Preparing Decision Makers hearing matters under standard Part 1 Schedule 1

  • Hearings are guided by the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1982, as well as the Local Government Act 1974, the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1908, and the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1987. However, the RMA imposes its own analytical and statutory requirements on decision-making that differentiates the process from others - thus, decision-makers should be well prepared for RMA hearings, hearing and responding to submitters and making decisions on plans.  

  • Decision-makers should have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities, and section 39B now requires that appointees on hearing panels must have accreditation to make decisions on proposed policy statements and plans. The Making Good Decisions course [MfE website] provides this accreditation and is specifically aimed at helping councillors, community board members, and independent commissioners understand their role and responsibilities on hearing panels make better decisions under the RMA. Above all, the common law principles of natural justice should prevail. 

  • Decision-makers must understand they need to attend all meetings and hear all submitters relevant to the matter at hand - for example, they cannot leave a hearing, even briefly. When decision-makers do have to leave unexpectedly (for example, sickness, bereavements etc) they cannot deliberate on the issue/s they have missed hearing submissions on. 

  • The appropriate use of independent commissioners should be identified at an early stage: for example, in matters of perceived conflicts of interest, such as council designations. However, the delegation of decision-making powers in relation to plans is subject to the restrictions under section 34 of the Act. 

  • Provide appropriate background information to the decision-makers in advance of the hearing, particularly if there are technical issues of relevance. If a meeting or mediation is held on any matter relating to a proposed policy statement or plan, then the meeting's chairperson must prepare a report to be given to the local authority no later than 5 working days before the hearing. The report, must identify matters that were agreed between the local authority and the submitters and those that were not. The report may also identify the nature of the evidence, the order in which the evidence shall be heard, and a proposed hearings timetable. When making their decision, the local authority must have regard to the report under clause 10 of Schedule 1 of the RMA (Clause 8AA).  

  • A local authority may require the preparation of a report on any matter relating to a hearing on a proposed policy statement, plan, or change or variation to a policy statement or plan (i.e. section 42A reports). 

  • In the case of the Freshwater Planning Process, under clause 38 of Part 4 of Schedule 1, the Chief Freshwater Commissioner is required to convene a freshwater hearing panel to hear and make recommendations to the regional council/unitary authority on a freshwater planning instrument. Each freshwater hearing panel will generally have five members, comprising two freshwater commissioners, two persons nominated by the local authority and a person with understanding of tikanga Māori and mātauranga Māori nominated by local tangata whenua. However, there is scope for a greater number on the panel, if the Chief Freshwater Commissioner considers there are special circumstances, and can appoint fewer (although no fewer than 3) if the full panel is not warranted, given the scale and complexity of the freshwater planning instrument,     

  • The freshwater hearing panel regulates its own procedures and must keep a full record of the proceedings.  Hearing panel members must be accredited under the Making Good Decisions programme unless the Chief Freshwater Commissioner is satisfied there are special circumstances.