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4. The players and the processes

4.1 Who are the players and what are they responsible for?

There are five main groups of people in any wastewater systems decision process:

  • local community – residents and business people
  • local government
  • tangata whenua
  • central government
  • developers, individual land owners and interest groups.

Of these, the local community, tangata whenua and local government probably take the most integrated overview of the community and its wastewater needs. All three are concerned with social, environmental and economic issues, and deal with them on a day-to-day basis.

Central government tends to be more fragmented, with different ministries and departments having responsibility for particular issues. They will tend to comment on and deal with risks from their own perspective, but increasingly they are being required to work across areas. New 'all-of-government' initiatives expect that each central government player will take account of the impact of their focus on wider wellbeing. With the creation of the position of Minister of Urban Affairs and the development of a sustainable development strategy, there is likely to be even more focus on a holistic approach.

Developers, individual landowners and interest groups can be from the community or from outside, but in terms of wastewater issues they will have a very specific focus. 'Commentators' has been used as a term to cover outside interest groups such as environmental groups, who may not have a direct role in the area but wish to comment on its direction. Some may have a role in formal statutory processes. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment might be considered as part of central government, or due to his/her independent status, as an independent commentator.

Each of these groups is now looked at in turn.

Local community

Residents and business people


  • users of the wastewater system
  • funders of the wastewater system
  • owners of any community decision-making process
  • relationship with iwi and hapū.

Risk concerns:

  • fit of wastewater system to needs
  • impacts of wastewater decision on the character/growth of the community
  • affordability of the system
  • ability of people to manage the system
  • impact of the decision-making process on community relationships
  • environmental, public health and amenity impacts.

Your own community, including how it is structured and how it works, should be well known to you. People will have strong views. Some will be focused on the future shape and look of the community and what the wastewater system will mean for that; some will be focused on cost, some on environmental effects. They are all important points of view, but each person will need to learn to look at the big picture.

Local government

Regional Council


  • regulates discharges to the air, land and water – air discharges include odour, which is a key issue for wastewater management
  • will set the standards for the volume and quality of wastewater disposal to water and the depositing of sludge in landfills
  • monitors environmental quality
  • may act as a funder of restoration projects for waterways (this may be a source of assistance for innovative ecosystem re-entry projects, such as wetlands).

Risk concerns:

  • harm to ecosystem processes
  • safety for contact sports
  • safety for non-contact sports
  • safety of fishing and food gathering
  • harm to habitat.

Each community will have a regional council that covers its area. Usually the council is separate from the local district council, but sometimes they are combined in what is known as a 'unitary council'. The regional council will cover a large area and may have its central offices some distance away, but there may be local offices in one of the larger nearby towns.

The regional council may be a source of information on environmental quality issues and will have mapping and monitoring resources that the local authority may not have. It is important to involve them in discussions, but at the same time they will need to maintain their role of regulating discharges. Some are reluctant to move beyond this regulatory role. They may be able to help you explore options, but will only be able to give final approval of options in terms of discharges via the resource consent process.

Some regional councils have extensive river, coastal, wetland and lake-edge restoration projects, either as part of their flood management work or as part of a wider restoration strategy. They may be interested in working with you to look at innovative schemes to manage the re-entry of wastes into the environment.

City or District Council


  • regulates the effects of structures and activities on the environment
  • regulates building quality via the Building Act
  • manages the rate and quality of growth
  • is frequently the funder of new wastewater systems
  • may fund river, stream, wetland and coastal restoration projects, which may assist with re-entry options
  • may be the local landfill owner and manager – wider landfill policies may affect how biosolids are re-used
  • has major interactions with the community on a range of social, economic and environmental issues
  • is generally responsible for:
    • the designations for sewage treatment sites
    • pipeline approvals.

Risk concerns:

  • harm to public health
  • harm to ecosystem services and processes
  • long-term social and economic impacts of wastewater decisions
  • impacts of local community decisions on wider communities
  • maintenance of a positive relationship with tangata whenua.

The local district council has a number of complex and overlapping roles. In many cases it will be the route by which funding of a scheme is organised. The ability of the council to take out loans on behalf of the community and to structure the repayment of loans in various ways will be an important influence on what options are chosen. The funding options that are often available are discussed in Section 11.

While considering funding issues, the council also has a responsibility to think about the wider effects of development on the community. This will not always be straightforward. The council may express a wider community vision about benefits and costs, and may be aware of development pressures that need to be managed and reconciled with local aspirations. With this role, the council and council officers will need to take a partnership approach to working out the relationship between local wastewater issues and further development. In return, the local community will need to be prepared to think about this wider picture. Trust needs to be developed between council and community on these issues.

