The processes for councils to develop a plan are set out in Schedule 1 of the RMA.

They are:

  • Standard plan-making process. The standard process includes opportunities for submissions, a hearing and rights of appeal.
  • Streamlined planning process. Councils can request permission from the Minister for the Environment to use this option, unless the plan deals with freshwater.
  • Freshwater planning process. If a regional council or unitary authority develops an regional policy statement (RPS) or regional plan that deals with freshwater, it must follow this process.

Standard plan-making process

This is the usual process for councils to make changes to their plans. The changes can be in the form of full, rolling or staged review, plan changes, or variations.

The standard pathway involves:

  • advertising the new or amended plan (called a proposed plan)
  • allowing people to have a say on it (making submissions and further submissions)
  • usually holding a public hearing
  • making a final decision on what the plan should say
  • allowing people to make appeals to the Environment Court.

Early stages

Public engagement

The council can begin reviewing its plan in different ways. It might hold workshops or drop-in sessions, and provide opportunities for the public to attend. If there is a difficult issue and many different and conflicting views, a council could set up a stakeholder group to help find some solutions.

Discussion papers

A council may also release a discussion paper for public comment. This sets out what they consider the key resource management issues for their area.

For example, the need for more housing, or problems with water quality in a catchment, or increasing air pollution and what might be the options for dealing with it.

Seeking comment on draft policies or plans

The council will collect feedback and use it to inform a whole new proposed RPS, RMA plan, plan change, or variation. In some cases, and especially for large amendments or new plans, a council might first release a draft RMA plan or RPS for comment before the formal process of submissions begins (see Notification).

In some cases, drafts may only be released for particular topics. Commenting on a draft is a chance to have your say in a more informal way about the council’s early thoughts, and influence what the council is looking to manage through their plan or plan change.


The RMA does not dictate how a council should complete these early planning stages. However, it does require formal consultation with the Minister for the Environment, other relevant Ministers, affected local authorities, tangata whenua through iwi authorities, and any customary marine title groups in the area. Iwi authorities must be sent a draft RMA plan, RPS, or plan change for comment before the public is invited to make submissions. In these initial stages, the council could also choose to consult any other individuals, including the public generally.

When preparing an RPS, RMA plan, or plan change, local authorities must take into account any relevant planning documents recognised by an iwi authority – for example, iwi management plans for the local area. These plans identify resource management issues important to tangata whenua, and are one way for councils to consider tangata whenua interests.

Seek advice

If you are having trouble understanding the proposed RPS, RMA plan, or plan change and how it might affect you, visit the council, or call them and ask for clarification. You can also seek advice from a planning consultant.

Get involved early

Your council’s website or other media avenues will state when it is reviewing or preparing a proposed RPS, RMA plan, or plan change, and the opportunities to find out more about these.

Councils often also have email lists for sending regular updates on RMA plans and RPS development. Use these opportunities to get familiar with the issues your council is dealing with, and look at the options they are considering. Council staff will be available to answer your questions and give you more information.


Usually, when the council has decided what should go into the RMA plan, RPS, or plan change or variation, it releases the proposal for public comment. This is called public notification. Less often, comments will be sought only from directly affected parties. This is called limited notification, and may be used for smaller scale proposals.

It will also release its section 32 evaluation report.

If the proposal is publicly notified, the council will usually put a notice in the newspaper summarising the proposed plan or plan change, and stating where you can get more information. Directly affected ratepayers will also generally receive notice.

Making a submission

Notification is the stage where people can make formal comments (called a submission) on a proposed plan or plan change.

More information


If submitters ask to be heard, the council must hold a hearing.

The council will advise all submitters of the date and time of the hearing. They will often issue a timetable, showing the day and time for people to speak to their submission.

If no submissions are received, or if no submitter has said they wish to be heard, a decision on the RPS, RMA plan, or plan change can be made without a hearing.

The decision process

The council must prepare a further section 32 evaluation report (section 32AA) on any changes proposed since notification, to assist with their decision on the proposed RPS, plan, plan change, or variation.

Public notification of decision

Whether or not there is a hearing, within two years of when it was notified, the council must publicly notify its decisions, or seek an extension from the Minister if they will not meet that timeframe. That decision must identify how the council has dealt with requests in submissions, and any changes since notification.

Keep an eye on the public notices and the council’s website for information.

If you made a submission

Submitters receive a copy of the public notice that decisions have been made, and where you can view a copy of these. The decisions will be available at the council offices, public libraries, and on the council website. That decision does not need to specifically address your submission, but it must address the matters you raised.

Deciding whether to appeal

If you do not agree with the council’s decisions about your submission, you may be able to appeal to the Environment Court. You can only make an appeal on a matter you raised in your submission. You cannot:

  • request a withdrawal of the entire RPS, plan, plan change, or variation
  • lodge an appeal against a plan as a whole.

The Environment Court will look again at the facts, and its decision is final unless there is a further appeal to the High Court on a point of law.

The public notice will also set out the time period for making an appeal, which is no less than 30 working days of when you were sent the public notice.

Streamlined planning process

A council might decide it wants to prepare an RMA plan or plan change using the streamlined planning process. In this case, it must request that the Minister for the Environment (or the Minister of Conservation, for a regional coastal plan) issues a direction to do this.

Criteria for the streamlined process

The proposed RMA plan or plan change must meet certain conditions, and the council’s application must address these. At least one of the following criteria must be met.

