The AEE should contain detail that corresponds with the scale and significance of the effects the activity may have on the environment. For example, a small development such as a garage within the required setback from a side boundary will generally only require a short and less detailed AEE. In comparison, a large development such as a proposed coal mine will have considerably more significant effects and therefore should have a much more comprehensive and detailed AEE.
The effects that must be addressed in an AEE are set out in clause 7 of Schedule 4 and as follows:
- effects on those in the neighbourhood and, where relevant, the wider community including any social, economic and cultural effects
- physical effects on the locality including landscape and visual effects
- effects on ecosystems including effects on plants or animals and the physical disturbance of habitats in the vicinity
- effects on natural and physical resources having aesthetic, recreational, scientific, historical, spiritual or cultural, or other special value for present or future generations
- any discharge of contaminants into the environment, including any unreasonable emission of noise and options for the treatment and disposal of contaminants
- any risk to the neighbourhood, wider community or the environment through natural hazards or the use of hazardous substances or hazardous installations.
The requirement to address a matter in the assessment of environmental effects is subject to the provision of any relevant policy statement which may direct and/or restrict the assessment to certain matters.
The terms 'effect' and 'environment' under the RMA are broadly defined. It is the role of the AEE to identify and address actual and potential effects of a proposal on a particular environment. The term effect includes:
- Positive and adverse effects - both of these effects should be considered regardless of their scale and duration. It is also important to remember that the assessment is not about achieving a balance between the two but ensuring adverse effects are avoided, remedied or mitigated.
- Temporary and permanent effects -there are many effects associated with proposals that are often temporary, such as those relating to a temporary event. It is important to make the distinction in the assessment between effects that are temporary versus those that are permanent. If there is only a temporary non-compliance with rules in a plan or regulations, and the adverse effects of that aspect are not discernible from those of permitted activities, the council has the discretion to treat the activity as a permitted activity and issue a written notice to that effect, and return the application. See s87BB RMA. For further information on this process, refer to the MfE technical guidance on deemed permitted activities.
- Past, present and future effects - in addition to past and present effects it is also important to consider forecast effects as some effects may take time to show and consideration should be given as to whether these effects are of high or low probability at any time in the future.
- Any cumulative effects regardless of degree or element of risk - an adverse cumulative effect is an effect, when combined with other effects, is significant only when it breaches a threshold. It should not be confused with matters relating to precedent.
- Any reverse sensitivity effects - situations where a potentially incompatible land use is proposed to be sited next to an existing land use.
Subject to the provisions of any policy statement or plan, all of these effects must be considered in the AEE regardless of their scale, intensity, duration, or frequency. It should also be considered whether potential effects are of high and/or low probability and could have a high potential impact.
The effects to be considered will depend on the type of application and the nature of the activity proposed. For controlled and restricted discretionary applications:
- List the effects that need to be considered in accordance with the matters over which the council has reserved control or discretion in its plan or proposed plan, or which control is reserved in national environmental standards or regulations.
- Check the assessment does not venture into other areas outside of those matters reserved in the relevant plan or proposed plan, national environmental standards or regulations. Do not be tempted to address other matters just because the applicant has chosen to do so.
For discretionary and non-complying applications:
- Identify all of the potential effects of the activities, not simply the non-conforming aspects.
- List the effects the AEE identifies and those it does not that are relevant for consideration.
- Use the relevant issues, objectives and policies in the plan to identify any effects that may need to be addressed.
- Assess the consistency of the effects of the activity against the matters in Part 2 of the RMA.
- Distinguish the nature, extent and magnitude of the effects and the significance of their effect on the environment.
- Identify the impact of the effects (eg, instantaneous, continuous or intermittent, of long or short term duration).
For each effect, summarise any assessment techniques used. Check:
- Has the effect been adequately assessed?
- Is the assessment accurate? (Is it based on sound predictions or just guesswork?) Are the anticipated results justified?
- In the particular environment, is the effect likely to combine with any other identified effect (be cumulative)?
- Are there any mitigation measures proposed?
- Are there any measures proposed to ensure positive effects on the environment which off-set or compensate for any adverse effects on the environment? (not to be confused with mitigation)
- What is the effect's significance judged to be?
- If they are not minor, are the remaining effects acceptable?
- Are the effects confined to the site and adjacent land or do they extend to the wider environment?