require specific advice about how the law applies to you.

For further information

Dr. Joan Forret - Harkness Henry Partner

Dr. Joan Forret

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