The site visit is a vital part of the assessment process as it allows an 'on the ground' check of the application's accuracy. It also helps to identify which parties may be adversely affected.
Determining when to undertake a site visit is also important. It is good practice to do it as soon as possible after receiving and assessing the application and before any request for further information is made. This enables the council officer to have a clear understanding of the site and any further information that may be required to assess the environmental effects.
A site visit should be planned so that the council officer is certain of the particular aspects of the site that need to be investigated and recorded. Where necessary and practicable, site visit(s) should also be planned during times and conditions when it is considered best to assess the potential effects. For example, when considering a proposal such as a crèche which has an on-site parking shortfall, visits to the site should ideally be during the times of peak parking demand so that the effects, such as the impact on on-street parking, noise etc, can be more accurately assessed.
It is important that all pertinent information about the site is recorded as completely and accurately as possible to avoid having to visit the site again to check things. However, more than one site visit at different times of the day may be warranted for more significant proposals in order to thoroughly assess the effects.
It is also courteous to phone the applicant prior to going on-site to advise them when the site visit is planned. In addition there may be access restrictions or potential hazards on-site that need to be discussed with the applicant prior to the visit. Carrying identification on site is also advisable should anyone enquire about your reasons for being on the site.
In some cases the applicant may wish to be present at a site visit and this can in some instances help to clarify issues on site. Alternatively, the council officer can visit the site alone, particularly if the site is easily accessed and traversed and the proposal is relatively straightforward.
Section 36A of the RMA specifically states there is no duty to consult any person about resource consent applications and notices of requirement. This applies to both applicants and councils. Nevertheless, for many resource consent applications and notices of requirement, consultation will play an important role in assessing the effects.
If neighbours approach to ask what is happening during a site visit, the council officer can discuss the proposal with them (the application is public information). These discussions can contribute valuable knowledge to the assessment. However, as the applicant is generally paying for the officer time spent on the site visit, conversation should be kept to a minimum and remain objective and factual.
Photographs of the site can be particularly useful for identifying elements on the site or for discussing the potential effects with other people (including any peer reviewer). Individual photographs or montages can help in making recommendations, in decision making and monitoring. They are also a particularly good record of any unusual site features (eg, vegetation or topography).
Record exactly when the photo was taken, where it was taken from, and through what sort of lens.