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National Planning Framework- What is it and how will it work?

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

In our previous blogs, we’ve been discussing the significant resource management reform underway, notably the replacement of the Resource Management Act with three new acts. These are:

  • Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA). The Natural and Built Environments Act is the main replacement for the RMA, with the aim of protecting and restoring the environment while better enabling development,

  • Spatial Planning Act (SPA), which will require the development of long-term regional spatial strategies to help coordinate and integrate decisions made under the relevant legislation,

  • Climate Adaptation Act (CAA), related to the various and often complex issues associated with managed retreat.

The Natural and Built Environments Act requires a “National Planning Framework” which will provide integrated direction on matters of national significance and matters where national consistency is desirable. In this blog we’ll look at the National Planning Framework in more detail.

What is the National Planning Framework?

The National Planning Framework will be a document applying to all of New Zealand, developed and maintained by the Minster for the Environment.

The National Planning Framework is proposed to see the consolidation of the functions and role of national regulatory instruments into a single framework and a more focused list of mandatory central government direction. It is hoped that the NPF will reduce conflicts that we see now between some national level documents under the RMA.

The National Planning Framework will:

  • Guide the future RM system and influence the content and outcomes of Regional Spatial Strategies (required under the Spatial Planning Act) and NBA plans (required under the Natural and Built Environments Act).

  • Include a strategic section that sets out the vision, direction and priorities for management of the environment and how the wellbeing of present and future generations is to be provided for within environmental limits; and

  • Give effect to Te Tiriti principles and reflect te ao Māori.

What will the National Planning Framework contain?

The NPF will contain environmental limits that are set nationally, targets, other provisions such as methods and rules, and a precautionary approach, to direct and guide those working under the NBA.

The National Planning Framework will have the effect of regulations. The regulations may set directions, policies, goals, or methods; or provide criteria, targets, or definitions.

What will be covered by the National Planning Framework?

The NPF must address:

  • the quality of air, freshwater, coastal waters, estuaries, and soils

  • ecological integrity

  • outstanding natural features and landscapes

  • areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous animals

  • greenhouse gas emissions

  • urban areas

  • housing supply

  • infrastructure services; and

  • natural hazards and climate change.

The NPF can also include provisions on other matters if they’re consistent with its purpose.

What are Environmental Limits?

You’ll have seen above the reference to environmental limits in the new legislation. The primary purpose of environmental limits is to protect the ecological integrity of the natural environment and human health. Environmental limits may be prescribed:

  • qualitatively or quantitatively; and

  • at different levels for different circumstances or locations.

Environmental limits can prescribe the minimum biophysical state of the natural environment or the maximum amount of harm or stress that may be permitted on the natural environment. It will be mandatory for the NPF to set limits on specific matters such as air, biodiversity (including habitats and ecosystems), coastal waters, estuaries, freshwater and soil.

There is likely to be detailed debate on what these limits should be, given the significant impact they will have on environmental outcomes and development potential.

How will the NPF affect you?

The NPF provisions will affect development throughout New Zealand, but in different ways. The NPF may direct that certain provisions:

  • must be given effect through NBA plans or regional spatial strategies; or

  • The provisions have direct legal effect without being incorporated into a plan or a regional spatial strategy (similar to national environmental standards under the RMA, such as the NES(Freshwater) and NES(Soil)).

This means that either the NPF requirements, as they affect your development, will filter through into the provisions in area specific NBA or SPA plan, or require compliance directly.

It will be interesting to see the wording of the NPF; it’s proposed to cover a number of issues that vary significantly from area to area. It’ll be interesting to see how these are proposed to be managed effectively and efficiently at a national level.

Want to know more?

This is part of our blog series on RMA reform, including the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) and Spatial Planning Act (SPA). Find out more from our future blogs-

Hannah Thomson is Director of Planning Plusand has over 20 years of resource management experience working in both local government and the private sector. This includes five years at Rodney District Council in roles including Senior Planner and Team Leader. Hannah has a wide range of experience including commercial, rural, residential and coastal development and subdivision on small to large scales and appearances at both Council and Environment Court as an expert witness for mediation and hearings. Hannah has assisted Councils with policy development and has also assisted private individuals with submissions to Council.

Hannah holds the qualifications of BSc (Environmental Science) and Master of Applied Science (Environmental Management), is a Member (Int) of the New Zealand Planning Institute and Secretary of the New Zealand Planning Institute Auckland Branch Committee. Hannah is also a member of the Resource Management Law Association.


As with all our blogs this information is preliminary in nature only and we have used our best endeavours to ensure it is correct at the time of writing. It is not intended to substitute for your own investigations or obtaining specific advice on your proposal from professionals. Planning Plus LtdTM is not liable in any way for any errors or omissions. © Planning Plus Ltd 2023

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