Project overview

Between 2017 and 2020 EDS undertook a major review of Aotearoa New Zealand's resource management system. This formed part of the foundation leading to the government's current programme of resource management reform.

Between 2017 and 2020 EDS undertook a major review of New Zealand’s resource management system. This system currently is centred on the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), but includes many other pieces of legislation, institutions, tools and processes. The idea behind the project was that systemic reforms are needed that go well beyond just another amendment to the RMA, a perspective shared by many commentators.

The project was funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation, the Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation and others, and had three phases. Overall, it took a first principles look at how the whole system operates, and provided perspectives on how it could be improved for the coming decades. The first phase was about defining the system, breaking it down into themes, and providing various reform options. This produced an extensive synthesis report which put forward three overall models for what a future system could look like. This report won the Resource Management Law Association’s best publication award.

The work’s second phase produced another extensive report that put forward a single preferred model for change and offered thoughts on a pathway to get there, recognising that not everything needs to happen at once. The third phase looked at the urban context, in particular, emphasising the need for fundamental reform for our cities, the need to rethink and replace the RMA, and the importance of looking at how we plan and fund things beyond that Act.

The project involved diverse topics including international law, legal principles and environmental ethics, legislative design, governance and institutional structures, participatory arrangements, and legal/economic tools. It looked at what was not working well with the current system, but also at what innovative and different approaches could be taken in a future that will look very different from the present.

We were excited to see momentum for change building as the project progressed. In particular, during Phase 2 of the work the government established an independent panel, chaired by the Hon Tony Randerson QC, to look into fundamental reform of the resource management system. EDS’s policy director, Raewyn Peart, was appointed to the Panel, and the EDS project was specifically identified by the Minister for the Environment as an input to be considered. In mid-2020, the Panel produced a well-considered and thoughtful final report that in many ways echoed the key conclusions of the EDS project.

Deep reforms of the resource management system are currently underway, and we are excited that our work laid some of the groundwork for what we hope will be generational change. We are continuing to be active in contributing to the government’s ongoing work as it develops new legislation. Over the course of 2021 we have provided detailed advice on environmental limits, national direction, strategic spatial planning, landscape and connections with the marine environment, to inform policy development and drafting. We are continuing to engage deeply in the reform process.

Again, thanks go to the funders of our multi phase resource management system reform work, notably the New Zealand Law Foundation and the Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation, as well as all the contributors, reviews, interviewees and others who have been involved over the past three years.