Leonie Freeman: How can we join the dots on resource reform?

The Resource Management system is being reformed. But so too is local government and Three Waters.

That begs the question, how do we join the dots to not only ensure that New Zealand’s future legislative framework can cohesively work together, but that it can also be effectively implemented?

With such a big question, the answer must lie somewhere within central government, local councils, the private sector, third sector* , and iwi.

In other words, leadership and collaboration is the answer, and the two go hand in hand. Without collaboration on legislative reform there is risk of unintended consequences.

We only need to point to the recent Credit Contracts and Consumers Finance Act which resulted in banks unexpectedly declining loan applications as an example of well-intended legislation gone wrong.

On the flip side, you can have all the collaboration in the world, but without strong leadership and an agreed purpose, the boat may be rowing together but where is its final destination and more importantly, is it achievable to reach?

In terms of resource reform, the recent February consultation on system and governance structures did not really go much further than the Randerson Review Panel recommendations. Nor do we have answers on how the proposed structure (central government, local government, and iwi) consider the current local government reform review.

With both the local government review consultation document and the Spatial Planning Act legislation due in September 2022, it is concerning that the two reform programmes are working in parallel. There seems to be a lack of detail on the way in which the future resource and local government system will interrelate. Theories are important, but we need detail in order to create certainty and action.

The lack of detail also extends to the resource reform programme, something Property Council New Zealand has had a close interest in since prior to the announcement of reform. We are particularly interested in better understanding how the Natural Built Environment Act and Spatial Planning Act will correlate, how the new system will resolve conflict (and priorities) and how we can better incorporate stakeholder involvement to ensure that plans don’t just sit on a shelf but can be implemented.

The Government should not underestimate the importance of market sector involvement – these are the people and organisations responsible for delivering outcomes.

Market sector representation on Regional Spatial Strategies and Natural and Built Environment joint committees is critical to the success of New Zealand’s future resource system.

Without early market participation in plans, we will likely see adverse effects (similar to the CCCFA) but instead of legislative changes, it will be at a planning level in which plans will be unworkable on an implementation level and renegotiations will have to occur.

Here at Property Council, we will continue to beat the drum of the importance of market representation on joint committees.

In saying this, resource reform is a very complex programme and there is no easy win.

Sector groups will each have their own interests and it is important that as a “New Zealand Inc.” we can look beyond our own internal priorities to ensure we can secure a future that aspires to achieve intergenerational equity for both the natural and built environment. This will take having a shared common goal and pathway to succeed.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that with the end of this political term around the corner, this adds another layer of complexity to reform programmes. Government will be chomping at the bit to enact legislation that reforms Three Waters and resource reform alongside a pathway towards local government reform before the end of this Parliamentary term.

The question is at what cost?

It is important to get the governance and legislative settings right and this will require time to test draft legislation to ensure that no unintended consequences arise.

The difficulty will be getting central government, local government, iwi, third sector and the market heading in the same direction, and it will take leadership, grit and more to so.

* The ‘third sector’ is the part of an economy or society comprising non-governmental and non-profit-making organisations or associations, including charities, voluntary and community groups, cooperatives, etc.

This article was originally published in the Local Government Business Forum’s July 2022 newsletter. Download the full newsletter here.

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