The responsibility to regulate the effects of activities and development is an important role. The council will have an established vision set out in its district plan, which it must administer, but its own wastewater thinking may not always fit with this. There are processes that can be used to protect the integrity of the district plan rules, or to change them if they no longer fit new standards or expectations.

The council may also fund local projects, or provide other wastewater services that will affect how options are developed. For example, it may already own a wastewater treatment plant, which will be made more viable if the local community hooks up to it. This may not fit with local desires. It is the kind of issue that would need to be discussed as part of the decision-making process.


Tangata whenua


  • kaitiaki for the physical and spiritual health of the environment, including the waters, land and food sources.

Risk concerns:

  • loss of the health of the mauri in people and the environment
  • loss of the physical health of ecosystems
  • Treaty of Waitangi breaches
  • maintenance of health of the water cycle in particular – at the spiritual and social centre of Māori life
  • protection of wāhi tapu
  • maintenance of food resources, land and seafood
  • general community health and wellbeing
  • economic wellbeing of local communities.

Whatever the nature of your local community, you will have to work with the local hapū and/or iwi, especially that which has mana whenua status, and with Māori residents on wastewater issues. You will need to work with mana whenua representatives in particular because of the recognition in law of their traditional kaitiaki and environmental management roles. The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), which sets out the various resource consent processes you will have to go through, gives particular recognition to the Treaty of Waitangi and the role of Māori in environmental management issues.

This brief subsection sets out the basis for this role, while Section 5 provides some pointers and tips on how to build a good relationship.

Why is the Treaty relevant to the development of wastewater systems?

Despite the fact that the RMA does not refer directly to waste management, it does deal with the link between environmental management and the Treaty of Waitangi. The RMA controls the discharge of contaminants to air, land and water through rules in regional plans, and manages the effects of activities on the environment through district plans. As required by section 8 of the RMA (above), when preparing plans and implementing the resource consent process, local authorities must recognise the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. This means that local authorities need to be vigilant in ensuring that any proposal for development has properly considered Māori concerns.

Although the RMA and other laws in New Zealand refer to the principles of the Treaty, before discussing these in detail, it is useful to provide a brief explanation of the Treaty, and its provisions, or Articles, as they are commonly known. The Treaty of Waitangi has two texts, one in Māori and one in English, neither of which is an exact translation of the other. Despite the differences between each of the versions, both represent an agreement in which Māori gave the Crown the right to govern and develop British settlement, while the Crown guaranteed Māori full protection of their interests and status and full citizenship rights.

Essentially, Article 1 of the Treaty gave the Queen of England (the Crown) the right to establish government in New Zealand. This right was qualified by Article 2 of the Treaty, which guaranteed to Māori continued authority over their property and other 'taonga' or treasured possessions, and Article 3 of the Treaty, which guaranteed Māori the same rights as other British subjects.

A major issue within the Treaty is the Māori and English concepts of sovereignty. The English version gives to the Crown 'all the rights and powers of sovereignty' but guarantees to Māori 'tino rangatiratanga' – a concept similar to sovereignty – of their properties and other taonga. These issues are important and will continue to be debated. They will be important issues for wastewater management because wastewater has such a potential impact on resources, on development vision and on relationships between groups.

If your community is mainly non-Māori, people will need to be aware that iwi and hapū will often be keen to explore these concepts in the area of wastewater management. What that will mean will be a matter for discussion around the key issues affecting an area. If your community is mainly Māori, being aware of the rights and responsibilities under the Treaty will assist when working with the wider community, local government and central government.

Crown obligations and local government responsibilities

Sometimes there is a perception that local government (city, district, regional and unitary councils) is an agent of central government or the Crown. This is understandable, as councils exercise governance functions at a local level. However, local and central government are separate and have different Treaty responsibilities.

Put simply, the Crown is the Treaty partner and has a moral obligation to observe the Treaty, except where the Treaty is given the force of law and confers legal obligations on the Crown.

Local authorities on the other hand are not Treaty partners, but they do have legal obligations to recognise the Treaty and provide for Māori interests when carrying out their functions. One of these obligations is to take into account the principles of the Treaty when managing natural resources.

The next section talks about some of the Treaty principles and explains how councils may apply them when making decisions about wastewater management.

Some of the principles that have been developed include:

  • partnership – more than mere consultation, this explores the idea of acting jointly on issues
  • the duty to act reasonably, honourably and in good faith
  • reciprocity
  • mutual benefit – the need to explore solutions that benefit each Treaty partner
  • the duty to make informed decisions – this is key in terms of how information is made available, and is important to the wider community as well
  • active protection – this means that a council must take active steps to protect those things of importance to Māori, and not just consider them
  • redress – the need to remedy or rectify a wrong or grievance.

