Upcoming Changes to the RMA and Resource Consent Processes

Tuesday February 17, 2015

Upcoming Changes to the RMA and Resource Consent Processes

The upcoming changes to the RMA affect the resource consent process and alter the timeframes in which resource consent decisions are processed.  The changes will affect:

•    Information requirements for resource consent applications and for the Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE); and
•    The timeframe for decision-making on fully and limited notified resource consent applications. 

These amendments are part of the Resource Management Amendment Act 2013.  This article is a brief summary of the important changes to the RMA that practitioners in this field need to be aware of. 

Information Requirements for Resource Consent Applications and AEEs – Schedule 4 and Section 88
What is required to be contained in a resource consent application is now set out in schedule 4.  Schedule 4 provides a list of requirements that must be included in a resource consent application.  The new schedule 4 also sets out the information requirements that must be included in an AEE.  Previously, these requirements were set out in various sections of the RMA.  Now that the information requirements are located in one schedule, this will avoid any uncertainty for the applicant when making their resource consent application.  The changes also provide a completeness test for the Council to measure the application against. 

More time to accept and return resource consent applications – Section 88
Councils have up to 10 working days (increased from five working days) to decide whether to accept or return an application, and must include the reasons why the application has been returned. 

Incomplete Applications – Section 88(3A)
Resource consent applications that the Council determines to be incomplete must be returned to the applicant.  Previously, Council had discretion as to whether to return an incomplete application.  However, Council still maintains its discretion to determine that an application is complete, even if certain information has been excluded. 

Six-month Processing for Notified Applications
Council’s must now process fully notified applications in no more than 130 working days, limited notified applications in 100 working days, and non-notified applications without a hearing in 60 working days. 

Fixed Timeframe to Complete a Hearing – Section 103A
There is now a fixed timeframe between the close of submissions and the close of a hearing for notified applications.  Hearings for fully notified applications must be completed within 75 working days and 45 days for limited notified applications. 

Time Limit for Notification – Section 95
Consent authorities now have 20 working days to decide whether to publicly or limited notify applications and to serve notice.  This has been increased from 10 working days. 

Exclusions to Timeframes for Further Information Requests – Section 88C
The amendments change the time period for further information requests under section 92(1).  The time period is only excluded once, and is only excluded if the request is made before the notification decision.  Previously, applications were able to be put on hold once to make a request for further information before notification, and once after notification. 

Submission Periods for Limited Notified Applications – Section 97
Councils are now able to close the submission period for limited notified applications early if all the affected persons provide either a submission, written approval, or notice that they will not be making a submission. The timeframe to make a submission has not changed and is still 20 working days. 

Processing of Application Suspended: Sections 91A-91C
The new sections allow applicants the opportunity to put their application on hold for up to 130 working days between notification and the close of a hearing. 

Mandatory Evidence Exchange – Section 103B
It is now compulsory for evidence and a Council officer’s section 42A report to be exchanged before the Council hearing for fully and limited notified resource consent applications.  This was not previously a mandatory requirement but could be directed.  These timeframes are:
•    Section 42A report must be exchanged 15 working days before the hearing;
•    Applicant’s evidence, including expert evidence must be exchanged 10 working days before the hearing; and
•    Submitter’s who intend to call expert witnesses must exchange expert evidence five working days before the hearing. 

When do these Amendments Apply?
These amendments come in to force 3 March 2015.  They do not have retrospective affect so any applications lodged before this date are subject to the previous provisions. 

This is a brief overview of the changes to the RMA that will affect practitioners this field.  For a more comprehensive analysis, we recommend practitioners refer to the Act or the Ministry for Environment website. 

Written by Alex Godinet, Solicitor, Holland Beckett