Introduction and Framework


What this guidance covers

Managing the effects of coastal land development on the wider coastal environment can be complex. The interconnected nature of natural and physical resources, as they adjust to changes, means that the use of coastal land and land uses will often affect other coastal uses and values including downstream receiving environments. The subdivision, use and development of coastal land creates flow-on effects to the coastal marine area.  

The complexity of managing coastal land development is exacerbated by:

  • lack of knowledge about the coast
  • resource management issues often cross jurisdictional responsibilities and require integrated management and strategic planning
  • the importance of taking account of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and recognising and providing for the special relationship of tangata whenua with the coastal environment
  • the wide range of effects that may be generated by existing and new coastal land developments, with potential to adversely affect all the matters of national importance identified in s6 of the RMA; for example coastal hazard risks to existing and new developments.

This guidance note provides an overview of the key issues arising from coastal land development, including:

  • managing activities in the coastal environment
  • protecting indigenous coastal biodiversity
  • preserving the natural character of the coastal environment
  • protecting coastal landscapes
  • maintaining coastal biodiversity
  • maintaining and enhancing public access
  • identifying and protecting coastal historic heritage
  • managing water quality
  • managing coastal hazards.

There are many coastal management considerations that are outside the scope of this guidance note. While decision making on new and existing development within the coastal marine area is outside the scope of this guidance note, it is important to consider the coastal marine area activities resulting from coastal land development.

The framework for coastal management

The New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 (NZCPS 2010) provides policy direction for coastal management in New Zealand under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). Section 56 of the RMA sets out the purpose of the NZCPS, which is to state policies to achieve the purpose of the RMA in relation to the coastal environment. The RMA established a coastal management regime based on a partnership between the Crown and regional and local authorities.

The RMA requires a NZCPS to guide local authorities in their management of the coastal environment. Local authorities must give effect to the NZCPS in planning documents and resource consent authorities must have regard to it when considering consent applications. The NZCPS 1994 was replaced by the NZCPS 2010. Implementation guidance on the NZCPS 2010 is provided on the Department of Conservation website.

The NZCPS 2010 provides direction to councils on strategic coastal planning. This supports giving developers and communities more certainty about where coastal land development will be appropriate, where it is likely to require careful consideration, and where it should not happen, as articulated in plans. The NZCPS 2010 supports good environmental outcomes consistent with the sustainable management purpose of the RMA.

Roles and responsibilities

The Minister of Conservation, regional councils and territorial authorities have responsibilities under the RMA for managing coastal development. RMA coastal management jurisdictions are depicted in Figure 1.  

Figure 1: RMA Coastal management jurisdictions (Source Department of Conservation)

coastal management jurisdictions                     

Minister of Conservation's responsibilities

The Minister of Conservation is responsible under section 28 of the RMA for preparing and monitoring the effect and implementation of the NZCPS. The NZCPS promotes the sustainable management of the natural and physical resources of the coastal environment, including coastal land and waters to the 12 nautical mile limit. The Minister is also responsible for approving regional coastal plans and regional coastal plan changes.

Regional council responsibilities

The functions of regional councils are set out in section 30 of the RMA. Regional councils are responsible for preparing and implementing regional policy statements and regional plans, including a mandatory regional coastal plan which covers the coastal marine area. Regional councils may incorporate the regional coastal plan into a regional plan that applies to the wider coastal environment (often referred to as regional coastal environment plans) to encompass the coastal marine area and any related part of the coastal environment (refer section 64(2) RMA).

Territorial authority responsibilities

The functions of territorial authorities are set out in section 31 of the RMA. Territorial authorities are responsible for preparing and implementing district plans to manage effects from the use, development or protection of land on the landward side of the CMA. Territorial authorities also may impose bylaws under the Local Government Act 2002.

Other relevant legislation and information

A strategic and integrated approach is needed for coastal management. There are a number of agencies with responsibilities for the coastal environment under legislation other than the RMA. It is important to keep in mind the functions and responsibilities of different management agencies, and the methods available for managing coastal land development under other statutes. Statutory methods for coastal land development may be carried out under the:

There are also alternative sources of information and guidance currently available on the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010, aquaculture, The Fisheries Act 1996 and the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011. It is recommended that readers of this guidance go to these websites for additional guidance on roles and responsibilities under other legislation than the RMA.

Principles for coastal management

The New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 (NZCPS 2010) identifies 7 policy objectives and 29 related policies that provide national direction and priorities for coastal management in New Zealand under the RMA. Policies 1-7 of the NZCPS 2010 are about processes, approaches and directions to support coastal decision making. The intent of the NZCPS 2010 as a whole should be considered when thinking about how best to plan and manage existing and new coastal land development.

