Legal Framework for District Plans

The diagram below illustrates the relationship between the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), National Policy Statements (NPS) and Regional Policy Statements (RPS), National Environmental Standards (NES) and New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (NZCPS) with Regional and District Plans. (Regional Policy Statement for Northland, 2016). This framework means that many decisions on how our environment is managed is made by Councils’, not central government.

The Resource Management Act 1991

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is the key  legislation that sets out how we should manage our environment. The RMA is based on the principle of sustainable management which involves considering effects of activities on the environment now and into the future. It also ensures Te Tiriti O Waitangi partnerships are recognised as being important when managing our environment. 

Sustainable management involves managing the air, soil, fresh water, and coastal marine areas, and regulating land use and subdivision, for today and future generations. It also has a broader role in the appropriate provision of infrastructure like stormwater pipes, roading, and waste management.

The RMA provides for national direction on significant issues, through National Policy Statements and National Environmental Standards. It also directs all Territorial Authorities’ to have a district plan.

The district plan allows communities to make decisions on how their own local environment is managed. The RMA allows for permissions to be granted (resource consents) where an activity does not comply with the district plan.  

environment includes—

  • ecosystems and their constituent parts, including people and communities; and
  • all natural and physical resources; and
  • amenity values; and
  • the social, economic, aesthetic, and cultural conditions which affect the matters stated in paragraphs (a) to (c) or which are affected by those matters.

National Policy Statements (NPS)

NPS are an instrument that state objectives and policies for matters of national significance.

The purpose of NPS is to provide National consistency across Regional Councils and Territorial Authorities while allowing flexibility in how they are given affect to.

All National Policy Statements can be found on the Ministry for the Environment Website.

National environmental standards (NES)

A NES prescribes the standards for an environmental matter. This is to ensure that a consistent standard for an activity or resource is applied by all Councils.

A NES can prescribe technical and non-technical standards, methods or other requirements for land use and subdivision. All councils’ must give effect to the NES. In some circumstances where specified in a NES, Councils can impose stricter or more lenient standards.

All National Environmental Standards can be found on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.

New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement

The NZCPS is a NPS under the RMA. The purpose of the NZCPS is to promote policies to achieve the purpose of the RMA in relation to the coastal environment. Like the NPS, the district plan must “give effect” to the NZCPS.

The Department of Conservation is directed to provide the NZCPS while other NPS and NES are provided by the Ministry for the Environment.

The New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement can be found on the Department of Conservation website.  

Regional Policy Statement and Plans

The RMA directs Regional Councils to have a Regional Policy Statement and a Regional Plan. A Regional Policy Statement (RPS) is the key document for identifying issues related to the development, use and protection of resources in a region. The Regional Plan(s) gives effect to the Regional Policy Statement through the provision of rules and environmental outcomes.

The RPS needs to consider not only the natural and physical resources and ecosystems, but also amenity values and social, economic, aesthetic, and cultural dimensions of any identified site or resource. Achieving integrated resource management therefore requires consideration of all these elements and their interactions.

The RPS for Northland also establishes the integrated resource management framework from which the Kaipara District Council’s Operative District Plan must give effect to and not be inconsistent with. This approach allows for consistency of resource management when dealing with issues that may cross our neighbouring councils such as landscapes, which may not follow local government boundaries.

The current Regional Policy Statement for Northland 2016 can be found on the Northland Regional Council website.

Regional council functional responsibilities and planning documents

Regional councils are charged with the integrated management of the natural and physical resources of a region.

Regional councils are generally responsible for making decisions about:

  • discharges of contaminants to land, air or water
  • water quality and quantity
  • the coastal marine area
  • soil conservation
  • land use to avoid natural hazards
  • investigating land to identify and monitor contaminated land
  • ensuring sufficient development capacity for residential and business land to meet expected long-term demands of the region
  • preparing regional policy statements and plans.

The Northland Regional Plan can be found on the Northland Regional Council website.