RMA policy and plan implementation

Improving plan implementation

Implementation is the point in plan development process where attention to detail and approach can directly influence outcomes. Some of the difficulties councils have faced in implementing plans (typically first generation plans) include:

  • difficulty in interpreting some plan provisions (wording is ambiguous or imprecise)
  • lack of information and knowledge about ecological matters and biodiversity in the district or region
  • applicants for resource consent providing inadequate assessments of ecological effects
  • difficulty of enforcing plan provisions with some landowners
  • monitoring compliance with resource consent decisions especially for remote sites
  • clarifying the respective accountabilities of regional and district councils.

Compliance with the biodiversity-related conditions in resource consents

Consent conditions relating to maintaining indigenous biodiversity usually require ongoing protection or restoration actions. Accordingly, in setting conditions, councils should consider the following:

  • monitoring of consent conditions
  • covenants established by way of a consent notice that can require natural areas to be protected in perpetuity. A monitoring and compliance programme for these covenants requires that their initial design, establishment and management be undertaken properly and their boundaries added to the council’s GIS databases.
  • encourage use of voluntary covenants, where compliance tends to be much higher for example, where landowners voluntarily enter into a covenant under the Queen Elizabeth the Second National Trust Act 1977 or the Reserves Act 1977.

The following approaches can help manage effects on biodiversity and ecology.

  • Have early discussions with an applicant to clarify whether the proposed covenant could best be secured by a covenant with a third party (eg, Queen Elizabeth II National Trust covenant) or through encumbrances on the titles of the relevant lots or through a consent notice.
  • Provide adequate advice to developers and technical support to the consent planners.
  • Include consent conditions that require placement of covenants on the title. In general, these should be fully implemented before titles or bonds are released. These could include specific long-term management requirements that, for example, prevent or control predatory pets (cats and dogs) on rural properties.
  • Council officers should ensure that the initial works are completed at the expense of the subdividing owner before properties are passed to subsequent owners. It is recommended that processes be developed and implemented to ensure that this is the case. Fencing needs to be completed and weed and pest management plans need to be produced. Initial weed removal and any installation of pest control networks (such as trap lines or bait stations) should also be completed before properties are on-sold. The best way to do this is to delay the issue of titles until these works are completed.
  • Bonds should be used for conditions that may need a number of years to be fully implemented (eg, ‘revegetation using indigenous woody species that achieves indigenous canopy closure’). In these cases, the bond would need to be sufficiently large to ensure the planting and subsequent maintenance is undertaken.
  • Where weeds are a major problem, a bond should be imposed to cover likely heavy weed control requirements in the first few years. The bond should be sufficient to cover the costs of undertaking the works.
  • Ensure that the application and consent conditions have addressed the administration and management of the natural area in the long term.
  • Consent notices should include a clause that allows councils to recover costs and requires owners to pay for monitoring at suitable intervals.
  • Involve landowners. Many seem to be unclear about their responsibilities under the terms of the covenant or bond. This may be especially problematic for subsequent landowners. Landowners are often unsure about what they need to do to keep the bush and wetland areas in good condition. Involving landowners in a monitoring programme would encourage them to actively undertake fencing, and weed and pest control.

Monitoring the effectiveness of RMA plans and policies

It is important to monitor the outcomes of plan and policy biodiversity objectives, otherwise it is not possible to determine whether the anticipated outcomes are actually being achieved. It is beyond the scope of this guidance note to provide detailed guidance on the design, implementation and reporting of biodiversity monitoring programmes. See guidance on monitoring plan and policy effectiveness.

There is no finalised national set of indicators. However, several councils have begun to monitor aspects of biodiversity using indicators.

Information management

Robust biodiversity management relies on: good information collection, management and reporting to determine issues and priorities, set and review objectives, monitor changes from baseline conditions, manage natural areas, educate resource owners and users, and make informed decisions regarding use and development of natural resources. The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy states that “good accessible information, underpinned by a growing knowledge base and the capacity to take action, are vital precursors to achieving most actions in this Strategy”. As a result, two programmes were established by the Government in 2000.

  1. The Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information System (TFBIS) Programme aims to improve awareness of and access to existing information about terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity. It includes an annual funding round. The programme is being led by the Department of Conservation.
  2. The National Aquatic Biodiversity Information System (NABIS) aims to compile and provide, via an interactive web-based tool, access to existing information about the marine environment. The NABIS will also identify key biodiversity information and information gaps. This programme is being led by the Ministry of Fisheries in consultation with the Ministry for the Environment, Department of Conservation and regional councils.

The Dataversity website http://dataversity.org.nz/, funded through the TFBIS Programme, facilitates knowledge-sharing and collaboration to support biodata management in regional and territorial councils. It includes an online discussion group restricted to local government biodiversity data managers, links to data sets, council data development projects and a calendar of biodiversity data-related events. It has also a public discussion group through which government managers can be in touch with other authorities and members of the public.

There are several regional information and monitoring forums. Another information sharing mechanism is a broad-based partnership between research and management agencies, iwi groups, private landowners, communities and projects in relation to native biodiversity in a region.