The RMA Quality Planning Resource

The skills a commissioner requires

All commissioners should have a set of core competencies and skills that enable them to understand the application or issue before them, conduct hearings in an appropriate manner, and make sound decisions.

Core competencies include:

  • correctly identifying the nature of issues arising during a hearing in terms of the RMA and relevant planning documents

  • recognising common decision-making biases and applying cognitive strategies to minimise their impact

  • demonstrating impartiality and integrity

  • systematically and appropriately testing and questioning the evidence and decisions of others

  • demonstrating commitment to appropriately and fairly assessing and weighing evidence

  • making balanced contributions during deliberation and obtaining and clarifying relevant views from other panel members to increase the total knowledge available

  • using appropriate decision-making tools

  • formulating a reasoned decision independently of others.

Commissioners should have the following expertise:

  • a good knowledge of the RMA, and the decision-making and hearings procedures contained within it

  • knowledge of functions and processes under the Local Government Act and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987

  • the ability to listen effectively, distilling the key arguments and facts from the information presented

  • an awareness and understanding of the principles of natural justice and a sense of fair play

  • the ability to maintain objective neutrality (not jump to conclusions or predetermine an outcome)

  • a general understanding of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, their relevance in legislation, and whether and how they may be applicable to the decision(s) to be made.

Other skills or qualities may be required to meet the circumstances where general knowledge and skills alone will not suffice. These other qualities or skills could include:

  • recognised specialist qualifications, expertise and/or experience in a particular field (such as resource management law, planning, surveying, engineering, ecology, architecture, urban design or science)

  • understanding of Māori language, tikanga, history and cultural values (such as in cases where Māori heritage, tāonga, or ancestral relationships could be affected). On occasion an appreciation of potential conflicting or competing interests between local hapū or iwi may also be required.

  • an understanding of other cultures, in cases where issues in relation to those cultures have been raised.

A commissioner who chairs a hearing, or sits alone, can be expected to have the following additional competencies:

  • jointly considering and applying RMA, relevant legislation and planning documents to a wide variety of complex contexts

  • demonstrating awareness of the powers of a panel and chair and being able to apply these powers flexibly, ethically, fairly and appropriately

  • chairing hearings confidently, dealing appropriately with complex and unexpected issues, plus effectively leading and managing other panel members

  • effectively leading and managing processes leading up to the hearing

  • effectively leading and managing the post-hearing processes

  • demonstrating a commitment to managing and developing the performance of panel members and continuous self-improvement.

Chairs with this set of competencies can be expected to:

  • conduct the hearing in a way that enables all parties who wish to be heard a fair hearing without time wastage or undue coverage of irrelevant or inappropriate issues and evidence

  • manage conflict and unacceptable behaviours associated with unreasonable challenges

  • communicate succinctly and accurately (orally and in written form), explaining the reasoning for any decisions made, including decisions regarding the relevance (or otherwise) of evidence being presented

  • fully understand the processes involved in drafting decisions and be able to write decisions without assistance.

Some councils make staff available to assist commissioners in the interpretation of their plans. Where an adviser drawn from council staff is not available – or not wanted – it is important that the commissioner is familiar with both the content and structure of those planning documents, and can interpret them accurately.

All the skills referred to above are covered by the Making Good Decisions programme.

The Making Good Decisions training, assessment and certification programme for RMA decision-makers

The Making Good Decisions programme helps councillors, community board members, and independent commissioners make better decisions under the RMA. It provides RMA decision-makers with the skills they need to run fair and effective resource consent, plan change and designation hearings, and to make informed decisions.

The programme was developed by the Ministry for the Environment and Local Government New Zealand, in consultation with stakeholders and professional bodies, including the New Zealand Planning Institute.

It is delivered by the Opus Environment Training Centre, which employs an experienced team of presenters, facilitators and tutors. For more information on the structure and content of the programme, go to the Opus Environment Training Centre website.

Successful participants are issued with a certificate that is valid for three years, confirming they have successfully achieved the programme’s competencies and are competent decision-makers.

There is a re-certification process for those who wish to have their certificates recertified on expiry. Anyone who initially passes the course is required to undertake re-certification three years from their initial certification and every five years after that.

There are two options for re-certification:

  1. Training for those who want to continue as hearings panel members
  2. Training for those who are experienced chairs, or are aspiring chairs.

The diagram below outlines the re-certification requirements:

re certification requirements

Successful completion of the programme is recognised as a qualification for fulfilling the accreditation requirements of the RMA.

Certification brings with it both opportunities and obligations. Certificate holders are obliged to attend update seminars, and have their understanding re-assessed, should they wish to have their certificates reissued on expiry. See the Making Good Decisions area on the Ministry for the Environment's website for more information on the impact of the programme and for lists of certificate holders.