The government released an exposure draft of the Natural and Built Environments Bill (the Bill) on 29 June. The resulting Natural and Built Environments Act will be one of three Acts to replace the Resource Management Act 1991 (the RMA), the others being the Strategic Planning Act and the Climate Change Adaptation Act.

The Bill’s proposed purpose is broader than the RMA’s; it emphasises protecting and enhancing the natural environment (instead of just managing it) and considers future generations’ well-being.

The exposure draft covers land-use and environmental regulation and includes draft clauses on: 

  • the Bill’s purpose and related provisions (Part 2)
  • a national planning framework (Part 3)
  • natural and built environments plans (Part 4).

The exposure draft marks another step in replacing the RMA, though questions are being raised over how much of an improvement the Bill really is over the RMA, including concerns around further cost pressures on councils and erosion of local democracy.


The Bill’s exposure draft is a partial one, and the Environment Committee will consider it between 29 June and 18 October. The closing date for public submissions is 4 August. The select committee will report its findings to Parliament. Changes will be made before the entire Bill is formally introduced to Parliament in the first quarter of 2022, followed by the usual select committee process.

The government is looking to pass the Bill and the Spatial Planning Bill into law before the second half of 2023.

We ran a survey from 7-18 July seeking member input – thank you to those who completed the survey. We will make a submission on the exposure draft.

A national planning framework

The Bill proposes a national planning framework which would have the effect of regulations, i.e. the government will be able to prepare, update or review the framework without going through the Parliamentary process. While it could serve as a key catalyst to making the resource management system agile, responsive and enabling the government to respond quickly, the framework could look very different depending on the government of the day.

The exposure draft also puts forward a list of indicative principles under Part 2, such as taking a precautionary approach and having particular regard to cumulative effects; one of the criticisms of the RMA has been its inability to account for cumulative effects adequately. Also, this list is more like a shopping list than a key list of principles. MFE need to cut these down to a core few.

Natural and built environments plans

A further key proposal in the exposure draft is having planning committees in each region to prepare natural and built environments plans. The proposal follows the Resource Management Review Panel’s proposal to develop one natural and built environments plan per region. The government has indicated it is still considering the best approach to plan preparation and decision-making. It will look to the feedback received from the select committee inquiry. Natural and built environments plans will consolidate over 100 RMA policy statements and regional and district plans into about 14 plans, which the government considers vital to simplifying and improving the integration of the system.

A concern of the reforms is that there will now be three Acts to navigate and interpret and that this may lead to further delays to planning and developing.