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New Zealand: Requirements to Build Eased as Part of Stimulus Plan

(Feb. 9, 2009) On February 2, 2009, New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key, announced a proposal to revise the country's Resource Management Act (RMA). The changes are aimed at easing the way for development projects and home remodeling plans, which would help stimulate the economy. Other elements of the economic plan include increased public spending on roads, housing, the electricity infrastructure, schools, and hospitals, plus business tax changes that will benefit small- and medium-sized companies. (Vernon Small & Tracy Watkins, Government Bulldozes Barriers to Growth, DOMINION POST, Feb. 4, 2009, available at

The major changes proposed for the RMA include:

  • local councils would have to reduce their fees if they improperly delay processing an application for a project that would impact the natural environment;
  • those applying for “resource consent” could, with council approval, skip a step and go directly to the Environment Court;
  • current rules that require local council consent to trim or cut down trees of a certain size would be eliminated;
  • the planning process at the district and regional levels would be streamlined and only cases with legal issues would be appealed to the Environment Court; and
  • fines for violating environmental laws would be increased from NZ$200,000 to NZ$300,000 (about US$101,300 to 152,000) for individuals and to NZ$600,000 (about US$304,000) for companies. (Eloise Gibson, Government Cuts Red Tape to Help Homeowners, NZHERALD.CO.NZ, Feb. 4, 2009, available at

Developers and business groups in general reacted favorably to the proposals, which are expected to make the approval process quicker and less costly for the approximately 50,000 environmental permits sought in the country annually. However, environmental groups expressed concern. Tree Council representative Hueline Massey complained that the suggested changes to the laws on trees had been “out of the blue” and that the existing rules had been created to end the “destruction of good trees without a good reason.” (Id.)