The NZCPS 2010 objectives and policies direct decision making in the coastal environment, and includes:

  • Policy 1 - understanding the extent and characteristics of the coastal environment, including its dynamic nature.
  • Policy 2 – taking account of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and kaitiakitanga in relation to the coastal environment and involving tangata whenua in coastal decision making.
  • Policy 3 - applying a precautionary approach to managing activities in the coastal environment when the effects are uncertain but potentially significantly adverse, including climate change effects.
  • Policy 4 - promoting integrated coastal management of both natural and physical resources in the coastal environment, and any activities that affect that environment. This includes having coordinated management of activities that cross administrative boundaries and a collaborative approach to management.
  • Policy 5 – considering the effects on land and water in the coastal environment held or managed under other Acts such as the Conservation Act 1987.
  • Policy 6 – direction for decision makers to consider, when managing activities in the coastal environment, including appropriateness, functional need to be in the coast, the needs of communities and future generations and promoting the efficient use of occupied space.
  • Policy 7 - promoting strategic planning in the preparation of regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans.

The direction relating to tangata whenua and strategic and integrated coastal management is considered below in further detail.

Tangata whenua’s special relationship with the coast

Tangata whenua generally want to be active participants in coastal planning and management. Tangata whenua have a special relationship with the coastal environment that focuses on their role as kaitiaki of the coast, and traditional, cultural and heritage values. Māori cultural and heritage values associated with the coastal environment may include:

  • sites and areas that reflect the long relationship of tangata whenua with the coastal environment, including nohoanga (temporary campsites), tauranga waka (canoe landing sites), pa (fortified settlements), ana (caves), wahi pakanga (historical battle sites) and pou whenua (traditional markers, landforms/trees)
  • areas of reefs, rock formations, fishing grounds
  • cultural and spiritual sites including islands, peninsulas, headlands and inlets
  • wahi tapu, including urupa (burial sites) and wahi taonga (treasured places or things)
  • mahinga kai values, including kaimoana (food sourced from the sea), taonga raranga (plants for weaving/manufacturing), and rongoa (medicinal species) customary use/management practices, including rahui, mataitai and taiapure
  • areas where early encounters between Māori and Pakeha occurred.

The role of kaitiaki involves a responsibility to ensure that the mauri (life supporting capacity and essence) of the coastal environment is protected, and that coastal resources are sustained for future generations to enjoy.

Some Māori have a commercial interest in the coast and businesses built on coastal resources. The coast has always been highly valued by tangata whenua due to the wealth of resources it offers. This is reflected in early patterns of settlement and the number of sites and areas of importance to tangata whenua located within the coastal environment. Tangata whenua take a holistic and integrated management approach towards the coastal environment. This concept is known as ki uta ki tai: from the mountains to the sea.

The relationship of tangata whenua with the coast is specifically recognised in Part II of the RMA in s6 (e), 6(f), 6(g), 7(a) and s8.

Objective 3 of the NZCPS 2010 recognises that tangata whenua are kaitiaki of the coastal environment. The NZCPS 2010 Implementation Guidance and Consultation with Tangata Whenua Guidance Note provide guidance on recognising kaitiakitanga in RMA consultation and decision-making process and the benefits of consulting with tangata whenua to identify their significant issues in the coastal environment. Key coastal issues for tangata whenua, and policies to address those issues are sometimes set out in iwi management plans.

Policy 2 of the NZCPS 2010 is about the Treaty of Waitangi, the connection and relationships that tangata whenua have with the coastal environment, tangata whenua involvement in coastal decision making and Māori culture and heritage values. Policy 2 focuses on ways in which local authorities can actively involve tangata whenua in their planning processes and decision-making to enable tangata whenua to be active participants in coastal planning and management.

Policy 2 also focuses on protecting the characteristics of the coastal environment that are of special value to tangata whenua; Māori cultural well-being; recognising Māori values in coastal management; recognising and providing for Māori culture and heritage values and the importance of consultation and collaboration with tangata whenua.

Policy 17 of the NZCPS 2010 is about historic heritage identification and protection and includes involving iwi authorities and kaitiaki.

Further guidance is provided in relation to tangata whenua’s special relationship with the coast on the Department of Conservation website, NZCPS 2010 implementation guidance.

Other important legislation to consider when providing for the special relationship of tangata whenua with the coast includes:

  • the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011 (MCAA) with a purpose of establishing a durable scheme to ensure protection of all legitimate interests of all New Zealanders in the marine and coastal area and to recognise the mana of tangata whenua. The MCA Act provides for recognition of customary interests in the common marine and coastal area (which is a subset of the marine and coastal area), including:
    • Customary marine title (sections 58-93)
    • Protected customary rights (sections 51-57)
    • Participation in conservation processes (sections 47-50).

The MCA Act came into force on 1 April 2011 after the NZCPS 2010 had taken effect. Practitioners need to refer directly to the MCA for their obligations. It should be noted that the MCA Act included consequential amendments to the RMA so that obligations under the MCA Act are highlighted.

Readers of this guidance need to also be aware of any relevant Treaty settlements and legislation arising from them.