The development of the Treaty principles themselves arose out of the need to apply the Treaty to modern circumstances and to overcome the differences between the Māori and English texts of the Treaty. There is no complete or definitive list of Treaty principles. Principles have been developed by the Crown, the courts and the Waitangi Tribunal, 6 and they continue to evolve as the Treaty is applied to new situations.

As we discussed above, Section 8 of the RMA gives status to these principles, which, in a sense, provide the basis for how Māori and non-Māori might work together on environmental management issues. They are also aimed at making sure that Māori concerns are protected – whether or not Māori are a major part of the population of your local community. The purpose of this section is to alert the reader to the fact that local authorities, when managing the use, development and protection of resources, must take into account the principles of the Treaty. This may require a consultation process with the local iwi/hapū to find out their views about a proposed project, such as the development of a wastewater system, and its implications. 7 (For more detailed information about the application of the principles to environmental management, further reading is recommended.)

This is particularly relevant where local authorities are required to consult with local iwi/hapū if they are identified as an affected party in the consideration of applications for resource consents. The provision creates a need to build effective working relationships between local iwi/hapū and those involved in resource management processes, including communities.

Other provisions in the RMA

In addition to providing for the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, the RMA also recognises and provides for Māori interests, values and environmental practices. Under the Act, all persons who exercise functions and powers shall:

  • recognise and provide for the relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, wāhi tapu (sacred sites) and other taonga (treasures or anything highly prized) (section 6(e))
  • have particular regard to kaitiakitanga (section 7(a)).

The RMA also contains provisions that recognise the special place of tangata whenua as holding authority or mana whenua over an area through traditional occupation. These provisions include the requirement for local authorities to consult with tangata whenua when preparing a proposed policy statement or plan (clause 3(1)(d), schedule 1). (It should be remembered that not all iwi or hapū are recognised as tangata whenua in a particular area, and not all Māori identify with a hapū or iwi.)

As part of this requirement, local authorities must have regard to any relevant planning document recognised by an iwi authority (such as an iwi management plan) affected by the regional or district plan. This obligation is repeated in sections 66(2)(c)(ii) and 74(b)(ii). These sections state that when preparing or changing a regional policy statement or regional or district plan, the relevant authority shall have regard to any relevant planning document recognised by an iwi authority affected by the statement or plan.

Be aware that some local authorities provide for the assessment of effects on the mauri of an area. This means that more than just physical concerns can be taken into account – indeed, there may even be no obvious physical effect.

Section 1.5 showed how water lies at the very heart of the traditional Māori world view, and discussed the resulting approach to wastes and waste management. Choosing a wastewater management system will involve many aspects of Māori culture. In addition, discharges from wastewater systems often affect seafood-gathering areas and burial grounds, many of which can be found in coastal areas, dunes and estuaries. Your wastewater management process will involve looking at how the kind of wastewater system you choose fits with Māori perspectives and at the effects of discharges and structures on sites and places of value to Māori.

Whether your community has Māori residents or not, you will have to have regard for the Māori perspectives on wastewater management. At the very least, the resource consents process requires that iwi, hapū or whānau who have authority or interests in an area must be involved in the decision-making process. This may sound difficult, but it isn't. Section 5.5 'Developing a process with iwi and hapū' provides some tips on how to make this work.

The decision-making process tends to focus on the physical impacts of discharges – for example, on kaimoana and wāhi tapu. Māori have had very limited success in having their views influence actual wastewater management system design. Yet there are immense benefits in exploring Māori views on wastewater management with Māori residents and/or iwi. As wastewater management practices shift to fit a 'natural systems' focus, there is more and more common ground with Māori ideas of wastewater management. Given that wastewater management is a core concern for Māori, it is a good opportunity for relationships to be formed.

On the other hand your community may be based around a rural or town marae, or located on Māori land. It may be entirely comfortable with the Māori world view and be looking for assistance to argue this view in formal processes. There is an immense amount of case law and material that can assist you. You will find some assistance on where to go for material at the back of this handbook.

Mahinga mātaitai and taiapure

Provision has been made in fisheries legislation for the creation of mahinga mataitai (seafood-gathering areas) and taiapure (fisheries management areas). These provisions recognise the special purpose of these areas and also allow for some direct mana whenua managemen t8 of them. There may be different standards for discharges in these areas. You will need to explore this issue with local people and with both the regional council and the territorial local authority.

Special management arrangements

Increasingly, arrangements within Treaty settlement negotiations are coming to include provisions for direct iwi or hapū management of certain key areas, including those of specific cultural significance. Alternative arrangements may include joint management protocols with the Department of Conservation, the regional council, or the territorial local authority. You will want to establish whether any arrangements of this type are in place in your community, and who to contact in relation to them, when making plans for your longer-term wastewater management.

