Resource Management Act

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) dictates how we are to manage our physical environment, including the coast and estuaries.

A number of key concepts underpin the Act:

  • Sustainability: focuses on ecological considerations and, in broad terms, is intended to ensure future generations access to the natural resources and services that we benefit from today.
  • Effects-based management: effects of activities, rather than the activities themselves, are to be managed. This opens the way, in principle, for developing innovative solutions to problems.
  • Integrated management: can mean many things. From a physical point of view, it means management should be “catchment-based”. For example, decisions regarding landuse must take account of the downstream effects of that landuse, all the way down to the sea. From an institutional point of view, it means that the various agencies involved in resource management must not contradict each other.

The Ministry for the Environment is responsible for administering the RMA and ensuring that it is being implemented effectively. Implementation is achieved at a number of levels and in a number of ways. Regional councils have responsibility for environmental management of the coastal marine area (CMA), which is the foreshore and seabed below the level of Mean High Water Springs (MHWS). This includes estuaries. City or district councils have responsibilities for activities above MHWS (i.e., land outside the CMA).

You might now be thinking of a clear delineation of responsibilities around MHWS, but that is not so. Here is where the Act starts to show its true nature. For instance, regional councils can require territorial local authorities to act on the land to protect the waterways that are in the regional councils’ jurisdiction, if those land-based activities are having effects on waterways.

The Environmental Defence Society website has a guide to the RMA for informing and assisting individuals and community groups.

Environmental Defence Society →

The Ministry for the Environment’s website has more information on the RMA, including the full text of the Act.

Full text of the RMA →