Changes to national freshwater policy


2 min read

Target changes to the RMA DairyNZ's response Regional council response What it means for farmers Additional resources

Over the next 1-2 years, Government officials will work through changes to national freshwater legislation. This is what we know so far. This page will be updated with changes as they become available.

In mid-December 2023, the coalition Government announced it will replace the current National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM), recognising it is complex, expensive and will not deliver desired freshwater outcomes. There will be a replacement process over the next 18 to 24 months, although the Government is still working through the details. DairyNZ is involved at both the national and regional levels, through engagement with Ministers and officials, and Regional Councils.

Key changes so far:

  • The Natural and Built Environment Act and the Spatial Planning Act that replaced the RMA in August last year, have been repealed. We are back to the RMA and regional councils will have to assess resource consent applications based on the RMA when for example deciding on consent duration.
  • The requirement to notify new regional freshwater plans by the end of 2024 at the latest has been extended to the end of 2027.
  • Government is progressing a new Fast-track Approvals Bill, which introduces a new consenting regime for infrastructure and development.
  • A first targeted RMA bill was introduced to Parliament recently and another bill will most likely be introduced later this year.
  • The Government has signalled that it will make changes to the Freshwater Farm Plan system to be more cost-effective and practical for farmers.
  • The current RMA will over time be replaced with new resource management legislation based on the enjoyment of property rights while ensuring environmental outcomes.

The Government has made a commitment to uphold Treaty of Waitangi settlements and other Treaty-related commitments and arrangements in all the reforms.

Target changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) - first amendment bill

The Government recently introduced a new resource management amendment bill to Parliament. The proposed bill includes changes to:

  • Make it clear that resource consent applicants no longer need to demonstrate their proposed activities follow the Te Mana o te Wai hierarchy of obligations, as set out in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM).
  • Amend stock exclusion regulations in relation to sloped land. The low slope land map and associated requirements for stock exclusion is removed.
  • Repeal intensive winter grazing regulations.
  • Align the consenting pathway for coal mining with the pathway for other mining activities in the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (NPS-IB), NPS-FM, and the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F).
  • Suspend the requirement for councils to identify new Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) in accordance with the NPS-IB for three years, to give enough time for a thorough review of how they operate.
  • Speed up the process to develop or amend national direction, such as national policy statements and national environmental standards.

DairyNZ’s response

DairyNZ is advocating for regional councils to pause notification of their freshwater plan changes, wait for national clarity around a replacement national framework and use the time to go back to communities for further discussion around the economic implications of their environmental limits.

We want to see a national policy framework that supports constant improvement, focused on good practice implemented at the farm level, and the development of solutions at farm and catchment scales. We want a new NPS-FM to survive any change in government.

We are advocating for targeted changes to the RMA in response to recent High Court decisions dealing with discharges from farming and consents (sections 70 and 107, RMA).

DairyNZ is providing feedback to officials on how improved objectives for freshwater farm plans could best be achieved.

How regional councils are responding

Regional councils know that change to the national framework is coming, but many are yet to make firm decisions around their work programmes. Most importantly, regional councils have scope to continue down the paths they have committed to under the 2020 version. Some have signalled they want to do so, or feel obliged to, given the consultation they have carried out with communities and tangata whenua to date.

Some councils have decided to utilise the extension and delay notification Horizons
Bay of Plenty
West Coast
Some regional councils have decided to continue with their existing timeframes for notification Otago
Many regional councils are yet to make a decision on timeframes Waikato

Most councils have paused the roll-out of freshwater farm plans, until clarity is given from Central Government on changes to the regulations.

What it means for farmers

Significant changes may occur but while the targets, methods and timeframes may change there will still be national and regional policy direction requiring improvement in some catchments.

For now, farmers need to keep working on and following national regulations brought in with the NES for freshwater, for example, Intensive Winter Grazing, the cap on nitrogen use and reporting, and stock exclusion requirement. The regional plans and rules also apply as before.

Last updated: Mar 2024

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