The environmental impacts of activities are primarily controlled by the RMA through the requirement to apply for resource consents as well as through any conditions for permitted activities included in the relevant regional or district plan. A resource consent provides permission to carry out an activity so long as it complies with any conditions attached to the consent.
The RMA classifies activities into six primary categories: permitted, controlled, restricted discretionary, discretionary, non-complying and prohibited (section 77A(2)). In addition, there is a 'recognised customary activity' category applying to the foreshore and seabed. These different categories determine aspects such as whether a resource consent is required before carrying out the activity, what will be considered when making a decision on a resource consent application and whether a resource consent must, may or may not be granted. Rules in regional and district plans determine within which category an activity falls. Controlled, restricted discretionary and discretionary activities must comply with standards, terms or conditions, if any, specified in the plan or proposed plan.
There are five different types of resource consents which can be granted, depending on the kind of activity proposed: land use consent, subdivision consent, coastal permit, water permit and discharge permit. In some cases, a resource consent will be required unless the activity is expressly authorised by the district or regional plan. In other cases, the activity only requires a resource consent if it contravenes a rule in a regional or district plan. The RMA does make provision for activities to be carried out (in certain cases) notwithstanding the fact that they contravene a rule in the relevant regional or district plan. This is where the activity is expressly allowed in terms of a resource consent or regulations or is an existing use.
Resource consent applications must contain, amongst other things, a description of the proposed activity and an assessment of effects on the environment.
If you wish to apply for a resource consent it will be important to identify what resource consents you require, to develop a good relationship with the consent authority, and to effectively consult (where appropriate) with any affected parties. In the case of more complicated applications you may need to engage the services of one or more resource management consultants to assist in the preparation of your application.
When a resource consent application is publicly notified, anyone can make a submission on the application, and any submitter can appeal the decision of the council to the Environment Court. If a resource consent application is not publicly notified, there are no general rights to submit and appeal. The Act also makes provision for limited notification where only people who are affected by the proposed activity are notified and given the opportunity to lodge a submission.
In practice, currently less than five per cent of applications are publicly notified. This means that members of the public have no opportunity to make submissions on the vast majority of resource consent applications. Directly affected parties or affected customary rights order holders, however, must normally have given written approval to the proposal as a prerequisite to non-notification.
Resource consent applications are processed through a number of stages including requesting further information, making a decision on notification, receiving public submissions, holding pre-hearing meetings, holding a public hearing and issuing a decision.
Once a resource consent has been granted there is an obligation on the local authority to monitor its implementation. There may also be an obligation on the consent holder to monitor. The consent holder can seek to change or cancel the conditions attached to a resource consent. The consent authority can usually only review a resource consent if provided for in the conditions attached to the consent or if a relevant national environmental standard has been made.