The RMA consent process
The RMA consent process provides a way for the council and local community to discuss the pro and cons of a proposal, to decide if it should be allowed to proceed and, if so, how its effects will be managed.
Wind farm developers need resource consent from the relevant district and regional councils to build a wind farm, as wind farming is typically considered a “discretionary activity”. The consent authority can exercise full discretion as to whether or not to grant consent for discretionary activities and as to what conditions to impose on the consent if granted. If consent is needed from more than one council, the councils will usually consider the application together.
After investigating a site, a developer will submit a resource consent application to the local council. This application will describe the project, its positive and negative impacts, and the mitigation measures the developer feels appropriate. Along with the application, the developer will usually submit assessments of environmental, construction, landscape, visual, traffic, noise, cultural and archaeological effects (usually called the Assessment of Environmental Effects).
The council will make application and supporting documents available to the public and seek public submissions on the proposal. When considering applications for resource consents, councils will typically focus on evaluating the actual and potential effects on the environment of allowing the activity outlined in the application.
There is a common misconception that a submission on a resource consent application is a submission against the proposal. While it is important to express any concerns you have about the proposal, it is equally important that the council hears from people who are happy for the proposal to proceed.
By making a submission you can ensure the council is aware of how you feel about the project.
Any person, organisation or company can make a submission on a resource consent application. There is no requirement that you be a resident in the area of the proposed development.
Council hearing and decision
Once the council has received submissions from the public and the council officers have prepared a report about the proposal, a resource consent hearing will be held.
At the hearing the applicant and submitters may speak in support of their submission. The hearing’s commissioners will consider all the submissions it receives, together with the application, and then make a decision about whether or not to grant the resource consent.
If the consent is approved, it will often have conditions attached to it such as the number of turbines that can be built or mitigation measures the developer must undertake.
Consent decisions can be appealed to the Environment Court. The applicant or any person who made a submission on the application can appeal the decision. The appeal must be lodged within 15 working days of receiving the decision. Environment Court Decisions can be appealed to the High Court only on a point of law.
To date, three wind farm proposals have been “called in” by the Minister for the Environment.
The Resource Management Act gives the Minister for the Environment the ability to call in a resource consent application and refer it to either a Board of Inquiry or the Environment Court. While a called in application is not heard through the local authorities’ normal consent process, you can still have your say by making a submission.
The procedures used by a Board of Inquiry and the Environment Court are similar; a hearing is held, submitters have an opportunity to be heard and cross examination may be permitted. The decision reached by a Board of Inquiry or the Court can be appealed only on a point of law to the High Court.