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2 Legislative and Policy Context

The following section outlines the legislative context for an assessment of environmental effects relating to air quality for land transport projects.

2.1 The Resource Management Act

The purpose of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources, including air, as outlined in section 5:

5. Purpose

(1) The purpose of this Act is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.

(2) In this Act, “sustainable” means managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural wellbeing and for their health and safety while –

(a) Sustaining the potential of natural and physical resources (excluding minerals) to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations; and

(b) Safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of air, water, soil and ecosystems; and

(c) Avoiding, remedying, or mitigating any adverse effects of activities on the environment ...

In relation to land transport developments, section 5(2)(c), is of particular relevance with its duty to avoid, remedy or mitigate adverse effects.

Within the RMA there are also policy instruments (regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans) that enable more detailed regional and local management of environmental resources, such as air. For an assessment of effects of any significant land transport project, liaison with the relevant local authorities is recommended so that any such constraints are identified at an early stage.

2.2 National environmental standards

Readers should familiarise themselves with the Resource Management (National Environmental Standards Relating to Certain Air Pollutants, Dioxins and Other Toxics) Regulations 2004 as amended in 2005 (hereafter referred to as the Standards). The Standards are technical environmental regulations prepared in accordance with sections 43 and 44 of the RMA. The Standards are designed to protect public health and the environment in New Zealand by setting concentration limits for clean air and regulating or prohibiting certain activities that pollute the air.

The detailed application and interpretation of the Standards is provided in the Updated Users Guide (Ministry for the Environment, 2005). The ambient air quality concentration limits provided by Schedule 1 of the Standards are discussed in section 5.

2.3 Regional plans and policy statements

The RMA is the applicable overarching legislation and the Standards provide an absolute baseline for acceptable effects. Regional councils provide the next level of regulation in their regional plans and associated policy statements.

Each of the councils responsible for air quality management in New Zealand addresses air quality in its regional plan, and each has a more detailed 'air plan' of some form. These are different for each region, reflecting different local circumstances. The differences are usually not significant at the general level − for instance, all plans have the same basic objective 'to maintain and enhance air quality' – but there can be differences in detail, since the exact form of the plans is determined by local political and public consultation processes.

Some regional plans include specific policies requiring assessment of the air quality impacts of transport projects, and many regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans have qualitative provisions requiring the 'maintenance or enhancement' of air quality. Accordingly, significant new developments involving roadways or increases in traffic volumes now typically incorporate air quality assessments as part of the land-use consenting or notice of requirement process.

Notwithstanding the above, there are currently no specific rules in regional plans that require transport projects, or land-use projects that affect traffic volumes, to obtain resource consents to discharge contaminants to air. This may change, and readers are strongly recommended to consult the relevant regional plan.

Many plans do, however, contain more stringent criteria than exist in the Standards (or the national Ambient Air Quality Guidelines). One of the justifications for this is to allow adequate time for regional councils to respond if air quality is approaching unacceptable levels. The regional council process to develop and implement policy for emissions reduction takes several years. One of the ways that councils address this is by adopting 'target' values that are typically 66% of the relevant national ambient air quality standard or guideline value. This allows them a time buffer that helps ensure the Standards are not exceeded. For more information on air quality criteria, please refer to section 5.

One important new feature, following the RMA Amendment Act 2005, is that regional and district plans must now “give effect to” any national policy statement and to regional policy statements (under sections 67(3) and 75(3) of the RMA). The exact implications of this change are difficult to assess until some precedents are established.

Regional policy statements and district plans may also include policies and objectives that are relevant to the assessment of transport projects. Such matters are well known to territorial authorities but not to external parties (eg, consultants preparing air quality impact assessments for transport development). It is recommended that all readers review regional policy statements and district plans to ensure the assessment is consistent with any local objectives, policies or rules.

2.4 Designations and notices of requirement

The RMA gives requiring authorities the ability to have areas of land designated for specific uses (eg, as roads). These areas of land are identified in the district plan, usually in the maps. This is called a 'designation', and it means that the work can be carried out without the need to comply with district plan rules.

If a requiring authority wishes to designate land, it must submit a notice of requirement for a designation to the council, in a similar manner to a resource consent application. A notice of requirement is how a requiring authority gives notice to a city or district council that it is seeking to designate land. Until included in a district plan, a proposed designation continues to be referred to as a notice of requirement.

Transit New Zealand uses designations for its state highway network. The national rail network is also designated.

Territorial authorities need to consider the Standards when issuing or assessing a notice of requirement. A designation may include conditions relating to air quality (eg, a large supermarket granted consent with conditions relating to the use of service vehicles).

