Resolution of disputes - pre hearing meetings
- Clause 8AA of Schedule 1 sets out the pre-hearing process that can be used by a local authority to clarify or resolve disputes or matters that arise out of submissions on a proposed policy statement or plan. This may be undertaken on request from a submitter or be initiated by the council. Councils can also, with the consent of the parties, refer issues (that were raised by submitters) to mediation. Attendance is not compulsory, although if a pre-hearing meeting is held, a report must be prepared before the hearing. The mediations must be conducted by an independent mediator.
Reporting to decision-makers
- It is good practice to have submissions analysed by resource management professionals, with the results prepared as reports with recommendations for decision-makers. Very few local authorities have left it to decision-makers to hear and consider all submissions in the absence of reports. This approach may work where the decision-makers have been fully immersed in the issues and the proposed policies. However, there are good reasons to have submissions evaluated before hearings:
- evaluative reports can form a crucial role in meeting ss32 and 32AA requirements
- such reports can sort out many minor issues before a hearing, and help submitters to know which issues to focus on
- reports can address any technical matters that might be raised by submitters before a hearing (for example, traffic or noise management) reports assist decision-makers in evaluating issues
- reports can form the basis for preparing decisions
- reports provide a background for matters that go to the Environment Court, especially if there are staff changes.
- Any s42A report must be provided to submitters wishing to be heard at least five working days before the hearing. The council must also notify submitters who did not wish to be heard, of the report, and where it can be viewed. However, getting reports out earlier is good practice, although time and resource constraints may make it difficult to do so. For cost-efficiency, most local authorities have reports issued at the time the notices of hearing are sent out to submitters. Even getting reports out two weeks before a hearing will help ensure sufficient time to sort out the hearing schedule, after submitters determine if they still wish to be heard.