Māori as land owners

The RMA requires considerable attention to be paid to the role of iwi/hapū and associated kaitiaki in environmental management. But there may be areas of land in your region under Māori ownership. You will want to ensure that the relevant landowners have the opportunity to become engaged with the process from the earliest possible point, including sufficient opportunity to become involved in the design of any wastewater management initiatives affecting their land, and that sufficient emphasis is given to any issues or concerns Māori may have with what is proposed. In this case you need to remember that there will be many individuals who have an ownership interest in that land, all of whom have a right to be involved in decisions about its future. 9

If the options you are exploring involve use of that land for wastewater management, or if the land may in some way be affected by your proposed options, then a good amount of time will need to be set aside for discussion.

Use of rāhui and tapu

It may be that one of the mechanisms your community uses to manage the risks associated with your wastewater system is to control people's use of beaches and streams that are near points of discharge. This is a tool often used by local authorities and by the Ministry of Fisheries. Māori also use the concept of rāhui to control access to a site where the resource is under stress. Tapu is used to restrict access where some serious spiritual disruption has occurred. Some communities have used a combination of rāhui and other restrictions. It may be worth exploring a joint approach.

Central government

Ministry of Health


  • sets and monitors national health standards
  • monitors and grades drinking-water quality
  • sets the policy framework for managing public health risks
  • funds community wastewater systems.

Risk concerns:

  • provision of safe, sanitary conditions (drinking water, wastewater treatment and discharge, solid waste management etc.) to all communities.


The Ministry of Health does not have a direct 'regulatory' role, whereby it can require communities to take a particular approach to wastewater management. It is responsible for setting overall standards and takes a major role in setting drinking-water standards and ensuring they are maintained. The Ministry takes an interest in the development of local wastewater systems because of their capacity to pollute water supplies and because of the risks of disease.

The drinking-water standards will have major importance for your community because of possible risks to drinking-water supplies from wastewater pollution. The most common is the seepage of effluent from septic tanks into groundwater when the soils cannot absorb the wastes.

The Ministry of Health has prepared guidelines to help communities identify the possible risks to their water supplies and the plans prepared to reduce that risk. The guidelines are called How to Prepare and Develop Public Health Plans for Drinking Water Supplies (2001). These guidelines, together with the Drinking-Water Standards for NZ 2000 and other material relating to drinking water, are available on the Ministry of Health's web site at:

Funding for wastewater systems for small communities

The Ministry's role in funding wastewater systems has been reactivated because of the actual and perceived public health risks from substandard wastewater systems in small communities. This funding role will mean that it is likely to be more directly involved in the process of choosing a wastewater system (if your community wishes to apply for the funding available). The subsidy scheme is discussed in detail in Section 11.

The Ministry of Health is participating in the whole-of-government initiatives (see 'The Whole of Government Programme', below) for certain parts of the country. This means that its approach to managing public health risks in communities that are vulnerable to other problems will be linked to issues of income, the affordability of the system in the long term, and housing design issues.

Public health service


  • provides public health services in the district, including administering the provisions of the Health Act 1956
  • carries out Ministry of Health policy for managing public health risks, including those related to drinking water and wastewater.

Risk concerns:

  • provision of safe, sanitary conditions (drinking water, wastewater treatment and discharge, solid waste management etc) to all communities.

Public health services employ medical officers of health and health protection officers, who are statutory officers with functions, powers and duties under the Health Act 1956. They work closely with the environmental health officers of the territorial authorities (city and district councils), who also have duties and functions under the Health Act.

Before 1990 these public health services were the district offices of the former Department of Health. Today most public health services are a part of the District Health Board for the area, although a number provide services for several health board districts (eg, Canterbury Health provides public health services for the Canterbury, South Canterbury and West Coast regions).

Most public health services can be found in the telephone book under 'Hospitals and Other Health Service Providers' at the front, just after the 'Registered Medical Practitioners' section. If you can't find your local public health service, ring the District Health Board or main public hospital, who will advise you on how to make contact.

The public health service role is guided largely by the public health priorities developed by the Ministry of Health.

Ministry for the Environment


  • sets and monitors national standards for managing environmental effects, including:
    • discharges to water (no national standards exist as yet)
    • discharges to land (no national standards exist as yet)
  • sets the national policy framework for:
    • sustainable management of natural resources, ecosystems, etc.
    • a national approach to wastewater management systems (see the New Zealand Waste Strategy)
  • monitors the implementation of the RMA, which is the main piece of legislation you will have to use to get permission to develop any wastewater management system
  • funds innovative community projects via the Sustainable Management Fund (this may be relevant if your community wishes to explore new systems or innovative processes).

Risk concerns:

  • protection of natural processes
  • risks arising from unbalanced, unsustainable general development.

