The actual form of consultation undertaken by an applicant will largely depend on what the proposal entails, its complexity and scale of environmental effects, and the relationship with the parties to be consulted. The form and extent of consultation undertaken therefore needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Examples of consultation methods are:
- meetings/hui: these should be open-ended and open-minded discussions with individuals or groups
- public forums or open days (often used for larger applications). Carefully manage these sessions so the proposal does not sound like a done deal
- exchange of letters and informative material
- 'house-meetings' of community or specific interest groups
- site visits
- telephone discussions (which may include the establishment of 'Hotlines' or 'Infolines')
Councils should not be concerned about the way in which an applicant has consulted, but rather whether the consultation has been effective. The focus should be on the outcome of any consultation; and on how the applicant has addressed the concerns or issues that have been raised in the application.
How to assess the effectiveness of the consultation
Councils need to determine whether the assessment of environment effects addresses all the relevant effects and meets the requirements of s88 of the RMA. In some situations it is only through consultation that a full assessment of effects can be provided that address all the relevant issues and concerns. This is particularly likely where there are matters of significance to tangata whenua or community groups, or when the activity is large-scale with significant effects.
Assessing the effectiveness of consultation will depend on the nature of the application and the effect it has generated. These factors will vary: a large-scale activity with widespread effects would normally involve an applicant undertaking extensive consultation over a period of months, using a range of different methods. For a small-scale activity where the effects are contained and/or minor, consultation may be limited to the surrounding residents or a single neighbour. An AEE should cover all or some of the following points, to the level of detail that is appropriate to the proposed activity:
- an overview of the consultation undertaken
- details of the information submitted to the consulted parties
- a record of the consultation process, including who was consulted, with dates and times of meetings and discussions
- a summary of what was discussed, supported by any minutes and a list of the parties in attendance
- the opinions, comments and concerns of the parties consulted
- the timeframe given to those consulted to review the proposal and provide comment
- a record of any changes or modifications to the proposal that have been made to address the concerns of those consulted, including potential conditions
- a statement of whether any side agreements were made.
Councils should consider developing internal checklists or policies to determine whether consultation has been effective and this may be incorporated into a plan.
The record of consultation provided by applicants will assist council to determine how the application has been developed, and particularly, how the local community and interested parties have been involved in developing and shaping the proposal. This record can assist in assessing who may be adversely affected by the application once it is lodged.
Where it is somewhat uncertain whether the details of the consultation are accurate, the council officer may consider calling the parties concerned to confirm the detail of their responses to the applicant. However, this needs to be managed carefully in a manner that does not compromise the neutral role of the council officer.