The RMA Quality Planning Resource

Some RMA plans contain assessment criteria in their rules to guide or direct users towards considering specified environmental effects or issues.

Assessment criteria should not be included in the plan as rules. The statutory framework of the RMA enables provision for such criteria (or matters of assessment) to be included in such a way that the consent authority should have regard to them through their presence in objectives and policies. Assessment criteria can also be expressed as matters over which control or discretion is retained when writing rules for controlled or restricted discretionary activities.

There may also be a role for assessment criteria in full discretionary activities when there is a need to draw attention to particular effects. The wording can make the assessment criteria mandatory (e.g. "…the council must be satisfied…") or discretionary (e.g. "…the council may take into account whether…") in an application.

Good practice in using assessment criteria

  • Incorporate assessment criteria into policies instead of rules where possible.
  • Where assessment criteria are contained in objectives and policies, ensure there is a clear cross-referencing back to them from the rules that implement those objectives and policies.
  • Where assessment criteria in controlled or restricted discretionary activities rules are intended to be (or have the effect of) matters over which the council intends to retain control or restrict its discretion, they should be expressed as such.
  • Matters of assessment should relate back to effects the activity may have on the environment, or the aspect of non-compliance that has triggered the need for the resource consent.
  • Write assessment criteria as 'inclusive ' statements (i.e. "…includes the following…").
  • The following phrases can be used at the start of each assessment matter:
    • "The extent to which …"
    • "The ability to…"
    • "The degree to which…"
    • "Whether the…"

In some cases such criteria would be better incorporated into the objectives and policies of plans, but there may be circumstances (such as when considering full discretionary activities) where the criteria may be of such detail that their incorporation into policy could result in overly long, complex, policies. If assessment criteria are used, care should be taken to ensure that they are directly related to the relevant objectives and policies, and do not provide any additional matters for consideration or leave gaps.

Cross-referencing

Plans that deal with a multitude of issues and topics (such as district plans, combined planning documents, or regional plans that deal with more than one topic) are of such complexity that cross-referencing is usually necessary to avoid excessive repetition. Cross-referencing can take a number of forms, though summary tables and italicised references next to plan provisions (side notes) are increasingly becoming common methods.

When cross-referencing consider:

  • making the cross-reference visible either by way of its position on the page or font.
  • when making a cross-reference from a rule to another rule, placing the cross reference in the rule itself (e.g. "…and must also comply with standards for noise emissions in rule 2.3.5.5")
  • using summary tables to show the linkages between multiple provisions
  • making cross-references hyperlinks in on-line (electronic web-based) plans.

Avoid:

  • cross-references that are too general ("…refer to chapters 10-12 of this plan for objectives and policies that apply…").

For more information refer to cross-references in RMA Plans.

Definitions

Definitions are used to give a standard meaning to words or phrases that occur frequently throughout a plan. The use of definitions avoids repetition and promotes consistency in interpretation. As the defined terms are usually part of, and crucial to, policies and rules, the same level of care should be taken in their drafting.

In writing definitions it is good practice to:

  • use definitions sparingly and only where needed - ask whether defining the term under consideration is likely to clarify provisions, or just adds complexity
  • reflect common understandings or meanings of the defined term as far as practical (refer to the Oxford English Dictionary as a starting point)
  • define words that differ in meaning from common understandings or meanings when used in the RMA plan
  • use diagrams to illustrate terms that are difficult to describe in words (such as matters with a spatial or geographic component)
  • place all definitions in one place (for example a 'definitions' chapter in the plan) unless the definition is only used in one particular rule or clause ("for the purpose of this rule, height means…")
  • consider placing terms that are defined outside the plan (such as in legislation) in a glossary located either before or after the definitions chapter of the plan
  • arrange definitions in alphabetical order
  • check definitions against each other to ensure that there are no gaps or overlaps
  • re-check definitions before notification of a plan or plan change or after amendments. Delete definitions of terms that are no longer used, and ensure those that remain are consistent with the latest changes or amendments
  • use hyperlinks in electronic plans to take the reader from rules back to definitions where a defined term is used in an objective, policy or rule
  • work towards definitions that are consistent with those of other district and regional plans. This may mean looking at what other plans use (most plans are now on-line) or discussing definitions and experiences with staff from other local authorities.

Avoid:

  • defining terms that have a commonly accepted meaning (e.g. sky) unless such terms are to have their meaning 'restricted' or 'extended' in the plan
  • writing definitions in such a way so that they become a de facto rule or contain matters that would be better expressed as a rule (by containing thresholds, standards or terms for example)
  • using the words 'means' and 'includes' in the same definition ('means' relates to the complete and total meaning whereas 'includes' is used where the meaning is incomplete or indicative)
  • scattering definitions throughout the plan
  • repeating or paraphrasing definitions or sections in statutes or regulations (if there is desire to make these available to readers, consider putting them in a glossary that is identified as not forming part of the plan)
  • writing definitions in such a way that change the status of activities or that deal with matters that should be dealt with in a rule (readers expect definitions to only relate to matters of interpretation or meaning)
  • definitions referring to other defined terms that in turn refer to the former definition (so creating circular arguments).

See examples of definitions styles.