The Ministry for the Environment is unlikely to take a direct role in the development of a wastewater system, but it is the key agency with an overview of decisions as they relate to the environment. The Ministry is also unlikely to fund actual wastewater treatment plants and systems, but may be prepared to fund the exploration of innovative ways of involving the community in waste management. This would be through the Sustainable Management Fund. Details about this fund can be found at the Community Environment Fund page.

The Ministry is taking a broader interest in sustainable development issues and will provide advice to the Minister of Internal Affairs. This is likely to lead to an even greater focus on sustainable development, and a greater interest in the links between the economy, social concerns and the environment. Given the huge impact of wastewater systems for a community, there is likely to be a greater focus on wastewater issues – both from an ecosystem perspective and in terms of community management and economic development issues.

Minister of Conservation


  • responsible for approval of activities within the Coastal Management Area.

Risk concerns:

  • impacts on the natural character of the coastal area and impacts on coastal ecosystems.

Department of Conservation


  • looks after the Department of Conservation estate – DoC's responsibility is to protect the natural systems, native habitat and wildlife
  • responsible for developing the National Coastal Policy Statement, which sets the framework for managing activities along the coast
  • can comment on the general environmental effects of actions affecting the DoC estate
  • may act as a funder of restoration projects for waterways – this may be a source of assistance for innovative ecosystem re-entry projects, such as wetlands.

Risk concerns:

  • loss of native vegetation, habitat and wildlife on the DoC estate
  • failure of ecosystem processes.

There is a good chance that the Department of Conservation will be directly involved in your processes. As a land owner it will have direct concern for the effects of any developments and discharges on its lands. The Department can be the owner of quite small areas and reserves that at first glance you might think belong to the local council. The best thing to do is to check with your local council or talk to the nearest conservancy office.

The Department of Conservation may also administer marine reserves in your area. You will need to check this, or check whether there is a proposed reserve. Standards for discharges into these areas may be different from those in other areas and could have a major impact on your options.

The Whole of Government Programme

The Government has set up a Whole of Government Initiative on Substandard Housing, concentrating on the North Cape, East Coast and Bay of Plenty areas. The aim is to improve the health and social wellbeing of people by sustainable programmes to improve their housing and economic and social welfare through a project organised and funded by Housing New Zealand, but involving a number of different ministries.

Ministry of Health involvement is through information sharing, subsidies for community sewerage schemes, and encouragement of those health professionals on the ground to identify and prioritise housing needs. The Ministry for the Environment is providing a supporting role.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is an independent Officer of Parliament appointed for a five-year term under the Environment Act 1986. 'Independent' means independent of the government of the day.

The Commissioner's job is to review and provide advice on environmental issues and the system of agencies and processes established by government to manage the environment. The primary objective of the office is to contribute to maintaining and improving the quality of the environment in New Zealand through advice given to Parliament, local councils, business, tangata whenua, communities and other public agencies.

The Commissioner has taken an interest in wastewater management issues, publishing Ageing Pipes and Murky Waters: Urban Water Issues for the 21st Century in June 2001. A local community may ask the Commissioner to investigate planning and consultation processes and issues in their area. This is an extreme approach, and should only be used if it is felt that there is no other way of working through the issues. The Commissioner will not become involved in finding solutions, but will review the overall thinking and processes.

Developers, individual land owners and interest groups

Most people will be concerned about what any general decisions will mean for their land and what they can do with it. It is important to remember that people who may be on low and fixed incomes will be concerned about the impacts of the decision on their income. People may also be concerned about the impact of any development decisions on their ability to release some of the value of their land as income later on.

These are legitimate concerns and will need to be considered and discussed as part of any exercise to explore the effects of wastewater decisions on the future of the community. At the same time, land owners will need to be willing to step outside their particular concerns and think about the big picture.

There may be developers who are keen to release some of the development potential of an area. Others will see the value of land being increased by allowing some development but limiting surrounding development. Often wastewater decisions will be key to their aspirations. They will certainly seek to be involved in the process.

This can be a positive thing, but will need to be managed. With the range of systems available, particularly cluster systems (see Part Three), it is possible to pull together solutions that satisfy a range of interests. Some developers may be prepared to use relatively new systems in order to achieve the developments they want.

There may be interest groups that will want to comment on your wastewater decisions. For example, environmental groups may have an interest in the impacts on the local estuary because it is of regional or national significance. Recreational fishing groups may also have a perspective.

It is very important that these groups are recognised as part of any processes, and that they do participate. It is also very important that they are made to participate in the process of discussion that will be needed to find a solution. Sustainable development means finding solutions that recognise social, environmental, economic and cultural linkages and working with them. This does not mean that environmental bottom lines and basic ecosystem needs should be compromised. It does mean there will be solutions that need to be worked through and tested from a range of points of view.

