The New Zealand urban planning system is made up of various planning documents under three separate statutes: the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA) and the Land Transport Management Act 2003 (LTMA). Further detail on planning documents under each of these statutes is set out below.
Resource Management Act 1991
The RMA is the main piece of legislation for managing the environment in New Zealand. Its purpose is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources. The RMA provides for the range of planning documents described below to manage the effects of activities on the environment.
National environmental standards
National environmental standards (NESs) are regulations designed to achieve certainty and consistency in the way specific environmental matters are dealt with across the country. They may set the minimum requirements and thresholds that need to be applied when managing a resource; dictate that a specific methodology be used in measuring or managing a resource, or both. A NES is a powerful tool in that it can override local council plan rules and bylaws and water conservation orders if the rule, bylaw, or water conservation order is less stringent than the NES. A NES also prevails over designations and resource consent applications made after the NES comes into force.
A NES can relate to the management of any environmental issues covered by the RMA, including land use and subdivision, noise, water take and use, use of the coastal marine area and discharges. They can also require monitoring, particularly if the standard is aimed at improving the environment.
National policy statements
National policy statements (NPS) serve as a type of mandatory guide designed to ensure that RMA decision-makers, policy statements and plans give appropriate weighting to matters of national significance, and provide direction on how those matters of national significance are to be managed. As with NESs, a NPS can be a useful tool for promoting consistency in the management of natural and physical resources across New Zealand.
NPSs are prepared by the Minister for the Environment and outline objectives and policies for matters of national significance. Local authorities are required to incorporate NPSs as part of their policy statements and plans, and decision-makers under the RMA are required to have regard to any relevant NPS.
Regional policy statements
Regional policy statements (RPS) are prepared by regional councils to provide an overview of the resource management issues of their region and the objectives, policies and methods to ensure those issues are managed in an integrated way.
Operating at a lower level than a NPS or NES, the RPS can be a useful tool for achieving regional consistency on issues common to several councils in a region, as both regional plans and district plans of all councils in the region must actively implement it. A RPS can be used to help a regional council carry out any of its RMA roles, including that of ensuring strategic infrastructure (such as major transport routes and water supply facilities) are coordinated and integrated with land use (new areas of housing or major business centres, for example). In this way they have the potential to be more than a tool for providing direction on issues around air, water or soil.
Regional plans are developed by regional councils to help them manage environmental issues, such as those associated with use of the coast, natural hazards, and air, water and soil quality. There may be one combined regional plan, or many regional plans dealing with particular resources or issues (depending on the approach taken by the regional council).
Objectives, policies and rules in regional plans can be used to govern the allocation of resources (such as water or space in coastal waters), manage pollution through controls on discharges to air, water, soil and the coastal environment. Regional plans can also control the use of land for soil conservation and to manage water quality, hazards and maintenance of ecosystems and biodiversity (for example, protecting the habitat of native birds, insects, fish and plants, including those within urban areas).
It is the rules in regional plans that determine whether a particular activity requires a resource consent (so that its effects can be more closely considered), can take place without a resource consent, or is prohibited entirely. No provision in a regional plan can exist for longer than 10 years without review. However, any person can request a change be made to a regional plan before 10 years has passed.
District plans are prepared by territorial authorities (district and city councils) to help them manage the use of land (such as the placement and size of buildings and other structures), subdivision and noise. They also have some overlap with regional plans for managing hazards, and maintaining biodiversity. Managing these matters is through objectives, policies and rules set out in the district plan.
As with regional plans, it is the rules in district plans that determine whether a particular activity requires a resource consent, can take place without a resource consent, or is prohibited entirely. As with regional plans, no provision in a district plan can exist for longer than 10 years without review. However, any person can request a change be made before 10 years has passed.
Combined RMA documents
The RMA provides that a single document within a region can perform any combination of functions of a regional policy statement, regional plan and/or district plan. Some councils already have combined regional and district plan documents, and others having been working on combined RPS and regional plan documents.
Iwi management plans
Iwi planning documents, more commonly known as iwi management plans (IMPs), are a plan prepared by an iwi, iwi authority, rūnanga or hapū, and are recognised by the RMA.
