In addition to requests for further information under s92(1), s92(2) and s41C(4) allows councils to commission reports on matters relating to an application if:
- the council considers the activity may have a significant adverse environmental effect; and
- the applicant is notified before the report is commissioned; and
- the applicant does not refuse to agree to the commissioning of the report.
The commissioning of reports should be confined to matters that are critical to making an informed decision on a proposal, focusing on any aspects that may have significant adverse effects (eg, exacerbating the risks from natural hazards).
Generally, reports are commissioned for larger-scale or complex projects where specific expertise is required or when council does not have in-house expertise in a particular area. For example, a proposed new mining activity may have significant adverse effects on ground stability on surrounding properties and the council may commission a report by a qualified geologist to evaluate the applicant's information provided.
Where a proposal may have a significant effect on Māori cultural values, such as those covered in RMA Part 2 matters, it may be appropriate to commission a cultural impact assessment (CIA). See the FAQs on cultural impact assessments for more information.
For reports commissioned under s92(2), the applicant must be notified in writing of the reasons for commissioning a report, advised they have 15 working days to respond, and made aware of the implications of refusing the request or not responding. Applicants should also be advised of the estimated cost of commissioning a report and the time needed to prepare it.
The processing clock is stopped from the date of the request until the date the report is received, where the applicant agrees to the report. If the applicant does not agree, the processing clocks resumes from the earliest date of the following:
- 15 days after the request was made
- the date the applicant refuses.
If the applicant does not agree to the commissioning of a report under s92(2), or fails to provide the information by the deadline concerned, then the application must be publicly notified in accordance with s95C and a decision made under s104.
If the request for a report is agreed to and commissioned and a hearing is to be held, the report must be available for public inspection no later than 10 working days before the hearing. A council must as soon as is reasonably practicable after receiving the report, give written or electronic notice to every person who made a submission that the report has been commissioned and is available for public inspection.
If during the course of a hearing the hearing panel or commissioner(s) considers that further information is required in order to adequately assess and evaluate an application for an activity that is considered to have significant effects on the environment, they may commission a report under s41C(4). This report must be provided to the applicant and every submitter who wishes to be heard and be made available at council offices for submitters who do not wish to be heard.
S41C does not 'stop the clock' and the timeframes to make a decision for notified, and limited notified applications still apply. Where a report is commissioned under s41C, council may need to consider seeking the applicant's permission to extend the time frames under s37 in this circumstance. This would not be necessary for non-notified consents where a hearing is held, as hearing days are excluded from the calculation of working days.