District and regional plans are one of the most important aspects of the RMA. The RMA says that councils have to prepare plans to help them manage the environment in their area, and perform their roles.

These plans tell you what you can or cannot do, and if you might need specific permission to use a resource.

The table below shows the different types of council, their plans/statements and the resources they manage.

Authority Council RMA plan Resources managed
Territorial City, district District plan Land use, subdivision

Regional policy statement


Regional plan [1]

Coast, air, water, land
Unitary Regional and territorial authority

All of the above


Some integrate into ‘unitary’ plans, or have as separate documents

Coast, air, water, land


Land use, subdivision

[1] Regional RMA planning documents that relate to freshwater are also known as “freshwater planning instruments”.

New Zealand has 11 regional councils, 61 city or district councils, and six unitary councils.

Sometimes national environmental standards override the plan rules, to provide a consistent set of rules across all councils. See Understanding national direction.

Types of plan

Councils prepare regional policy statements and plans to help them carry out their functions, and meet their responsibilities under the RMA.

Plans also include policies, rules and other methods to achieve the objectives. Regional and district plans will set out what activities can be done in an area, and what activities will need a resource consent.

  • Regional policy statements (RPSs) set the direction for integrated environmental management in a region. Each RPS has objectives, telling you what the council is trying to achieve in managing the resources of the region or district.
  • Regional plans address resource issues in the environment, like the coast, soil, water or the air. Regional councils have a role in managing land where it affects water quality and quantity, soil conservation, and natural hazards. Most of them have regional plans to control air pollution, discharges into waterways, or the taking of water. They set out how to manage discharges or activities involving these resources, to stop degradation or pollution. Some councils produce combined regional plans. For example, a combined land and water plan may better manage the activities on land that affect water.
  • District plans concern the use and development of land, including managing subdivision, noise, natural hazards, and contaminated land. They set out the policies and rules a council will use to manage the use of land in its area and minimise any adverse effects. This includes the location and height of buildings for example.
  • When central government wants to direct local councils on environmental issues, it can issue national policy statements, set national environmental standards, or pass regulations. To find more about this, see Understanding national direction.

By looking at these plans you can find out if you need a resource consent for an activity you want to do.

How often do plans change, and who can apply for changes?

The regional council must review every provision (objective, policy, rule or other method) of its RPS or plan every 10 years. Some councils review their entire plan (known as a full review). Others tackle sections at a time (a rolling or staged review).

Councils can also change their plan at other times if needed. A national policy statement or national planning standard may require a change in an RPS or plan within a certain timeframe.

Any person, group or organisation can request:

  • the preparation of a regional plan (other than a regional coastal plan)
  • a change to any provision in a regional or district plan if the provision has been operative (legally part of the plan) for at least 2 years. This is known as a private plan change.

A plan variation is when a council changes a plan that is still in the ‘proposed stage’ and has yet to be finalised. A fully operative RPS or plan has been through the entire plan-making process (including decisions on any appeals) and the council has resolved that this is now the final legal plan.

An RPS or plan may include any relevant provisions required by a national policy statement, a national environmental standard, or a national planning standard.

When considering a change to an RPS or plan, councils must report on the costs and benefits (including the economic implications) of what they propose. This is known as a section 32 evaluation report.

Why get involved in shaping a plan?

Generally, when a council reviews and revises its RPS or plan, it must invite the public to have a say on its proposed changes. Even if the council thinks the plan does not need changing, it must ask for the public’s views.

Have your say

If you are interested in:

  • how your environment is looked after
  • what you want your surroundings, town, or city to look like
  • how you want it to be used

you should consider having a say on how the council manages these matters in its regional policy statement or plans.

Get involved early

Proposed RPSs or plans are the critical stage to get involved, as they will set out the long- term goals for the environment, policy direction, and what rules will apply.

Plans also set out which activities are permitted, which will require resource consent, and whether the public or potentially affected people or landowners can have a say on particular types of resource consent applications.

So to influence the decisions on whether consents are required for particular activities, and how decisions may be made, you should first get involved in developing the plan.

Opportunities to have a say

  • During most RPS and plan reviews, changes or variation processes, the council will invite any person to have a say through informal consultation; and later by making formal submissions on proposals.
  • In very limited circumstances, where the council can identify the individuals, groups or organisations they consider will be directly affected by the plan change, they can ‘limited notify’ the change. In this scenario, only people who are directly notified can make a submission or appeal on the plan change or variation.
  • Once an RMA plan is operative, except in a small number of cases, the council would have to consider you to be directly affected by a proposal before you can have a say on a resource consent. Even so, this is only if the adverse effects on you are “minor” or “more than minor”.

This is why the most effective way to influence what happens in your area, is to be involved in the planning stage.

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