Strategic planning and integrated management

The NZCPS 2010 promotes a strategic and integrated approach to coastal planning and management which is highly relevant to existing and new coastal land development. It seeks that practitioners proactively address resource management issues in the coastal environment in a way that promotes sustainable management to avoid the incremental loss of coastal values and reduce ad hoc development.

Policy 7 of the NZCPS 2010 requires strategic planning in the preparation of regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans and in particular:

  • to consider where, how and when to provide for activities in the coastal environment
  • to identify where uses are inappropriate
  • to identify coastal processes, resources or values that are under threat or at significant risk from adverse cumulative effects and where practicable setting thresholds in plans to help determine when activities causing adverse cumulative effects are also to be avoided.

The NZCPS 2010 provides further information on what strategic coastal planning and management means through policies including Policy 3 Precautionary approach, Policy 4 Integration (which is discussed in more detail below), Policy 8 Aquaculture, Policy 9 Ports and Policy 10 Reclamation and De-reclamation. Further direction is provided in relation to the information required for important values such as Policies 11 Indigenous biological diversity, Policy 13 Preservation of natural character and Policy 15 Natural features and natural landscapes; also Policy 21 identification of degraded water quality and Policies 24-27 for a strategic approach to hazards management. These policies, and Policy 6, outline expectations about how particular coastal uses and activities are to be managed and a strategic approach is promoted.

Coastal land development issues and effects often cross jurisdictional boundaries. Policy 4 of the NZCPS 2010 requires integrated management of natural and physical resources in the coastal environment. Practitioners need to take a coordinated approach to activities that cross administrative boundaries and a collaborative approach to management.

Further information on integrated coastal management, including case studies, can be found in the Department of Conservation NZCPS 2010 implementation guidance and the Environmental Defence Society publication Beyond the Tide: Integrating the management of New Zealand's coasts.

Getting started

Developing a strategic and integrated response to coastal land development under the RMA involves:

  • gathering information
  • consultation
  • identifying and assessing coastal development issues and outcomes
  • developing an appropriate resource management strategy     
  • developing objectives, policies and methods to address coastal development issues and achieve specified environmental outcomes.

Coastal land development issues are associated with numerous effects and should not be considered in isolation from wider resource management issues.

Gathering information

Gathering information, monitoring and research is important for managing coastal land development and should be included as part of policy statement and plan processes. See Policy and Plan Effectiveness Monitoring Guidance Note and the Writing Plan Provisions for Regional and District Plans Guidance Note.

Gathering information and research is a vital part of the process. This may involve the preparation of technical reports, which are ideally peer reviewed and made publicly available so the community can understand the decisions that are being made about how coastal land is being planned for and managed. Having peer reviewed technical reports available can give the community confidence in the findings and the decisions made.


Consultation is an effective way to identify community aspirations, concerns, and areas of contention in relation to coastal land development. Consultation is critical to determine the appropriate management strategies and should be an integral part of any approach taken.

Consultation with tangata whenua, through iwi authorities, is mandatory when developing policy statements and plans. Consultation helps ensure that coastal management issues of significance to tangata whenua are identified early and addressed in the management approach. It also enables tangata whenua to be actively involved in the exercise of kaitiakitanga.

For more information refer to the Consultation for plan development and Consultation with Tangata Whenua Guidance Notes.

Identify and assess the issues and desired outcomes

Existing and new coastal land development has many associated resource management issues. Careful planning and management is required to identify and assess the relevant issues to protect the coastal environment from inappropriate subdivision, use and development. Key questions to consider include:

  • what are the key coastal components that need to be protected and enhanced?
  • what areas and features are important in terms of s6 RMA?
  • how is the coastal environment valued and how does it contribute to the well-being of the district/region?

Information gathering and consultation will play a key role in determining the answers to these questions.

Develop a resource management strategy and framework

There is often no simple solution to address the resource management issues associated with existing or new coastal land development. Each council needs to develop its own response, having regard to the characteristics and issues of their district or region while taking steps to integrate management across boundaries. The best response is likely to come from a mix of regulatory and non-regulatory methods and should:

  • build on the technical information and assessments relating to identification and management of issues
  • have regard to feedback from the community and stakeholders
  • give effect to relevant matters contained in national/regional policy statements
  • have regard to any plans or strategies prepared by the council (eg, Long-term plans and growth strategies) and by other agencies with responsibilities within the coastal environment, including the Department of Conservation
  • consider links with non-RMA plans and strategies
  • take into account any relevant iwi management plan or any other relevant planning documents recognised by an iwi authority
  • consider the cumulative effects of coastal land development and monitoring and research are particularly important in assessing these effects.

Develop objectives, policies, methods and specify outcomes

Once the issues associated with coastal development are understood for the particular region or district, RMA practitioners should develop provisions in their planning documents to achieve specified environmental outcomes. The sorts of issues that may arise in relation to coastal development are considered below.