The RMA Quality Planning Resource

Identify an appropriate date to make the plan operative

Once it has been decided that all or part of the plan is free of challenge, you can begin to determine a date for making the plan operative in whole or in part. Determining the operative date can be an iterative process and may depend on a number of actions or decisions such as:

  • how long it will take to review and prepare the operative version of the plan (including the web version)
  • what time has to be allowed for printing the document and preparing a web version
  • what processes need to be put in place within council as a result of the plan being made operative
  • what council meeting will make the decision, and whether you need to report to a committee first on the issues
  • when you can get the public notice in the newspaper.

Remember to find out whether there are any other significant council announcements or projects, such as the Long Term Plan, Annual Plan, development projects or local elections, that may affect the council at or around the same time as your possible operative date. Depending on their impact, you may need to reconsider your timing.

Prepare an 'operative ' version of the document  

Once the proposed plan is beyond challenge, you can start preparing the operative version of the document. This is when you verify the contents of the final version.

Council staff need to ensure that the plan accurately reflects:

  • all of the Council's decisions
  • relevant consent orders
  • Environment Court decisions
  • section 292 of the RMA - directives to remedy defects
  • includes provisions introduced via variations for both text and maps
  • gives effect to any relevant national policy statement provisions.

You should take the opportunity under clause 16 of Schedule 1 of the RMA to correct errors and to identify any minor matters that need to be addressed. In particular, check internal plan numbering and the use of cross-references. Make sure that these are still correct.

Record the matters that you are changing under clause 16 with reasons, as there may be questions in the future. Take time for a fresh look at the format of the plan: check page numbers, chapter numbers and titles, look at the headings, fonts and other format issues to make the plan easier to read and more web- and printer-friendly.

Where a plan is made operative in part, ensure you make a schedule of any matters that are still subject to challenge, and consider including a reference to this on the title page at the front of the operative document.

For web documents, the operational nature of a document should be made clear in any text accompanying a link to a plan, as well as it being clear in the document itself. The document should also include a schedule of unresolved matters. Annotations should also be made throughout the document to indicate what is operative and what is unresolved to avoid any confusion, especially where documents are viewed separately by policy or section.

Identify the 'production ' tasks and issues

The extent of this work depends on the size of the document. Complex tasks and issues may increase your lead-in time. The tasks and issues may include the following.

Printing sufficient numbers of the document

Clause 20 (4) of Schedule 1 of the RMA requires a copy of the plan to be sent to specific parties (some councils call these parties the 'statutory bodies') and a copy to be placed in every council library in the area. Remember to print sufficient hard copies for your council's own records, as required under section 35 of the RMA, and any other internal requirements, for example providing up-to-date copies of district plans for staff, ensuring up-to-date copies are in hearing or meeting rooms and providing additional stock for sale to the public.

The ability to provide electronic documentation should be considered as part of fulfilling any notification requirements.

Also remember to make arrangements for a storage area and develop a distribution process, as you may need to hold on to the documents for a month or two around the operative date. Alternatively, your printer may be able to manage this process for you.

One of the last steps you must take is to print the title page or frontispiece for the plan which must wait until you have the council resolution, as this page carries the:

  • title of the plan
  • seal to show that the plan is officially operative
  • date the plan was made operative.

It is important as it establishes the legal status of the plan. See the example frontispiece text for full or part operative plans.

The production process is generally less problematic for a plan change, as it is usually a smaller document. The lead-in time for printing or copying runs will also be shorter, particularly where they can be managed in-house. In the case of a plan change, it may be necessary to prepare a replacement version of the relevant pages or sections of the operative plan and to circulate them, along with the copies of the operative plan change, to all plan holders.

Inserting the public notice in a newspaper

You are required to publicly notify the date on which the plan will become operative, before the plan is made operative. This may involve circulating a public notice in the entire area. You will need to book a space for the public notice in the newspaper used by your council, and allow for the required five working days' notice under clause 20 (2) of Schedule 1 of the RMA. For example, if the plan is to become operative on 3 October 2008, the public notice must be published in the paper by 25 September 2008.

