The RMA Quality Planning Resource

Even when the plan becomes operative, there are a number of important processes that need to be followed. Some can be carried out at the same time as making the plan operative. They include the following:

Variations

Consider the impact of any live plan variations (i.e. those that have been notified) or any plan changes that have not yet been merged, to your proposed plan. While clause 17 of Schedule 1 of the RMA allows you to make the proposed plan operative with any variation continuing through the statutory process as a plan change, there may be effects that need to be managed. Most will be addressed when you consider the option of making the plan operative. You will need to consider whether to advise those affected by variations; don't forget submitters as well as any affected parties. And don't forget that there may be property transactions and resource consent decisions that may be affected. Variations that affect individual sites may be of no consequence, but variations that impact on large areas of the district or create the need for a large number of consents may justify the preparation of explanatory information to advise the general public and inform any submitters who may not understand the process.

Archives

Ensure you have full copies of all the relevant documents for archiving as required under section 35 (5) of the RMA, which requires you to keep copies of all documents. This should include both hard and electronic copies of the relevant documents. In the case of a plan, this means:

  • a copy of the proposed plan as notified
  • the proposed plan as amended by submissions
  • the proposed plan as amended by decisions and appeals
  • full copies of all submissions and further submissions, and the summary of submissions
  • full copies of all hearing and decision reports
  • full copies of all appeals and related documents, such as consent orders and decisions
  • full copies of any variations incorporated into the proposed plan.

Given the size of the collection you will need to archive, you may be best to ensure the documents are kept together in one secure place. Keep a sealed copy of the plan (multiple if necessary) for those instances when it is required to be provided, for example at court for prosecutions.

It can pay to keep a separate collection of operative plan changes from your operative plan, so you can bind them as a single record document at a milestone in the life of the plan, for example at the 25th plan change.

The documents are used to establish existing use rights and may be necessary for a range of other purposes, so controlling public access to the documents is critical. Lamenting over the misplacing or loss of a key document is avoidable, so make sure you seek the right advice about handling these important documents.

Make sure you put an operative version of a plan change on the plan change file and check the paper and/or electronic file to ensure there are copies of all relevant documents, consent orders, Environment Court decisions, council reports and resolutions included.

It can also pay, in the case of plan changes or variations for individual sites or small areas, to place a copy of the change on site files.

Future projects

Record the lessons learnt from the project. Often people move quickly from one project into a new project and the lessons learnt are not documented and used to enhance future processes or to educate others. It is good practice to make sure you have arranged for those involved in the process to 'debrief' (internal and external team members, and especially your legal advisers).

It is also helpful to find out from the team what worked well, where the problems arose and where process-related information can be found.

Task someone with the role of creating a process and information file on the project. In the case of a whole plan, this could be a large task if there have not been good records taken during the process. This information could be useful as an internal training resource in the short term for new plan changes and in the longer term for the next review.

Assess the issues identified and consider whether there is any benefit in raising them with other council staff. It may be that new systems or new or amended processes could be developed to address the issues. In addition, consider sharing the lessons with others through an article in a professional journal or magazine such as Planning Quarterly.

National policy statements

Section 55 and Clause 16 of Schedule 1 of the RMA require councils to give effect to national policy statements (NPS) in one of several ways.

An NPS can direct that specific provisions are included in a plan without the need for the formality of notifications and hearings, or changes can be made to a plan where they are minor. Alternatively, councils are required to amend their plan or policy statement to give effect to the NPS as soon as practicable (or by any time or event prescribed in the NPS) following the RMA 's Schedule 1 process.

Having consideration to the above, councils will need to consider whether there are any changes from a recently published or soon to be published NPS that should or could be included in the plan before it is approved. Where they are not a direction or minor changes, they can be addressed in a plan change.

Regional coastal plans

Processes for regional coastal plans are generally similar to those for other regional plans. However, there are a number of specific differences that need to be considered.

A proposed regional coastal plan is adopted in full or part under clause 18 of Schedule 1 of the RMA. A regional council can only adopt all or part of a proposed regional coastal plan when the plan is beyond challenge by submission or appeal and the council has made amendments or variations, if any, to give effect to any national environmental standard or national policy statement. A regional council adopts a regional coastal plan by affixing their seal to the plan.

The plan is then sent to the Minister of Conservation for final approval. Under clause 19 (1) of Schedule 1 of the RMA, the Minister can require the regional council to make amendments to the plan before it becomes operative. When all submissions or inquiries to all or part of a regional coastal plan have been disposed of, the Minister of Conservation provides approval to all or part of the plan by signing it.

Once approved by the Minister, a regional council can notify its operative regional coastal plan in line with clause 20 of Schedule 1 of the RMA.

In the case of a regional council, specific consent condition review provisions on water, coastal and discharge permits are triggered when a regional plan (including a regional coastal plan) becomes operative (section 128 (1) (b) of the RMA).