The proposal:

  • would implement national (government) direction
  • addresses an urgent matter, as a matter of public policy
  • is required to meet a significant community need
  • addresses an unintended consequence of an existing policy statement or plan
  • combines several policy statements or plans
  • needs to be prepared quickly for a similar reason.

Council request

A council can request a streamlined process at any time before it has decided to publicly notify or limited notify the proposed RPS, RMA plan or plan change. The council is not required to consult with the community about the request, although it may choose to.

The council records the request in their meeting minutes. They may also announce it on their website, but there is no requirement to do this.

Minister’s direction

Before issuing a direction, the Minister must consult on the process the council proposes. Consultation must be with the local authority, any relevant Ministers, and other individuals.

The direction sets out the steps and timeframes the council must follow, as well as a statement of expectations for the council.

You can download the direction from the council’s website. It may set out whether the proposed plan will be publicly notified (available for public comment) or limited notified, how long submissions will be open, and timeframes.

If the Minister decides not to issue a direction to use a streamlined planning process, then the council must follow the standard process instead.

Getting involved

Consultation and submissions

At a minimum, the streamlined process must include consultation with affected parties, the opportunity for written submissions and reports showing how submissions have been considered and evaluating the proposed plan. Unlike the normal process, there is no set requirement for further submissions or for a hearing, although the Minister may choose to direct these or other steps.

After the direction has been given and during the development of the proposed plan, the council must consult with the Minister for the Environment, other relevant Ministers and local authorities, affected parties, the tangata whenua through iwi authorities, and customary title owners. They may choose to consult with anyone else in the community.

The council may have already consulted before requesting a streamlined process.

Making a submission

You can make a submission if:

  • the proposed plan, policy statement, or change was publicly notified
  • you have been directly notified and the plan or change was limited notified.

Publicly notified proposals: The council must give you at least 40 working days to make a submission on a proposed policy statement or plan, and 20 working days for a plan change.

Limited notified proposals: The direction will specify if the council can limit notification of the proposed plan, policy statement, or change. Only directly affected parties will be notified and invited to make a submission. The same time limits for making a submission apply.

Further submissions

There is no requirement for further submissions in the streamlined process, but the Minister’s direction may provide for this, and specify a timeframe.


The direction may provide for a hearing. If you wish to speak at the hearing, have supporting evidence ready and be clear about your concerns and what changes you want the council to make (this is sometimes referred to as ‘the relief sought’).

Unlike the standard plan-making process, the streamlined process can allow cross-examination. This means that as well as answering questions from the hearing panel, the other submitters or their representatives may be allowed to question you.

Decisions on the proposed plan or change

Once the council has followed the Minister’s direction, it must submit the proposed planning instrument to the responsible Minister for approval.

If it is approved, the council will publicly notify the Ministers decision, and make the RPS, RMA plan, or plan change operative. It will send any submitter a copy of the public notice, letting them know where they can view the decision.

Appeals only on certain decisions

There are no rights of appeal, apart from decisions on heritage orders or designations in proposed district plans or plan changes by a requiring authority or heritage protection authority.

Freshwater planning process

The freshwater planning process is the only pathway that regional and unitary authorities can use for plans or RPS (including changes or variations) that relate to freshwater (also known as freshwater planning instruments). This process has different hearing and decision-making steps and appeal rights.

Anything that isn’t a freshwater-related matter must instead go through the standard or streamlined process.


Regional councils prepare their plan, policy statements, or changes as per the standard process. But there are some key differences at notification and before the hearing.

If the purpose of the plan or RPS (or change) is to give effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020, the regional council must publicly notify it by 31 December 2024. As part of the public notice, councils must state whether the plan or change is subject to the freshwater planning process, and if applicable, state with reasons which part will follow that process and which will follow the standard process.

From the date of public notification, councils have two years to make and publicly notify decisions, and can seek an extension of up to 12 months.

Getting involved


The submission process follows the standard pathway. Within six months of the close of submissions the council must submit all its planning documents (including its proposed freshwater plan, its section 32 report, and the submissions) to the Chief Freshwater Commissioner, who convenes a freshwater hearings panel. Their task is to hear and make recommendations to the council.

Freshwater hearings panels

Freshwater hearings panels hold the hearing of submissions on a plan. They have enhanced powers compared to standard hearings panels under the RMA. This is to ensure the proposed plan and submitter views are properly examined as there are limited appeal rights compared to the standard process.

The panels can also:

  • permit or prohibit cross-examination (and regulate the conduct of cross-examination)
  • enable pre-hearing meetings
  • direct a conference of experts
  • refer submitters to mediation and other dispute resolution
  • commission reports
  • appoint a special advisor
  • appoint a friend of the submitter.

The panel must provide written recommendations on the plan and submissions to the relevant regional council no later than 40 working days before the two-year period from notification expires. The panel must consider a range of different matters in making its recommendations to the council.

Council publicly notifies decisions

A regional council must decide whether to accept or reject each recommendation in the report. For each recommendation it rejects, the council must decide an alternative solution.

The regional council must publicly notify its decisions no later than 40 working days after receiving the panel’s recommendations. It must also notify the availability of the recommendations report at the same time.

Rights of appeal

Appeal rights are limited compared to the standard process. Avenues for appeal depend on whether the regional council accepts or rejects the panel’s recommendation.

If a council accepts the recommendation, an appeal is available to the High Court on a point of law, and a further appeal to the Court of Appeal (subject to leave being granted).

If a council rejects the recommendation, a merit appeal is available to the Environment Court, and a further appeal on a point of law to the High Court.

There is no ability to appeal to the Supreme Court.

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