Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA)

Anything that you want to do that involves using, developing or subdividing your land is subject to the RMA. Every District Council is required to have a district plan which sets out the rules for land use or subdivision. Most Regional Councils also have Regional Plans which relate to their functions under the RMA. These plans are all subject to the provisions of the RMA which set out procedures, timeframes, rights and obligations of Councils, applicants and other interested people / organisations. Click on the headings below to find out how the RMA could affect what you are proposing to do. 

Land Use 

Anything that involves using or developing land for any purpose is deemed to be a land use activity. The RMA states that any land use activity can take place as of right unless any part of what is proposed does not comply with rules in a district plan. Where a rule is not complied with resource consent from Council is required to be obtained before the proposed activity can occur. The exception to this is where the activity is assigned existing use rights.

Subdivision

Anything that involves changing existing or creating new certificates of title (including fee simple, unit titles and cross leases) or the creation of a lease with a term of more than 35 years (including rights of renewal) is a subdivision of land. Land cannot be subdivided unless it is expressly allowed by a rule in a district plan or resource consent for it has been granted by the relevant Council.  

Existing Use Rights / Existing Use Certificate

Any activity that was established before rules in a district plan changed may be protected via existing use rights under the RMA. To have existing use rights an activity must:

  • have been lawfully established; and
  • be similar in nature and scale to what was originally permitted or approved; and
  • have not been stopped for more than 12 months.

An application to Council may be made for an existing use certificate to be granted. Any application will require the payment of a fee and provision of set information. If a certificate is issued it provides ongoing legal recognition and protection for the activity concerned even if rules change in the future.

Categories of Consent

A District or Regional Plan will specify the status of any proposed use, development or subdivision of land that is not permitted as of right. There are five categories of consent that Councils can be assigned to a proposal. These are: 

Controlled Activity: This category means that Council cannot decline consent and may impose conditions on its approval. Any conditions imposed can only relate to matters that Council has expressly identified in its District / Regional Plan.

Restricted Discretionary Activity: This category means that Council can decline consent or grant consent with or without conditions. Consent can only be declined or conditions imposed in relation to matters that Council has expressly identified in its District / Regional Plan.

Discretionary Activity: This category means that Council can decline consent or grant consent with or without conditions. Consent can be declined or conditions imposed in relation to any matter that Council considered to be relevant.

Non-Complying Activity: This category means that Council can only consider an application if it is satisfied that either the proposal is not contrary to the objectives or policies of its District / Regional Plan or any adverse effects of the proposal on the environment will be less than minor. Where these tests are met Consent can be declined or conditions imposed in relation to any matter that Council considers to be relevant.

Prohibited Activity: If a proposal is a prohibited activity no resource consent can be applied for. 

There is a clear hierarchy between these different categories. In practice controlled activities will progress through a Council system with relative ease, whereas the further down the scale you go toward non-complying the more potential there is for significant costs and time to be spent in processing the application.

Legal Timeframes

The RMA specifies timeframes within which applicants for resource consent and Councils must do certain things. Where an applicant does not meet set timeframes their application may be rejected, notified or declined. 

Councils have the power under the Resource Consent to extend any timeframes which apply to them under the Resource Management Act, provided that any timeframe is not more than doubled. The only consequence for a Council that fails to meet a timeframe requirement is to refund a portion of fees eqiivalent to 1% paid of the total fees payable for every working day the application remains unprocessed over the set time limit up to a maximum of 50 working days.

Duration of Resource Consents

A resource consent that has been granted by Council will lapse, either on a date specified in the consent or 5 years after the consent has been granted unless:

  • The consent has been given effect to; or
  • Council on application extends the time period

Where resource consent is granted for a subdivision, it is deemed to be given effect to once the field survey has been completed by a surveyor and Council has approved the survey plan for the subdivision. Once this approval has been gained, the subdivision will lapse after a further 3 years if the conditions on the consent have not been complied with and all necessary documents have not be lodged with Land Information New Zealand.

Once resource consent has lapsed there is no ability for it to be reapproved. A new application for resource consent must be lodged with Council.