The emergency works provisions under Part 12 of the RMA are an important means to respond to emergencies. Before they are used, the nature of the emergency powers under the RMA and their relationship to other legislative emergency powers, such as those in the Civil Defence and Emergency Act 2002 (CDEMA), needs to be understood. The RMA emergency works provisions temporarily override the resource consent requirements under sections 9, 12, 13, 14, 15 of the RMA during times of emergency. The RMA emergency powers are not general powers, and are limited to specific people or bodies (authorised persons).

The emergency works provisions in the RMA enable authorised persons to undertake activities that might otherwise contravene the RMA and require resource consent in advance. They can only be used in emergency situations when there is a need for immediate intervention to prevent or remedy adverse environmental effects or prevent loss of life, injury or serious damage to property. They are typically used where other approval or enforcement mechanisms under the RMA would be inappropriate, or would not prevent damage in a timely manner.

The key emergency provisions are sections 330, 330A, 330B and 331 of the RMA. These provisions also have a relationship to s18 and to the statutory defences for prosecution under s341 of the RMA.

Emergency powers have been used in a wide and varied manner. Examples include:

  • diverting water without resource consent to dilute a milk discharge

  • earthworks to enable temporary repairs to damaged stop-banks

  • cutting a channel from a lake to release floodwaters to the sea

  • removing protected trees that are in danger of falling on power lines.