Consider allowing a few extra working days between the public notice and the date it becomes operative to cover any unforeseeable delay. See Form of public notice.

Updating the web content

If the council has a website where the plan is published, allow sufficient time for the web version to be updated or upgraded. If you don't have a web version of the plan, this may be the opportunity to develop and publish an electronic version of the plan.

The lead-in time for this work will generally relate to the size of the document being published and the number of staff required to do the work. Remember to advise the website manager of the date by which the website has to be updated ie, the operative date.

It would be sensible to have a 'test site' available in advance and to get staff to use it to ensure things are well linked.

Check, as part of this exercise, for any other procedures or actions that are linked to the online version of the plan. There may be automated FAQ's and forms, regulatory processing systems for tracking consents, and automated LIM reports that are linked to the current version of the plan. These links will need to be amended. Once again, get a sense of the lead-in time for this part of the process, as getting it right is critical for ensuring good customer service as well as managing council's risk and reputation.

Advising your consent processing staff of the operative date

Consent processing staff will need to know the operational date of a plan to enable them to clarify the status of policy and to make appropriate changes to forms and reporting templates. In many cases, draft policy will have legal weight applied to its consideration in the period leading up to it becoming operative. Because of this, the need for training or supporting processes is likely to have been addressed earlier in the policy development process. It is important that consent staff are given progress updates of plan change timetables throughout the plan's evolution to enable appropriate considerations and support processes to be in place ahead of policy becoming operative.

In the case of a private plan change, related resource consents may be waiting to be lodged, or may be substantially through the assessment process and waiting for the plan change to be made operative before a decision is issued. Where a private plan change is involved, consider advising the applicant of the operative date. Ensure that you also advise consent processing staff.

When making a plan operative, it is also important to raise any implications and relevant background material with the consent team. This includes any prohibited activities in the plan if such activities were unable to be given effect under section 77C (1) (c) of the RMA and the operative plan changes this situation.

Check to see whether the council had resolved under section 20 of the RMA that any rule in the plan should not have effect until the plan became operative. There may be new processes that need to be in place to address this rule. In these cases, there may be a need for training or supporting processes for consent processing staff.

If you already have part of the plan operative, you can use clause 20A of Schedule 1 of the RMA to correct any cross-reference issues in the operative plan.

Also remember that any designations from the 'old' operative plan not provided for in the 'soon to become' operative plan will lapse. To ensure this is recognised, it will be essential to update designation files, relevant site files and files on GIS or corporate mapping systems linked to land information memoranda (LIMs) or project information memoranda (PIMs).

Check with your consents team to see whether any crucial processes are linked to an 'operative plan'. For those plans that have financial contributions provisions, it needs to be remembered that financial contributions in terms of section 108 (9) of the RMA can only be imposed pursuant to an operative plan, and not by a proposed plan or plan change. This is because of the statutory definition of the words 'policy statement' and 'district plan' in section 2, which relates only to an operative plan. Specific processes may need to be put in place to capture such contributions once a plan is made operative.

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

Advising your stakeholders and the community

  • Making a plan or policy statement operative is a significant milestone for the council and community, so start arranging the communications around the process as early as possible.
  • You may provide plan-updating services to a large list of plan holders. Give them early advice of what is about to happen. Think of other forums through which this message would be usefully delivered. Making a plan operative has a significant impact on workloads both in council and externally, so it is good to give those involved in regulatory processes early warning of a change in status.
  • As well as fulfilling the statutory requirement of publicly notifying the operative date, it is also useful to consider what other forms of communication need to be developed or may be affected by the plan being made operative. For example, there may be information pamphlets that need to be removed and updated, or new ones may need to be prepared. The council may also have standard forms used for other processes that are affected by reference to the plan or provisions in the plan.

Organise internal recognition of achieving this milestone

If it was a new bridge, you would arrange an opening ceremony and cut the ribbon! You, your councillors, staff and advisers will have invested a huge amount of energy and resources over many years to get the plan to this point. Take the time to recognise the achievement, the work of those involved, and the significant changes in the policy framework that have been introduced and that can now be given full weight. If possible, include those who may no longer be in council with you. You could have a chat with your printer and arrange 'certificates of recognition'.