4.2 What kind of processes will your community have to deal with?

There are six kinds of relevant process:

  • identification of the problem and the need for different wastewater management procedures
  • an initial community-driven process to develop options and choices
  • a formal statutory process to establish the council's funding policy
  • a formal consent process to gain permission to construct the wastewater system
  • a formal process that manages any growth implications linked with the wastewater management decisions (not always needed)
  • various processes to apply for funding assistance from outside agencies.

The community process is discussed in Section 5. This section looks briefly at the formal processes.

Funding processes

As options are developed and tested they will need to be costed. Often the local district council will fund the development up front and recoup the costs through rates or charges. The Ministry of Health also provides funding for community-wide treatment systems for smaller communities. This recognises that the cost of new systems can often be beyond the ability of people to pay.

Local authority funding processes

The council must go through a formal process to look at the impact of any proposal on the wider community's long-term and annual costs. This process has four parts.

  1. Generally, a three-yearly process identifying the community's long-term vision. This can be a chance for the community to put forward its ideas. The passage of the Local Government Act during 2002 has created a focus on long-term community planning for a district. Local authority strategic and financial planning will be expected to fit in under this framework and link to the actions of other agencies. You will need to check the Local Government Act 2002 for details of this new approach. It provides a major opportunity for a community to discuss wastewater management.
  2. Generally, a three-yearly round of identifying the long-term costs to council of any proposal and including these in a financial strategy. It is then consulted on formally – usually in April–June of the relevant year (each council is a little different, but fits within this timeframe), just before the final decisions about annual spending are made. This will be linked to the idea of the community plan in the new local government legislation.
  3. Formal processes, following both three-yearly and annual cycles, to identify how different services are funded. This is very important because it will affect how the costs for a wastewater system are borne by the community. Choices for funding options are discussed in detail in section 11.
  4. An annual round to establish spending based on the Long Term Council Community Plans (LTCCP). The annual spending proposals are consulted on in the same April–June period. This is another chance to make sure the proposals are considered.

If there has been a joint process with council to identify the preferred option, then it will be automatically included in discussion of long-term overall financial costs. This makes it much easier than trying to get your solution absorbed into costs after a council has set its draft long-term budgets. It is a very powerful reason for working with your local council. Certainly for larger engineered options, this joint approach is essential.

If you have developed a proposal independently and if you want wider community help to fund it, then you can make submissions to the LTCCP and annual plan processes. This kind of approach is probably most appropriate if you are seeking such things as assistance to manage on-site systems.

Once a proposal has been agreed to, it will be included in the detailed asset management plans, which tell asset managers what to do over a 10–20-year period.

It is important to be familiar with these processes. There will be people in your local authorities who are there to help people get involved in these processes.

Relevant legislation

New Zealand does not have a particular piece of legislation that oversees the management of wastewater other than the Local Government Act 2002. The other main relevant pieces of legislation are the Resource Management Act 1991, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, and the Health Act 1956. For information on how this legislation impacts on wastewater management, see Appendix 2.

Getting consent for a proposal

There are two councils you will need to work with:

  • the regional council, which is responsible for consents regulating the effects of discharges on the environment (water, air and land)
  • the district or city council, which is responsible for managing the location and nature of activities and structures, and their effects on the environment and the surrounding community.

Where the scheme impacts on the coastal marine area, the consent of the Department of Conservation will also be required, but the regional councils usually run the process and administer the consent. If a wastewater system proposal has been developed with the district or city council, they are likely to take the proposal forward to apply for consent. Because the council is applying for the consent under the rules it has also developed, it must use a commissioner to hear and decide on a proposal. If the proposal is an on-site system, then individuals will apply. In either case, your community needs to be familiar with how the processes work.

Discharge consents (regional council)

Consent will be needed from the regional council for any discharge to land, water or air. This means that any treated wastewater and sludge re-entry system will require a regional council consent. The regional council will also be interested in the overall system if there is any risk of failures and overflows into water or onto land.

The issuing of consents will be guided by the regional policy statement and regional plans (eg, a regional freshwater plan).

Resource consent – location and effect of activities (district or city council)

The district council will need to issue a resource consent under the RMA for any physical system. For example, you may be proposing to locate a treatment plant in an area where such systems are not usually allowed. Special consent will be needed. The district council will be interested in the effect of the activity, but does not have the power to approve discharges into the environment.

The rules and guidelines for managing these effects are found in district plans. Some councils will have rules in their district plan that focus on the effect of an activity rather than on the kind of activity it is. Others may have lists of activities that will be allowed in some areas and not others, no matter what the case-by-case effect. If you need help to work your way through the detail of these requirements, your local council will have staff who can help.

There will be different kinds of processes you will need to go through, depending on the level of the effect and how far it departs from the usual standards. If your proposal is for some kind of community system, you more than likely will have to publicly notify your application so that people can comment.

