The Resource Management Act (RMA) of 1991 mandates the sustainable management of natural and physical resources such as land, water and air. It puts the onus of sustainable environmental management on local councils by giving them the power to decide whether to grant resource consents to individuals and businesses seeking to undertake activities that may have an environmental impact.
Whether you’re an asset owner or a property developer, your property project must comply with the RMA. The laws state the situations in which you require a resource consent and what you need to do to get an approval. A clear understanding of what the process entails will help you plan in advance and act proactively to accelerate to the best possible outcomes for your project.
Here are the key steps to get a resource consent in New Zealand.
You can either download the application from the council’s website or collect hard copies from the council. The information required to be provided with your application can be accessed at New Zealand Legislation.
Every application for resource consent must be accompanied by an assessment of environmental effects (AEE). This information is available at the council, district or regional plan website, or on the Ministry for the Environment website.
Generally, the bigger the project, the more extensive the AEE requirements. It is best to consult an expert for help in preparing the information, which should include a description of the proposal, site and locality, as well as a site plan drawn to scale and other relevant plans indicating the exterior architecture of your building. You will also need to provide a description of the potential environmental effects of the project, and how those effects can be avoided, mitigated or remediated.
An important step in the path to obtaining resource consent is identifying who might be affected by your project. Talk to the person(s) or organisation(s) who may be affected by your project in a ‘minor’ or ‘more than minor’ way. Although you are not obliged to get their approval, a written approval can move the process along more smoothly. Else, you can explain to the council why you don’t believe they are affected, or why you cannot get their approval.
Lodge the application with your council along with an application fee. Once your application is with the council, it becomes public information.
After a resource consents officer has had a look a look at the application, they may either approve it but without public notification, reject it as incomplete, request for more information, notify the application to affected parties and invite their submission, notify the application publicly and invite submissions from any party, or hold a hearing where you and submitters can forward your views.
If the application is incomplete, the council will return it within 10 working days after your submission. If the application contains all required information and doesn’t need to be publicly notified, you should have answer within 20 working days. Where public notification is necessary, the council will take four months to reach a decision.
If a conflict of interest exists – such as when the council owns land next to the application site – then council staff will have someone other than a council officer to consider it. If your application is notified and a hearing held, you have the right to request an independent commissioner to decide your application rather than a councillor.
The council will inform you if your application has been approved or declined, along with a copy of their decision. Upon approval, (a) understand any conditions attached to your resource consent (b) check if you or the council must track compliance based on those conditions (c) note if there is an expiry date for the activity for which the resource consent has been granted, and (d) note the timeframe for starting the activity; in many cases, the work needs to start within five years from the date the consent was granted, failing which, the resource consent will lapse.
Should your application be declined or include conditions you wish to challenge, you can lodge a formal objection with the council. A hearing will be called which you can attend to present your case. If you are unhappy with the council’s decision on your application or objection, you could also file a formal appeal with the Environment Court, which is empowered to make independent decisions, similar to a District Court.
Engage professional help to lodge a persuasive appeal; besides preparing the appeal is a time- and effort-intensive affair. Your lawyer or a resource management professional should be able to provide the guidance and assistance that results in a successful appeal.
The conditions of a resource consent can change, subject to certain circumstances. The council reserves the right to place a condition on the consent in order to review the condition(s) at specific times. You can also apply to change or cancel a condition, stating your reasons and proposed changes. This is necessary to help the council determine any additional effect(s) on existing affected individuals or new individuals who might be impacted.
You can transfer or surrender your consent. A land-use consent is transferrable to the new owner when you sell your land. For other types of consents, the transfer is not automatic. For instance, the consent to take water will depend on the nature of the consent or plan. Council staff should be able to guide you in these matters. In fact, council staff will be available for assistance right from the beginning, only they may charge you a fee for their time.
The RMA has been criticised for being unnecessarily time-consuming and rigid for imposing restrictions on legitimate economic activities. To make the path to an approval easy or at least stress-free, it is in your best interest to do a bit of legwork and proactively seek the help of qualified professionals whose experience might help you at critical steps of the resource consent process.
If you’d like to learn more about how Voxell can help with the design, resource consent, or delivery of your property development projects, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org