How Should Councils communicate with other Parties?

People who have been consulted by applicants may contact the council for advice on the consent process, and to determine what their rights are. Potentially affected or interested parties may also contact the council to express their concern or interest about a proposal, before or during the consent process. In these situations, the council should:

  • explain why the application needs resource consent and outline the process that consent application must go through

  • provide advice on consultation, what it means to be an affected party, and outline the procedural matters including the rights and obligations of the parties involved (see the Ministry for the Environment booklets Understanding the RMA and how to get involved and Information for affected persons for guidance)

  • provide clear advice to consulted parties on how the council determines who may be affected parties under s95E of the RMA; be clear that if they have been consulted, that does not automatically mean they are deemed to be adversely affected.

In some circumstances, council officers may also be required to:

  • suggest to consulted parties that they put any concerns in writing in a letter to the council; the reporting officer is then obliged to advise the decision-maker of their concerns and how it was dealt with.

  • explain why non-RMA matters cannot be taken into account as part of the assessment

  • provide an explanation of how a controlled and restricted discretionary activity, and the permitted baseline, affect the council's discretion.

Many councils use a standard letter to respond to interested and consulted parties. This letter should cover the following matters:

  • Confirm whether the application is lodged. If so, state where in the process the application is, e.g. "a decision has yet to be made under s95A-G of the RMA on whether the application will be publicly notified, limited notified or non-notified".

  • Ensure that you express technical terms in plain English.

  • Confirm that their letter (or email or record of the phone call) and this response will be on the site file so that the reporting planner is aware of their concerns.

  • Provide a description of the consent processes, including the determination of affected persons and who has responsibility for decisions.

  • If the applicant has approached them, explain why they have been approached and the constructive purpose of consultation; explain also that this does not automatically mean their written approval will be required, and that they do not have the right to veto the application.

  • State how they can find out more information if or when the application is lodged.

Councils can also make use of existing sources of information such as booklets in the Ministry for the Environment’s Everyday Guide to the RMA series.

Many councils now have public notices for notified resource consent applications on their websites, and some now include a list of all consents that have been received by the council.

Council officers should take care when communicating with interested, consulted or affected parties. Every effort should be made to confine discussions to matters of fact and process considerations. Council staff should avoid giving any opinion on the merits of an application.