COVID -19 - Effects on Local Authorities and RMA Processes
Updated: Apr 8
The Ministry for the Environment has published guidance on RMA processes during the COVID-19 lockdown in this FAQ sheet.
It confirms that continuing to deliver local government services, including RMA functions, is considered critical. Not only for the delivery of lifeline services and in response to threats to life and serious harm to the environment during the Level-4 lockdown but as part of the economic response to COVID-19 with a view to aiding recovery post-lockdown.
Overall, the message to local authorities from the Government may be summarised as being to carry on (where essential or possible) but take care and be reasonable.
How the apparent tension between keeping going and complying with statutory restrictions will work in practice is yet to be fully seen but feedback from Council’s themselves currently suggests that where matters can be delayed (as non-critical) that is occurring. This situation is likely to remain under review depending on the threat level we find ourselves in.
Specific things to note during the lockdown (from the FAQs):
Consent holders are still expected to comply with their consent conditions and environmental responsibilities when it is safe and permissible to do so;
Consent holders unable to fulfil consent requirements due to the lockdown should notify the relevant local authority to discuss their situation;
Local authorities, while focused on lifeline services and serious threats to life and the environment, are expected to innovate and continue working remotely;
Continued consenting, plan making and compliance services are seen as essential where they are required to:
Enable and/or support essential services; or
Address immediate health or life safety risks; or
Prevent serious environmental harm.
Compliance inspections may still be carried out where it is safe to do so and where the legal requirements for such inspections (such as presenting warrants and being conducted at reasonable times) can be satisfied. Consent authorities may seek to carry out contactless inspections or utilise drones or other technologies;
While discretion is likely to apply to issues of compliance, especially for essential services, normal enforcement tools (from warnings through to prosecution) remain available if they are needed. However, it is expected that local authorities will:
Factor in individual circumstances being faced during the lockdown and be reasonable;
Prioritise public health and safety issues;
Consider lower level enforcement options where possible and consistent with policy, and to reduce safety/contact issues;
Consider alternatives to inspections such as photos supplied by consent holders.
Monitoring tasks that may compromise health and safety or other lockdown/COVID-19 requirements will probably have to be suspended;
Resource consent processing should continue remotely;
The existing RMA tools for extending timeframes should be applied pragmatically, appropriately, and transparently. Consent authorities should communicate clearly with applicants and other parties;
Priority will be given to consenting for essential services;
The Ministry for the Environment is advising that the time period of the state of emergency and epidemic notice period may be excluded from calculations for the purpose of discounts from administrative charges policies;
Generally, applicable policies and procedures should be adjusted during the lockdown period;
Consent hearings, where necessary may still be held if it can be done remotely and in a way that remains appropriate, safe, and fair to all parties, including consideration of the following:
Hearings are public so the means of enabling the public to observe hearings need to be considered;
Will the technology available allow evidence and witnesses to be properly tested by the decision maker and allow necessary interaction between participants;
Is the technology equally available to all participants?
Consent applications can still be received electronically, subject to usual questions of sufficiency. In other words, applications will still need to be complete before they are accepted, though again some discretion may have to be applied for priority applications involving public health and safety.
If you have specific questions about your existing consent(s) or an application for consent you have applied for, or might wish to, Cavell Leitch’s RM Team can assist during or post-lockdown. We are working remotely and can be contacted in the usual ways. Take care and keep safe.