This is where your earlier community process will be so important. If your community has run a good process, this is unlikely to be a major issue. Of course you may not have been able to get total agreement and it will be up to those hearing the application to consider all sides. Failure to get agreement does not mean a failed process if all people have had a chance to participate. The process has failed if people object to the proposal because they haven't had a chance to be involved.

If your proposal is for on-site systems, it is unlikely that you will have to publicly notify your application.

Subdivision consent

In some cases subdivision of land may be necessary. For example, a cluster treatment and associated re-entry system (see Part Three) may have an innovative site layout where houses are clustered on one or two sites. Subdivisional consent under the RMA is required, and is often obtained at the same time as the resource consent. Doing both together may allow for a more innovative approach to be negotiated.

Subdivision and resource consents are guided by the local district plan, which sets out general policies along with rules for controlling activities.

Discharge, resource and subdivision consents are given under the general authority of the RMA. Sections 5–8 set out the overarching framework within which the regional and district plans must be developed. The focus is on sustainable management of the environment and protection of a range of values. There is a requirement to have regard for the relationship of Māori with their lands, waters, wāhi tapu and other taonga, to give effect to the concept of kaitiakitanga and to take account of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Building consents

Building consent will be needed for any structures and for new plumbing systems that may be used to reduce wastewater production. The Building Act focuses on achieving certain standards rather than requiring a particular approach to building and wastewater systems.

A council often has a code of practice, which gives examples and basic requirements for subdivision and which, if followed, is intended to make it easier to get a consent. Be aware that some of these codes can be quite old and may not have examples of some of the more innovative approaches being used around the country. Check this out and discuss with council officers.

Council officers will be called in to advise on consents and, again, some will be very familiar with new ideas and some will not. Standards New Zealand, an organisation that develops guiding standards for a wide variety of issues, has developed guides for innovative approaches to subdivision, and these and other guides will be influential. It is important that the staff administering the consents are up to date with new ideas.

Environment Court

Any community or individual with a direct interest in the issue is free to challenge consent decisions. It is possible to obtain finance to pursue this course of action under certain circumstances. It is also possible for the Environment Court to determine that the costs of hearing and defending a frivolous or vexatious appeal could rest with the appellant, where they are considered to be an abuse of the system causing extra costs and delays for personal agenda reasons. These appeals are considered by the Environment Court, which deals with contentious issues and interpretation. It is possible to take an appeal on a point of law to the Appeal Court.

Dealing with the overall development framework

Your community may find that the overall vision for development and the associated wastewater management systems simply don't fit the current district plan policies and rules. Your local council has to review the district plan every 10 years, but many councils use a 'rolling review' process which timetables different sections for review over that period. If things are seriously out of kilter the council may undertake a one-off review.

There is also the ability to apply for a private plan change, but this can prove very expensive and time consuming. You are better off talking to council officers about the issues, and how the overall development control framework might be reviewed.

4.3 The kinds of issues each player will need to consider

There will probably be one particular issue that will start a community looking at its wastewater systems. The main ones are quickly outlined below. It is important to remember that different groups and agencies will cluster around the various areas, but in the end all the issues will need to be addressed. Each of the players set out earlier in this section will need to consider how their conclusions about the particular risks and issues they wish to manage affect other outcomes and the overall community vision.

Environmental issues

Ecosystems and ecosystem services

This has been covered previously in general terms (see Section 1). It will be an important factor in deciding on a solution. There may be tensions between managing health risks (often a centralised system is preferred) and managing the effects of single point discharges on the environment. There will be a range of groups interested in these issues – from environmental protection agencies such as regional councils, to hapū, to recreational fishing organisations. It will be important to make links with them all.

Other impacts

The specific effects of particular technologies and treatment processes will be an issue. Odour, impacts on groundwater and the water table, impacts on soils from disposal to land, slope and water run-off, and impacts on cultural sites and the landscape will all have to be taken into account. You will need to work with a wide range of groups and organisations, especially the local council and land-use planners.

Health impacts

Sometimes it will seem that in order to solve health problems, technical engineering solutions are unavoidable. For example, there will be the potential in your community to reduce health risks by reducing the volume of wastes. However, some of the water conservation solutions, such as re-use of 'greywater' (see Section 6.1) or composting toilets, can have their own health risks. Some agencies may support traditional solutions that can deal with large treatment volumes as the most proven way of dealing with human health risk.

Solutions to immediate environmental or health risks may, however, exacerbate health problems that arise from poor housing or diet because of the extra burden on income. These issues are increasingly recognised by central government agencies responsible for housing and health. Formal whole-of-government programmes are being developed to deal with these issues.