The regional council will often become involved in assessing discharges to air from major projects by making a submission on the notice of requirement. However, as discussed above, there are currently no specific rules in regional plans that require transport projects to obtain resource consents from regional councils to discharge contaminants to air.

2.5 Land-use consents

Territorial authorities need to consider the Standards when notifying or assessing land-use consents. For many transport projects (and land-use projects that affect traffic) this will be the only opportunity to formally consider air quality impacts.

2.6 New Zealand Transport Strategy and Land Transport Management Act 2003

The New Zealand Transport Strategy (NZTS) and the Land Transport Management Act 2003 set the framework for the use, development and funding of land transport in New Zealand.

The NZTS sets out the Government’s vision for transport. It is a statement on the approach the Government will take to transport, both now and in the future. The NZTS guides policy decisions about transport, and it is reflected in the activities of all government agencies that have responsibilities for, or an interest in, transport.

The NZTS vision is that “by 2010 New Zealand will have an affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable transport system”. The NZTS’s objectives are to:

  • assist economic development

  • assist safety and personal security

  • improve access and mobility

  • protect and promote public health

  • ensure environmental sustainability.

Managing the air quality impacts of transport projects is an important aspect of protecting and promoting public health and ensuring environmental sustainability.

The NZTS will be implemented through policy development, rules and legislation such as the Land Transport Management Act 2003 (LTMA). The purpose of the LTMA is to contribute to the aim of achieving an integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable land transport system. The Act includes requirements for funding land transport, and defines the objectives and functions of Land Transport New Zealand and Transit New Zealand. The Act states that:

The objective of the Authority [Land Transport New Zealand] is to allocate resources and to undertake its functions in a way that contributes to an integrated, safe, responsive, and sustainable land transport system.

The objective of Transit is to operate the state highway system in a way that contributes to an integrated, safe, responsive, and sustainable land transport system.

In meeting their objectives, these agencies are also required to “exhibit a sense of social and environmental responsibility”, which includes “avoiding, to the extent reasonable in the circumstances, adverse effects on the environment”.

The LTMA also requires road-controlling authorities to take into account the NZTS objectives in preparing their land transport programme.

2.7 Regional land transport strategies

Each regional council is required to prepare a land transport strategy for its region. The LTMA requires regional land transport strategies to contribute to an integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable land transport system. Regional land transport strategies are likely to include objectives and policies that are relevant to the assessment of discharges to air from transport.

For example, the Environment Canterbury Regional Land Transport Strategy 2005–2015 includes the policy:

Ensure adverse environmental impacts from transport are monitored and national and regional standards are met.

One of the methods for achieving this policy is to “implement traffic management measures that reduce pollutant levels in areas where these are close to, or exceed, national and regional environmental standards/guidelines”.

In another example, the Auckland Regional Land Transport Strategy 2005 includes the following policies in accordance with the purpose of the RMA:

Identify and evaluate reduction strategies to ensure that emissions from new and existing transport sources comply with the national environmental standards.

Work with the Government and stakeholders to identify and evaluate measures that will limit the adverse environmental effects of transport.

Develop and implement consistent procedures for assessing the environmental and health impact of transport policies and projects.

Ensure that transport projects consider, at an early stage of the scheme, assessment options to avoid and/or remedy human health risks and adverse effects on the natural and physical environments.

Ensure that appropriate environmental mitigation techniques are implemented for transport projects, where adverse effects cannot be avoided or remedied.

It is strongly recommended that the relevant regional land transport strategy be checked before undertaking any assessment of discharges to air from transport.

2.8 Transit New Zealand Environmental Plan

Transit New Zealand is responsible for planning, constructing and maintaining New Zealand’s state highway network in accordance with the Transit New Zealand Act 1989, LTMA and NZTS. The Transit New Zealand Environmental Plan sets out Transit’s environmental policy, objectives, implementation plans and performance measures. The plan specifically includes the following objectives:

A1 Understand the contribution of vehicle traffic to air quality.

A2 Ensure new state highway projects do not directly cause national ambient air quality standards to be exceeded.

A3 Contribute to reducing emissions where the state highway network is a principal source of exceedances of national ambient air quality standards.

Legislative and policy context - recommendations

An assessment of the discharges to air from transport projects, or land-use projects that affect traffic, should be undertaken to determine the impacts on air quality.

Similarly, territorial authorities need to consider the national environmental standards for air quality when notifying or assessing a land-use consent, and when issuing or assessing a notice of requirement.

There is significant relevant policy that needs to be reviewed before undertaking any assessment of air discharges from land transport to ensure the assessment is consistent with any local objectives, policies or rules. This includes the regional policy statement and regional land transport strategy, as well as regional and district plans.