Stop Central Planning Committees!

The Reforms Explained

David Parker is trying to sneak through changes to the Resource Management Act to remove planning powers from district councils and transfer them to unelected, unaccountable, co-governed Regional Planning Committees. This will mean higher building costs, more red tape, no local control, and more co-governance.

Higher building costs

These new rules and plans will give far more grounds to object to the granting of a resource consent. Consents will also only be granted for 10 years, which Federated Farmers argue is “not long enough to provide investment certainty for investors to make meaningful decisions”. Councils are also likely to be even more risk-averse than they are now given the presumption in favour of environmental protection. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court also warns that “extensive legislative reform is usually followed by a period in which the meaning and effect of the new legislation is litigated through the courts”. This will likely come with a significant legal bill and result in higher costs of development. And this new bureaucracy will have to be paid for by ratepayers despite councils having next to no control over what these Committees do and no way of opting out.

More red tape

The Committees are required to consider 18 ‘system objectives’ such as affordable housing, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and promoting a variety of land uses. The Committees must “actively promote the[se] outcomes” along with four other decision-making principles such as “integrated management of the environment". The legislation does not prioritise these objectives but rather gives that power to the Minister to decide. Business NZ argues that having this means that there is “little or no ability to make cost/benefit decisions in terms of trade-offs between potentially competing, or in some cases even conflicting, system outcomes.” If the Minister’s prioritisation is unclear, the default requirement is to exercise caution and favour environmental protection over all other factors.

No local control

After plans to seize water infrastructure from councils, the Government now proposes to transfer a raft of planning powers from your democratically elected local council to so-called Regional Planning Committees. Your local council may only have a single representative on a Committee of 20 or more representatives. For example, decisions on a new housing development in Waitaki may be taken by a Committee in Christchurch where there is only one representative from Waitaki. Federated Farmers warn that this will “reduce democratic engagement” while Greater Wellington Regional Council argues that “the… Committees have little democratic accountability and risk side-lining regional council functions”.These Committees must also produce a plan for the whole region that complies with a National Planning Framework dictated by a Minister sitting in the Beehive. Your local council can then only grant consents if they adhere to this plan. Castalia contends that the increase in centralisation will “increase the likelihood of errors”.

More co-governance

A minimum of two unelected iwi and hapū representatives will be on each of these Committees, but the composition must be mutually agreed with councils. A recent Waitangi Tribunal report argued that 50/50 co-governance should be required on these Committees in order to comply with the Treaty.The new National Māori Entity will put pressure on the new Committees to ensure they abide by Treaty principles. The Entity can also review decisions anyone made by any person or body acting under these new laws, including the Environment Court, which the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Helen Winkelmann, has warned is “inconsistent with New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements”.The local iwi and hapū can issue statements on Te Oranga o te Taiao – or the natural wellbeing of the environment – to the Committees for which there is no provision for appeal in the new laws. The New Zealand Initiative warns that such statements are “untested, undefined and unpredictable”.

“The bodies making such political decisions need to reflect common principles of good governance such as democratic accountability, transparency, and responsiveness… Shifting from 67 district and city councils to 15 Regional Planning Committees will shift decision making further away from local communities and reduce democratic engagement.”

Mark Hooper
Board Member,
Federated Farmers

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What is being proposed?

New Zealanders are rightly frustrated with the cumbersome Resource Management Act, which restricts how we use our land and has fuelled a serious infrastructure and housing shortage.

But the Government’s proposed reforms are not the answer. David Parker is trying to exploit anti-RMA feeling to push through a new Soviet-style central planning regime, replacing the RMA with two new laws that remove power from local councils and entrench co-governance. This is Three Waters 2.0.

First your council lost its responsibility for water infrastructure, now the Government is taking away its planning powers and handing it to one of 15 new co-governed authorities. At this rate there won’t be much left for your council to do.

For taxpayers, the proposed regime is even worse than the RMA. The legislation’s contradictory objectives and undefined Treaty obligations will open up the new authorities to constant court action. The result is higher costs and more red tape, making it harder for New Zealanders to get things done, meaning we all end up poorer.

We need to scrap Parker’s planning power grab and introduce common-sense reform that preserves democracy and rebalances the incentives for local councils in favour of productive development.

"The Natural and Built Environment Bill includes a list of objectives (system outcomes, including protecting the environment, providing for infrastructure etc) but there is no hierarchy, and little or no ability to make cost/benefit decisions in terms of trade-offs between potentially competing, or in some cases even conflicting, system outcomes."

Kirk Hope
Chief Executive, Business NZ

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How will it work?

How will it affect you and your community?

Building or Adapting Your Home

  • Central Planning Committees will decide where and how you can build and make changes to your home. These Committees will have to promote 18 competing ‘system outcomes’ that are ill-defined and create complexity. This would likely mean decades of legal challenges before there is any certainty around what you can and cannot do to your own property. Be prepared to lawyer up.
  • The National Planning Framework must also comply with the Emissions Reduction Plan, which the Federated Farmers have warned could see the “Committees implementing rules requiring residential buildings to reduce emissions (presumably reduce use of natural gas for heating and cooking).”

  • If you don’t like a decision made by these unelected Committees, you won’t be able to vote them out.

Major Projects

  • We believe the proposed laws are vague, complex and often contradictory. Industry-leading organisations have expressed strong concerns that it will become near impossible to undertake any major infrastructure development if these law changes go through.
  • The Electricity Sector Environment Group warns that the proposals would mean it would be significantly more difficult to get consent for major renewable energy projects such as wind, hydro and geothermal power and therefore means “consumers would ultimately pay more for power from existing generation sources, as well as higher prices for power from new generation”.

  • Decisions will also be taken far away from the communities they affect. For example, whether a new geothermal power plant in Taupō gets consented will likely be decided by unaccountable bureaucrats in Hamilton.


  • These Committees will create 30-year plans to determine where you are allowed to do certain activities. We say this is a model best left to Soviet-era Russia. If land is designated as an area specified for a particular kind of farming, for example, it will be very difficult to change the land use to something else.
  • According to Contact Energy, the proposals “simply provide more ammunition than ever before to frustrate and stall, obfuscate and delay critical investment”.
  • We think that the end result is a New Zealand where it is even more difficult, and expensive, to do business or build quality infrastructure.


  • We think the conflicting objectives in the proposals will end up leading to worse environmental outcomes than under the status quo.
  • With a law change as significant as this, it is important that it is done well to ensure that it achieves its intended outcomes. The Commissioner for the Environment recommended against rushing the proposals through before the election due of their “failure to ensure that environment outcomes are of primary importance through the addition of a raft of competing additional outcomes.” The Government has said it wants to proceed anyway.
  • The proposed laws lack the ability to efficiently and effectively reduce things like water and air pollution. Kevin Counsell, an expert in environmental economics has warned the Government’s approach “seems likely to make it even more difficult for externalities to be internalised.” Without ensuring that those who pollute bear the cost of doing so, environmental outcomes are likely to get worse.

"Providing for decisions of the Environment Court to be subject to review by the [National Māori] Entity would be inconsistent with New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements. Court decisions are appropriately challenged by way of appeal, not by way of review by a statutory entity. Such a review would be constitutionally unprecedented and problematic."

Dame Helen Winkelmann
Chief Justice, Supreme
Court of New Zealand

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Briefing Paper

Unpacking the RMA Reforms: Implications for New Zealand's Environment and Democracy

Read the Paper