RMA 101: explaining the consent process

Consents Feature Files

The Resource Management Act (RMA) is New Zealand’s main legislation that sets out how we should manage our environment and natural resources (such as air, soil, fresh water and coastal marine areas).  It is based on sustainable management principles, requiring consideration of current and future effects of activities on the environment now and in the future when making resource management decisions.

As a regulator, Environment Canterbury is legally obliged to follow the law – in this case the RMA – when making decisions related to resource consents.

Often, there is significant public interest.

The following questions and answers aim to provide clarity on the constraints and powers that Environment Canterbury has under the RMA.

What happens when we receive an application for an activity that requires a consent?
First, there must be sufficient information within the application for it to be considered.
Any person can apply for any activity that is not prohibited under a rule in a plan – therefore, we are legally obliged to process every application that we receive.
If there is sufficient information, and the application is formally accepted, it will then be considered against the statutory tests provided within the RMA, including the effects on the environment from the proposed activity and the degree of those effects.
We do this by auditing the information provided in the application, using technical experts and the planning framework as guidance.
Once we have audited the application and determined the environmental effects and the degree, we then need to decide the appropriate type of notification for the application.
How do we decide whether to notify an application and what are the different types of notification?
There are three types of notification:
1. Non-notified:
An application will be non-notified if adverse effects on both the environment and people are less than minor.
This means that the environmental effects are deemed acceptable and no parties are considered to be affected OR written approval has been provided by all those people adversely affected.
These applications are required to be processed within 20 working days.
2. Limited notification:
An application will be limited notified if adverse effects on persons are minor or more than minor.
It will then be open for submissions from specifically affected persons, and only from them.
The timeline is: 20 working days to notify, 20 working days submission period, 45 working days to complete the hearing and 15 working days for a decision to be issued.
3. Public notification:
An application will be publicly notified if adverse effects on the environment are more than minor.
The applicant can request public notification OR it may be required under s95C of the RMA.
Anyone is able to submit on a publicly notified application.
The timeline is 20 working days to notify, 20 working days submission period, 75 working days to complete the hearing and 15 working days for a decision to be issued.
What can and can't we consider when deciding on notification?
The RMA sets out a specific order we must take the application through to determine the type of notification appropriate for that application (see page 2 of this Ministry for Environment’s guide to the RMA consent process), as follows:
  • We can look at both localised adverse effects and those that impact the wider environment.
  • We can't take into account positive effects.
  • We can look at the magnitude of effects, based on the plan provisions and s95 of the RMA.
  • We can't take into account the race, gender or economic position of the applicant. 
Affected parties versus interested parties – what's the difference?
An affected person (which is a term defined in the RMA) is someone on whom the effects of the proposed activity will be minor or more than minor – in which case they will be notified of the consent application and may make a submission.
An interested person or party may be a group or body that has a general interest in an application, but is not deemed to be ‘affected’ under the RMA.
We advise interested parties of specific applications as a courtesy to ensure those parties are aware of relevant applications that might be of interest to them and/or where they might provide some context or comment on the proposed activity.
Interested parties are usually local councils and authorities such as the District Health Board.
Comments they might provide on an application are used to determine whether they are an affected party.
Affected parties receive formal notification of an application and have the right to make submissions on consent applications.
Interested parties are not able to make submissions.
What are some of the things that inform our decision to grant or refuse an application?
  • Both positive and adverse effects.
  • Relevant planning provisions (eg, objectives and policies).
  • Other relevant matters (eg, Iwi management plans).
  • The ways in which the application achieves the overall purpose of the RMA.
What are "conditions" to a consent?
The purpose of conditions is to avoid, remedy or mitigate the associated effects of the activity that the consent authorises (s108).
Among other things, they define the scope of the consent and can be administrative.
Can consents be transferred?
In the same way that when you buy a house and there may be rights/chattels that come with the property, if there is a resource consent attached to a property, it comes with the property.
The transfer of a consent to a new owner of the property is done by notice to Environment Canterbury. It is an administrative change and we cannot refuse this type of transfer.
If the transfer is from one site to another, it will require a new application and assessment of effects. It may also be subject to new conditions.
Is it possible for Environment Canterbury to review a decision?
We cannot review a decision to grant or decline a resource consent; this can only be carried out by the courts.
However, we can review the conditions to a consent (ie, the requirements that a person who holds a consent is required to comply with when they exercise their consent) in certain circumstances.
Those circumstances include (i) any unforeseen environmental effects of that activity that weren’t originally anticipated, or (ii) to align the activity with the provisions of a new plan.
However, any review must ensure the consent remains viable.

For more information on the RMA, the Ministry for the Environment provides lots of useful guidance online, including: