Resource consents 

What is the Resource Management Act?

The Resource Management Act (RMA) is the main law for protecting our environment, ensuring that building construction, clearing of vegetation, burning rubbish etc. do not threaten our living environment. It sets out how the environment should be managed and how the environmental effects of our activities (e.g. building, burning) should be managed.

Local authorities enforce the RMA through the development of regional and district plans (in consultation with the people who live in those areas), and through decisions on resource consent applications.

You can read more about how local bodies enforce the RMA on the Ministry for the Environment website.

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What is a resource consent?

If you want to do something that your council’s district or regional plan does not allow as of right, then you will need to apply for a resource consent for that activity - for example if you wish to :

  • subdivide a plot of land 
  • convert a commercial building into a residential building 
  • allow runoff (e.g. animal waste, fertiliser) into a stream or other waterway 
  • build a wharf at a coastal marine area 
  • display large signs in public 
  • construct a second building on your property 
  • discharge factory exhaust into the air 
  • remove a protected tree.

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Do I need to get a resource consent to build a sleep-out in my back yard?

That will depend on what it says in the local district or regional plans. If you contact your local council they can tell you whether your proposed activity requires a resource consent (or if it is prohibited i.e. you are not allowed to do it and can’t apply for a resource consent to do it).

If you do need a resource consent, the council can tell you: 

  • what kind of resource consent you need
  • whether you need to apply to the district/city council or the regional council – or both 
  • what information you’ll need to support your application  
  • how long the process is likely to take and how much the council is likely to charge you.  

It’s a good idea to consult early on with other people who might be affected (your neighbours) so that you can find out what issues they might have about your plans. If you are able to address those issues, that may reduce the likelihood that they will oppose your resource consent application.

Your resource consent application will be considered by the regional or district council, who may require formal consultation to take place with “affected persons” (e.g. your immediate neighbours) or even with the wider public.

More information about applying for a resource consent is on the Ministry for the Environment website.

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A neighbour has applied for a resource consent to build a sleep-out in their back yard. What can I do if I am opposed to it?

Your neighbour may ask you, and any other people who might be affected by their plans, for written approval.

If you think you are going to be adversely affected by your neighbour’s plans (e.g. that you will lose privacy once the sleep-out is built and occupied) then you do not have to give approval.

If you would be happy to give approval on condition that certain changes are made to the application, e.g. changing the placement of the front door, then you can ask the applicant (your neighbour) to make those changes to the application and only sign the approval when you have seen the amended application.

If you do not give your approval at all, the council will then serve you with a notice of the application. This means that you can make a submission. You don’t have to make a submission, but if the council does grant a resource consent you will only be able to appeal the decision in the Environment Court if you made a submission.

Note that if you give written approval you can change your mind and formally withdraw your approval in writing - as long as you do it before the resource consent has been granted.

You can read more about your rights as an affected person on the Ministry for the Environment website.

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The council decided not to give a resource consent for what I want to do. How can I appeal their decision?

You can appeal the council’s decision in the Environment Court. The Court can enforce the council’s decision or overturn it. If you decide to make an appeal it’s best to seek legal advice before proceeding.

An alternative to making an appeal in the Environment Court is mediation.

More information about challenging a council decision relating to the RMA is on the Ministry for the Environment website.

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The council has already granted a resource consent for a liquor store to be built near the local school. Is it too late for me to oppose the decision?

If you made a submission (or were party to someone else’s submission) while the resource consent was still under consideration, you can appeal the council’s decision in the Environment Court (more about this in an earlier question). You should seek legal advice if you are thinking of making an appeal in the Environment Court.

If the liquor store goes ahead, you can make a complaint to your council if, during its construction or when it is in operation, you believe the community, environment or your property is being harmed.

More information about what to do if you have concerns that someone’s activities are harming the environment is on the Ministry for the Environment website.

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The smoke from the local school incinerator is polluting the air in my neighbourhood. What can I do about this?

You can talk to the appropriate person at the school about the problems it has created for you and ask them if they have a resource consent to operate an incinerator. It will help if you can find other neighbours who feel the same way, and approach the school as a group.

If you are not satisfied with the school’s response you can contact your local council about the matter. If the council finds that the school doesn’t have a resource consent for operating an incinerator or isn’t meeting the conditions of the consent, it can take the appropriate action. This might include a notice of abatement, which is an order to stop using the incinerator.

More information about what to do if you have concerns that someone’s activities are harming the environment is on the Ministry for the Environment website.

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What is the Environment Court and what do they do?

The Environment Court is a specialist court that deals with environmental issues, mainly those arising from the Resource Management Act. Most of the cases dealt with by the Environment Court are about resource consent decisions made by local authorities.

The Environment Court can also consider resource consent applications, applications to change conditions placed on resource consents, and notices of requirement (when a local council wants land designated for a particular purpose). The Ministry for the Environment can also refer matters to the Environment Court which are considered of national significance.

The Environment Court has no centralised courthouse and cases are heard in courts across the country. Court judges are permanently based in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington and travel to other courts as needed.

The Court encourages mediation to settle disputes. Environment Court decisions and agreements reached through mediation are legally binding.

For more information on what the Environment Court deals with, visit their website or that of the Ministry for the Environment.