The RMA Quality Planning Resource

Section 176A(3) requires that an outline plan must show:

  1. the height, shape, and bulk of the public work, project, or work; and
  2. the location on the site of the public work, project or work; and
  3. the likely finished contour of the site; and
  4. the vehicular access, circulation, and the provision for parking; and
  5. the landscaping proposed; and
  6. any other matters to avoid, remedy, or mitigate any adverse effects on the environment.

Subsection (f) provides for a territorial authority to consider other unspecified matters such as noise, dust, lighting, glare and odour as necessary.  These ‘other matters’ will be limited if the requiring authority provided details on mitigation of effects as part of the notice of requirement, or relevant conditions were imposed on the notice of requirement.  Mitigation measures should not frustrate the reasonable implementation of the proposed works in accordance with the designation (the requiring authority is likely to reject any such conditions).

When preparing an outline plan, a requiring authority should also consider:

  • the purpose of the designation
  • any conditions that may have been placed on the designation
  • the implications of these conditions on the proposed works
  • whether to hold pre-application meetings with the territorial authority to clarify any areas of uncertainty such as the interpretation of designation conditions or planning maps
  • any relevant national environmental standard (s43D).

An emerging approach to effective use of the outline plan stage is an ‘effects envelope’ approach. This approach makes better use of the outline plan stage. An effects envelope can be set through the use of conditions on the notice of requirement.  These conditions require the mitigation of effects through the use of management plans, which are supplied at the outline plan stage, when construction details are known.  In some circumstances, the territorial authority may agree to waive the requirement for an outline plan if a management plan is submitted instead. 

Territorial authorities should encourage requiring authorities to consult closely with them in preparation of outline plans for significance developments or works, including providing drafts of a proposed outline plan for comment.  From a territorial authority perspective, the time allowed for processing outline plans (20 working days) is very short, particularly for assessing what can be a highly complex, technical document.  From a requiring authority perspective, the potential for a territorial authority to appeal a requiring authority’s refusal to make changes to an outline plan provides a significant incentive to ‘get it right first time’.

Waiver of outline plans

An outline plan is not always necessary for works within a designation. Under s176A(2) an outline plan is not necessary if:

  1. the proposed public work, project, or work has been otherwise approved under the RMA, or
  2. the details of the proposed public work, project or work, are already incorporated into the designation, or
  3. the territorial authority waives the requirement for an outline plan.

Other than waiving the requirement for an outline plan, a territorial authority does not have any decision-making power under s176A(2).  The decision that an outline plan is not necessary under sub-clauses (a) and (b), rests with the requiring authority (subject to potential judicial review).  Waiving the outline plan requirement removes any right to a subsequent appeal by a territorial authority.

A requiring authority should request that the territorial authority waive the requirement for an outline plan if it does not believe one to be necessary.  It is good practice to discuss the potential for a waiver with the territorial authority initially before making the request in writing.

While there are no criteria within s176A(2)(c) for determining whether to waive the need for an outline plan, a territorial authority should consider:

  • the level of effects that the proposed work or project may have
  • whether the proposal or work would otherwise be a permitted activity and would meet any relevant performance standards of the underlying zone
  • whether the effects of the works are addressed through a regional resource consent process
  • whether the information has already been provided to the territorial authority as part of the designation,
  • whether meeting the conditions of the designation provides adequate control and certainty.

Where a territorial authority determines that it is appropriate to waive the requirement for an outline plan, it should advise the requiring authority in writing. 

Processing an outline plan

On receipt of an outline plan, a territorial authority should check:

  • that the outline plan has been submitted by the requiring authority, or that the agent submitting the outline plan has delegated responsibility to act on behalf of the requiring authority
  • the status of the requiring authority is valid and that the designation has not lapsed
  • whether the project or work falls fully within the purpose of the designation and meets any conditions related to the designation
  • that the outline plan contains all the information required under s176A(3). 

A territorial authority has 20 working days to assess an outline plan and to make any requests for changes.  If no changes are requested within 20 working days, the requiring authority can legally start work. 

As with all timeframes stipulated by the RMA, where a territorial authority cannot meet the 20 working day time period, but does wish to request changes, s37 allows the territorial authority to extend the time limit in certain circumstances.  If doing so, this extension should be communicated to the requiring authority at the earliest opportunity and within the initial 20 working days.  With particularly complex projects, it is possible that a longer timeframe can be mutually agreed between the requiring authority and the territorial authority (s37A). 

Unlike a notice of requirement, the resource consent processes in Part 6 of the RMA do not apply to outline plans.  In particular, a territorial authority:

  • cannot request further information on an outline plan
  • cannot place an outline plan on hold under s88B
  • does not consider whether anyone is adversely affected
  • cannot notify an outline plan.

The only parties legally involved in the outline plan process are the requiring authority and the territorial authority.

Requesting changes to outline plans

Where a territorial authority is proposing to request changes to an outline plan, it is good practice to discuss these changes with the requiring authority as soon as practical within the 20 working day period.  This provides an opportunity for the requiring authority to comment informally on the proposed changes, before they are issued as a formal request for change. This process may minimise the risk of the requiring authority rejecting the territorial authority’s requested changes and any potential appeals by the territorial authority to the Environment Court.

Where the territorial authority does request changes, it is good practice for such requests to be made in writing and be supported by clear reasons. For example, the territorial authority could include a copy of any relevant report that sets out the evaluation of the outline plan.

The requiring authority then decides whether to accept or reject the changes requested and advises the territorial authority of its decision.   There is no specified timeframe for the requiring authority to make its decision. 

Accepting an outline plan without changes

Even when a territorial authority does not wish to request changes to an outline plan, it should advise the requiring authority in writing of this, and that the outline plan is accepted.

A territorial authority could also include a copy of its assessment report with the letter advising that the outline plan has been accepted without changes.

Appeals on outline plans

If the requiring authority rejects a territorial authority request for changes, the territorial authority can appeal the requiring authority’s decision to the Environment Court within 15 working days of being notified of the requiring authority’s decision (s176A).  When considering such an appeal, s176A(5) states that the Environment Court must consider whether the changes requested by the territorial authority will give effect to the purpose of the Act.