The contents of an iwi management plan will depend on the priorities and preferences of the iwi/hapū preparing the plan. IMPs are often holistic documents that cover more than resource management issues under the RMA. Some IMPs will address economic, social, political and cultural issues in addition to environmental and resource management issues. Much like council plans, IMPs may include issues, objectives, policies and methods relating to ancestral taonga (such as rivers, lakes, seabed and foreshore, mountains, land, minerals, wāhi tapu, wildlife and biodiversity) and places of tribal significance. IMPs often detail how the iwi/hapū expect to be involved in the management, development and protection of resources, and outline expectations for engagement and participation in RMA processes.
The RMA states that when preparing or changing any regional plan (section 66) or territorial plan (section 74), councils shall have regard to any relevant planning document recognised by an iwi authority and lodged with that council, to the extent that its content has a bearing on resource management issues of that region or district.
Local Government Act 2002
The LGA outlines the purpose, role and powers of local authorities. Its purpose is to provide for democratic and effective local government that recognises the diversity of New Zealand communities. The LGA provides for the development of long-term council community plans (LTCCPs) and annual plans to facilitate local government activities.
Long-term council community plans
Every six years, local authorities are required to identify community outcomes for the immediate and long-term future of their district or region. The process enables parties such as local authorities, central government agencies and the community to determine what they consider important socially, economically, environmentally and culturally. The outcomes from this process form the basis on which local authorities develop their LTCCPs.
It is mandatory for every local authority to prepare a LTCCP which provides a long-term focus for decision-making and coordination of its resources, and describes the community outcomes sought. Such plans must cover a period of not less than 10 years.
Unlike regional and district plans under the RMA, the LTCCP contains no rules. Nonetheless, where there is sufficient buy-in, the LTTCP can be used to coordinate plans across a full range of council functions and coordinate the provision of services with parties outside of a council (such as providing housing or new transport infrastructure). Importantly, the financial component of the LTCCP provides direction and coordination for funding of strategic projects through the more detailed annual plan (which is focussed on shorter time frames).
Annual plans contain a statement of a local authority’s proposed annual budget and funding impact for the financial year, and often lists the particular major projects or services for which funding is set aside. They also support the LTCCP in providing integrated decision-making and coordinating the local authority’s resources, as well as extending opportunities for participation by the public in decision-making processes.
Land Transport Management Act 2003
The LTMA governs the planning and funding of land transport. Its purpose is to contribute to achieving an affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable land transport system. Regional councils, city and district councils, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and other approved organisations under that Act can receive money from the National Land Transport Fund for the land transport activities they deliver, such as constructing and maintaining state highways, local roads and public transport services. The LTMA provides for a range of documents to facilitate planning and funding.
National Land Transport Strategy and New Zealand Transport Strategy
The LTMA enables the Minister of Transport to prepare a national land transport strategy. However, no such strategy has yet been prepared. There is a non-statutory document called the New Zealand Transport Strategy, which is referred to in the Government Policy Statement on land transport funding.
Regional land transport strategies
Regional councils are responsible for preparing and reviewing regional land transport strategies (RLTS). These provide an overview of the current and future trends and pressures on a region’s transportation systems, the outcomes sought, and options to achieve an integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable land transport system (along with the funding of those options). A RLTS cannot be inconsistent with the NZTS and the RPS that is in force for the region.
The RTLS is a long-term document prepared every six years, but covers issues and strategic options over the next 30 years. As such, the RLTS has a large role to play in ensuring that transport infrastructure is planned to meet the current and future needs of an urban area, and to provide certainty to those who make decisions to ensure the development of land and provision of infrastructure is coordinated and integrated.
Government policy statement
The Government Policy Statement on Land Transport Funding (GPS) is the Government’s main guiding document to focus the land transport funding system, generally over a 10-year period. The GPS is issued by the Minister of Transport and details the Government's desired outcomes and funding priorities for using the National Land Transport Fund to support activities in the land transport sector. The GPS covers what the Government wishes to achieve from its investment in land transport, how it will achieve this by funding certain activity classes, how much funding will be provided and how this funding will be raised.
National Land Transport Programme
The New Zealand Transport Agency is responsible for developing the National Land Transport Programme, which gives effect to the GPS and is issued every three years with a 10-year outlook. It lists transport activities/packages of activities expected to be considered for funding for the next three years.
Regional land transport programme
Each local government region needs to develop a 10-year regional land transport programme (RLTP). A RLTP must be consistent with the GPS and be developed every three years with the ability to be adjusted annually. It lists and prioritises activities (excluding local road maintenance, renewals, minor capital works and expenditure on existing public transport operations) where funding will be sought in the next three years.