Writing Issues, Objectives and Policies

What is an issue?

An issue is an existing or potential problem that must be resolved to promote the purpose of the RMA. However issues can also be opportunities to assist in promoting the purpose of the RMA.

Environmental issues usually concern conflicts between users of resources, allocation of resources, or effects on the environment. Such issues may represent an existing problem, or a potential problem arising from likely future resource use. An issue could relate to the cumulative effects of many resource uses or from a series of individual proposals. An issue could also relate to the need to take positive action to correct the absence of policy or policy failures, or to promote positive effects (for example enhancement or restorative projects).

Issues need to be derived from evidence and facts, and those concerning values (such as amenity): by consultation. Potential issues should be tested to see if they need to be included in, and managed through, the plan.

Tips for writing issues

The expression of issues in plans should:

  • identify an environmental problem (or opportunity for improvement) that the local authority can address under the RMA
  • identify the cause of the problem or scope of the opportunity (where this is known)
  • be specific to the district or region rather than abstract and generalised (even though the issue may also occur elsewhere)
  • be succinct (explanations could be used if more detail is essential)
  • include what is being affected, how it is being affected, and where
  • if the issue is intermittent in nature or it relates to a specific timeframe or event, include information related to the circumstances that give rise to the issue, or its duration and frequency (i.e. 'when').


  • restating the provisions of the RMA as issues (e.g. 'Maintenance and enhancement of amenity values') - think about what the RMA means for the region or district and its resources and what may impact on those resources
  • only stating the issue as a topic (e.g. 'water contamination')
  • issues outside the scope of the RMA (e.g. 'the promotion of tourism in YYY')
  • defining the desired outcome (that is the role of objectives)
  • focusing only on issues internal to the council (e.g. 'lack of information on XXX')
  • pre-empting the solution (e.g. 'the need for a better...') - issues should be identified before the solution is found, not after.

See examples of how issues could be written.

Writing good objectives

An objective is a statement of what is to be achieved through the resolution of a particular issue. Objectives clearly state what is aimed for in overcoming the issue or promoting a positive outcome, or what the community has expressed as being desirable in resolving an issue. Objectives tend to be positively worded and need to be clear enough to provide targets that policies seek to achieve.

Where plan drafters choose not to include issues in their plans the objective should be worded in such a way that the issue that gave rise to the objective is evident. Alternatively, if the issue is clearly stated in another document, a clear reference could be made to the issue and the document where it can be found.

In writing objectives it is good practice to:

  • be specific
  • write the objective in the form of a sentence that states what is to be achieved, where and when
  • relate the objective to the issue (if included in the plan) in terms of subject matter and use of consistent terminology or phrases; or
  • (where issues are not included in the plan) write the objective in such a way that readers can understand what the issue would have been
  • write the objective in such a way that it is assessable (i.e. those people implementing and monitoring the plan will know when the objective has been met)


  • simply restating the issue
  • restating provisions in the RMA (the plan should demonstrate how the RMA is to be applied in managing matters at the regional or district level)
  • short meaningless objectives (e.g. 'To provide for transport')
  • stating how the objective is to be achieved (that is the role of policies)
  • including detailed requirements, conditions or permissions in the objective (these should be in rules).

For an example of what objectives could look like, see the objectives in example plan provisions.

Writing good policies

Policies are the course of action to achieve or implement the objective (i.e. the path to be followed to achieve a certain, specified, environmental outcome). Policies are a course of action which could be either flexible or inflexible, broad or narrow. Policies of a directive nature, where little discretion is intended to be exercised, include words such as 'shall' or 'must'. For policies where it is intended to provide some flexibility discretion, use words like 'should' or 'may'.

Policies are implemented through methods (often plan rules) so policies need to be worded to provide clear direction to those making decisions on rules and those implementing methods. Because of the tests set out in s104D(1), the need to provide clear, strong, objectives and policies is particularly important when it is envisaged that the non-complying activity status will need to be used to manage a particular issue where consents should only be granted in exceptional circumstances. Ambiguity, or lack of strong direction, could risk setting the s104D(1)(b) test threshold too low, resulting in consents having to be granted where it would otherwise have been undesirable, or detrimental, to do so.

In writing policies it is good practice to:

  • ask:
    • how will the objective be met by this policy?
    • where in the region or district will the policy apply?
    • what course of action is to be taken and when (under what circumstances)?
    • who is to comply with the policy and who is to implement the policy? (note that this question will be of particular interest to persons administering and having to give effect to an RPS)
  • write policies according to the effects that need to be addressed
  • test the draft policy with those who are most likely to implement it to see if they think it provides clear direction for making decisions and enables them to administer that policy in a consistent manner
  • if a policy has several parts, make sure each part is clearly identifiable and numbered.


  • policies that simply restate the objective
  • policies that incorporate thresholds or standards that change the consent class an activity may sit under (thresholds and standards should be in rules)
  • policies written in form or nature of methods (e.g. "rules to protect amenity values…").

For an example of what policies could look like, see the policies in example plan provisions.