Site Use

Considering how a building and site impact on each other, enhancing energy efficiency, comfort and convenience.

Resource Management Act (RMA)

The Resource Management Act (RMA) provides a framework for regional, city/district and unitary councils to manage the land and environment under their jurisdiction.

Councils are required to produce Regional or District Plans for the management of air, water, land and sea and define the activities that may or may not be carried out as of right.

Under the Act, activities that are considered to adversely affect the environment, and therefore may not be carried out as of right, require resource consent. There are five different types of resource consent that are issued by different consent authorities:

Type of consent Consenting authority responsible
Land use consent Regional, city or district council
Subdivision consent City or district council
Coastal permit Regional council
Water permit Regional council
Discharge permit Regional council

Review of the RMA

The Resource Management Review Panel was set up in 2019 to undertake a comprehensive review of the Resource Management Act (RMA) and other significant legislation in this area. In November 2019 the panel released an issues and options paper, Transforming the resource management system: OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHANGE.

The review recognises that the RMA has not achieved good outcomes for urban areas or the built environment and that the positive benefits of housing, infrastructure and other development have not been acknowledged.

Issues and options raised include keeping the RMA as an single law with enhanced principles for land use and environmental management, or splitting it into two separate laws for environmental management and land use planning. Developing a separate statement of principles for the built environment is also raised as an option.

To contribute to the national discussion, in December 2019 the Environmental Defence Society, supported by a number of industry bodies, published Reform of the Resource Management System: A model for the future Synthesis report.

Changes to the RMA in 2017

Significant changes were made to the Resource Management Act in 2017.

Among the changes:

  • The RMA requires councils to treat boundary activities as permitted if written approval is given by the relevant neighbour(s), and certain information is supplied to the council. Examples of include “boundary activities” include yard setbacks, recession planes/height planes) or fence rules where these relate to the boundary.
  • Councils have discretion to exempt activities from needing a resource consent for “marginal or temporary” rule breaches if certain criteria are met, such as any adverse effects of the activity on a person being “less than minor”.
  • There is a fast-track process for resource consent applications that are district land use activities with controlled activity status, if an electronic address for service has been provided. Fast-track applications must be processed in 10 working days. Previously, all non-notified resource consent applications were subject to the same 20-working-day process, regardless of how simple the proposal was.
  • There is a step-by-step process to determine whether to notify resource consent applications.
  • Regulations may preclude notification of certain activities, or limit who may be considered ‘affected’.
  • Decision makers on resource consents or notices of requirement must have regard to any measures proposed to achieve positive effects on the environment, to offset or compensate for any adverse effects.
  • RMA public notices must be clear and concise, and available on publicly accessible websites.
  • Subdivision of land is permitted unless it contravenes a rule in a NES or district plan.
  • Councils have functions to ensure that there is sufficient residential and business development capacity to meet expected demand.

National Environmental Standards

Under the RMA, the Minister for the Environment can prepare national environmental standards (NES).

These standards are set so everyone in New Zealand has clear air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean land to live on. The standards are regulations and every regional, city or district council must give effect to them. Failing to comply with an NES may result in the council taking enforcement action against the person or body responsible (such as a landowner or developer).

Local authorities cannot grant resource consents that would breach the standards and cannot impose stricter requirements through rules or resource consents unless the NES says they may. New standards do not affect existing resource consents or existing use rights.

There are currently five NESs in force as regulations:

  • Air quality
  • Sources of human drinking water
  • Telecommunications facilities
  • Electricity transmission
  • Assessing and managing contaminants in soil to protect human health.

The air quality NES (in relation to wood burners) and the soil contaminants NES (in relation to subdividing or changing land use) may be relevant to resource consents for building projects.


Updated: 08 June 2020