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Resource Management Amendment Act 2020 – freshwater planning

The Resource Management Amendment Act 2020 (the Amendment Act) introduces a new process for freshwater planning. The alternate planning process seeks to assist local authorities to give effect to the proposed amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management requirements by 2025, and provide an efficient decision-making pathway.

Regional councils must use the new process for the development, change, or variation of regional plans and policy statements, unless only part of the instrument relates to freshwater. Where only part of the instrument relates to freshwater, the Council need only prepare the part of the instrument relating to freshwater in accordance with the new process.

The Amendment Act establishes a Chief Freshwater Commissioner and freshwater hearings panels to conduct a public hearing of submissions, and make recommendations to a regional council. Professor Peter Skelton CNZM has been appointed as the Chief Freshwater Commissioner, and Alternate Environment Court Judge Craig Thompson as Deputy Chief Freshwater Commissioner.

When plans and policy statements are referred to the panel, the panel will make recommendations to the regional council and the Council will then accept or reject the recommendations. If the regional council does not accept any recommendations from the panel they must decide on an alternative solution to each rejected recommendation.

The panel does have powers to make recommendations beyond the scope of submissions received on a plan or policy. Rights of appeal from the regional council decision to accept or not accept the panel’s recommendations are limited, and there are a number of qualifications that need to be met to make an appeal.

For example an appeal may only be made on a matter that was recommended by the panel but rejected by the regional council in favour of an alternative solution.  A person must appeal on a matter addressed in their submission, unless the relevant recommendation was outside the scope of submissions.