Cultural issues

These have been discussed at various points. There is a statutory requirement to pay particular attention to Māori cultural concerns and processes. But there is also a need to think carefully about other cultural values to resolve on-going conflict. These values might be expressed as a desire to keep the local beach settlement small, low-key and casual. This is not necessarily a simple 'anti-growth' sentiment that some might feel needs to become more sophisticated. It can also derive from a strong sense of place and a feeling that a community and its environment are unique. This is likely to be the case for smaller communities that are more closely attached to their local environment. These perspectives need to be acknowledged in discussions.

When you enter any formal resource consent stage, a formal assessment of environmental effects (AEE) of options will be needed. This is required under the RMA and has a number of considerations that have been shaped by case law. The range of effects that need to be assessed includes natural environment impacts and impacts on the people's social, cultural and built environment.

Cost, funding and social impacts

The cost of new systems – be they on-site or off-site – can be a problem for communities. There is now the benefit of the Ministry of Health grants to help poorer communities to make changes.

The issue of the cost of a wastewater system is an important one, 10 but often the immediate costs of buying the system are the focus rather than the long-term social impacts of the wastewater decision. It is important to remember that a wastewater system, even with grants assistance, can impose high long-term costs on people with low or fixed incomes. For example, the benefits of improved public health may be offset by health problems associated with poor housing because people cannot afford decent housing. This is a recognised issue in some of the more remote rural areas of New Zealand.

The whole-of-government initiative is a step towards central government agencies thinking about the links between decisions. It is important that all participants think about these issues. A more linked approach may lead to different funding decisions, or a new approach to managing the existing systems. It may even lead a community to a different choice about the type of system they want.

Choices about community change

This was discussed in some detail in Section 1. Underpinning any wastewater decision will be the impacts on the future direction of the community. These need to be thought about in an open and inclusive way.

Kauwhata Marae sewage treatment system: making the system fit your needs

The Kauwhata Marae is located on one hectare of land near Feilding in the North Island and serves the descendants of Kauwhata. The wastewater system was a 3,300-litre septic tank with the overflow going into a heavy clay stratum, which was not the best for soakage. An area of only 400 m2 was available for disposal. There was concern that the soakage was making its way into the nearby stream; about 30% of the disposal field was only 20 metres from the stream edge. The system also became overloaded when manuhiri were at the marae. Effluent would come to the surface and cause health and odour problems.

It was estimated that any system needed to be able to deal with about 12,000 litres per day. A marae working committee made up of marae trustees and marae committee members was set up. Over two years the committee worked with marae members and the engineer to explore options. The committee also took responsibility for consulting with adjoining land owners to gain their permission for the system chosen. This meant that the proposal could go through a non-notified rather than a notified consent process. There was a review of the site and its characteristics, and discussion of a range of options, each with potential costs. Marae members rejected any system that included disposal into the stream, and were clear that the wairua must be protected. A key step was to provide marae members with information about the different kinds of systems available and to show them the quality of the treated effluent that was possible.

The marae members chose a system that allowed them to store peak loads in three 25,000-litre septic tanks. A timer allowed the stored effluent to be treated at a constant rate by filtering the effluent over a sand bed, where micro-organisms broke it down. The treated effluent was then 'dosed' into the ground using trickle irrigation tubing at a rate of 3 mm per metre a day. The general system is known as a packed bed reactor, and overall the cost was about $25,000.

The marae was able to build a system which satisfied their fears about the impacts of paru (effluent) on the stream and mauri. They achieved it on a small site and were even able to have the disposal area within 10 metres of the stream. The system catered for manuhiri and for day-to-day needs. They ran the process, made sure that everyone had the information they needed to make a decision, and consulted directly with neighbours.

Figure 4.3 Where the responsibility lies...

This figure outlines where the responsibility lies for different parts of the wastewater system. A District Council, under the Building Act, is responsible for any structural and health issues to do with domestic water disposal, including roof water, and treatment plants. The District Council is also responsible for giving resource consents for wastewater disposal, including the location of treatment plants, pipes etc, and its effect on the natural environment and human amenity. The Regional Council is responsible for any discharged to land or water.


6 Te Puni Kōkiri. He Tirohanga o Kawa kit e Tiriti o Waitangi: A Guide to the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi as expressed by the Courts and the Waitangi Tribunal. Te Puni Kōkiri, Wellington, 2001. return

7 Ministry for the Environment. Taking into Account the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi: Ideas for the Implementation of Section 8 of the Resource Management Act 1991. Ministry for the Environment, Wellington, 1993. return

8 An iwi or hapū that has authority in an area by virtue of traditional occupation. return

9 Māori land means Māori customary or freehold land as defined in Part VI of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993. return

10 This is addressed in more detail in Section 11: Management and funding of wastewater systems. return