The RMA Quality Planning Resource

Methods are the means by which policies are implemented. Methods can be regulatory (in the form of rules, designations for example) or non regulatory (e.g. council grants and assistance).

The inclusion of methods (other than rules) in plans is at the discretion of a council (ss67(2) and 75(2))  They are mandatory in regional policy statements (s62(1)(e)). While a rule is still considered to be a method the RMA separates rules from 'other methods' and makes their inclusion in plans mandatory.

Methods (other than rules) could be included in plans when:

  • there is a need to highlight significant 'other methods' crucial to the implementation of the policies of the plan to plan users (particularly if rules are coordinated or work more effectively with the 'other methods')
  • seeking to ensure the role of other methods in achieving plan objectives and policies is recognised
  • a plan intends to give effect to a regional policy statement (in whole or in part) through means other than rules
  • there is no other council document external to the plan that may otherwise contain the detail of the methods proposed to be used.

Good practice in writing methods

In addition to the statutory duties under s32, it is good practice to evaluate other methods that may implement plan objectives and policies in terms of their practicality and cost. A number of key questions can assist in determining the usefulness and workability of a method:

  • Is the method consistent with the policies of the plan? The method needs to align with, or contribute to achieving the desired outcomes (objectives) of the plan. Care needs to be taken that implementation of the methods will not compromise other methods or become inconsistent with objectives and policies in other parts of the plan. It is also good practice to compare the methods with other plans administered by the council, to ensure they do not conflict or overlap.
  • Is the method affordable? Consider the costs to both the council and those whom the method will impact on. Is the council committed to funding the method in the long term? What are the costs to landowners, applicants, businesses etc? If the costs of implementing the methods are too high, those implementing or impacted by the method will be unable or unwilling to see it implemented.
  • What are the risks concerning community buy-in or response? Risks are wider than just whether elected members will support the inclusion of a particular method in the plan or not. It is also important to think about how acceptable the method may be to the wider community and in particular the major players in the community. Little buy-in from the community will make implementing the method difficult and could also result in pressure for the method to be removed from the plan.
  • Is the method realistically achievable? What is proposed should not be beyond the capability of the council (or other persons that it affects) to implement. Achievement of the method should also be measurable so that those implementing or monitoring the plan know whether its use has been successful.
  • Is the method legally robust? Thought needs to be given as to whether the method is justifiable under law, whether the council has the legal ability to use or enforce use of the method, and how well it aligns with the other legal responsibilities of the council (particularly methods derived from other statutory bases).

Methods in plans should:

  • relate to the policies which they are supposed to implement
  • be clearly identifiable as a discrete course of action rather than generalised
  • be succinct (but not to the extent that they become one- or two-word generalisations)
  • measurable (in terms of knowing whether they are being used and whether they are effective)
  • be clear as to when the method is to be implemented by persons or organisations other than the local authority who prepared the plan
  • be clear where the method is to be used (if not over the whole region or district).

Methods included in documents outside plans should:

  • acknowledge the district or regional plan policies that they help implement.

Methods should not:

  • be a restatement of the policy it purports to implement
  • include the specifics of a rule (e.g. "buildings encroaching above the height plane at 9 metres will be discretionary activities")
  • state timeframes that limit the use of the method beyond a certain date unless there is absolute certainty that there will be no opportunity to use that method beyond that time (for example "To acquire land at Pouaho Raki to serve as a reserve to assist in promoting biodiversity by 18 March 2009" could be used if an international treaty makes acquisition of land after 18 March 2009 impossible)

Regional council examples

For an issue related to water quality

  • Provide funding and practical assistance for community groups that help improve water quality through cleaning up and replanting riparian margins in the Erehwon Region.
  • The Whatsup District Council must require the provision of full-width esplanade reserves as part of all new subdivisions adjoining Lake Turgid, and Brown River.

For an issue related to management of coastal biodiversity

  • Establish and run a public information programme to increase community understanding of biodiversity issues and ways to avoid damage to the region's coastal ecosystem.

District Council Examples

For an issue related to built heritage management

  • Provision of free heritage conservation advice on, and information on the benefits of using the Olde Worlde Heritage Area design guide to encourage building repair and alterations to be sympathetic with local heritage character.
  • Set up and administer a heritage liaison group including community representatives, tangata whenua in Whatsup District and the New Zealand Historic Places Trust to monitor and report on the heritage issues and resources of the district and provide input into resource consent applications with heritage issues.

For issues related to noise

  • Seek legal agreement on a memorandum of understanding between Whatsup Airport Authority and the Airways Corporation to ensure night time ground movements of aircraft comply with residential noise limits by closing taxiway 3 to night-time operations