The RMA allows you to participate in decisions that affect you. However, if you are unhappy with a decision made under the RMA, there are several actions you can take and agencies you can approach for help.
If you’ve seen something happening that you think is bad for the environment – such as someone burning harmful waste or cutting down a stand of native trees – then you should first approach the person who’s actually doing it, if you are comfortable with doing that. They might have approval from the council or have some other explanation. However, if you’re not happy with their answer or not comfortable approaching them, you should contact your local council.
If you think something has been done or is about to be done that will affect your property or the environment, or you disagree with the way your council is handling a resource issue in your area, get in touch with the council.
District and city councils are generally responsible for making decisions about:
- the effects of land use
- the effects of activities on the surface of rivers and lakes
Regional councils are generally responsible for making decisions about:
- discharges of contaminants to land, air or water
- water quality and quantity
- the coastal marine area
- soil conservation
- land use to avoid natural hazards.
People must undertake their activities in accordance with the RMA, and any rules in a national environmental standard, regulation or resource consent. If a council has received a complaint or has been checking and thinks someone is not obeying these rules, they can make someone comply by taking enforcement action.
If you have made a complaint and you are not happy with how council staff or management have addressed your concern, you can take the matter up with the chief executive officer or an elected representative (councillor or community board member).
For details about your local council, visit:
If you have tried to resolve your concern with the council, but are not satisfied, there are other people, organisations or agencies you can approach. Each has a different role and responsibilities, which are set out here.
Local RMA advice
Agencies in your local community who can give advice include:
Check your community directory or the Yellow Pages for contact details.
The Environment Court
This is the main judicial decision-making body under the RMA. It hears appeals from people who disagree with decisions made by local councils under the RMA. The court can uphold a council’s decision, or it can overturn it. You can ask the court to overturn any council decision to do with a plan or resource consent application – but only if you have already made a submission, you fit the criteria, or you have become a party to an appeal started by another submitter.
To join as a party you have to have an interest greater than the public generally and not be raising trade competition matters.
The court will expect all parties to try to resolve the matter first through mediation, or at least narrow down the matters in dispute through this process. If the matter is resolved through mediation, a consent order will be signed setting out the agreed decision – this avoids a court hearing. You should get legal advice before you file an appeal.
There are other circumstances where you may want to pursue a matter in the Environment Court:
- You can apply to the court for an enforcement order to stop someone doing something that may be affecting the environment. Enforcement orders work best for ongoing rather than urgent problems. The court can quickly issue an interim enforcement order so the environment is protected while it considers a full enforcement order.
- You can lodge an appeal if you disagree with an abatement notice that a council has sent you.
- You can apply for a declaration to seek clarification on uncertainties in the interpretation of the RMA, or inconsistency between documents under the RMA. Your lawyer can advise you on whether this is necessary.
The District and High Court
If you disagree with a decision from the Environment Court or district court, you can appeal to the High Court. The appeal can only be on points of law. You cannot ask for a re-hearing of everything heard by the Environment Court when it made its decision.
District courts deal with RMA prosecutions. Councils or individuals can prosecute parties who fail to comply with the RMA, for example by discharging contaminants illegally. The District Court can award fines of up to $300,000 or up to two years in prison to individuals, or $600,000 to companies who are found guilty.
The district court also deals with unpaid or challenged infringement notices.
Office of the Ombudsman
The Office of the Ombudsman is independent of any other government agency and reports to Parliament. It investigates complaints about processes run by central, regional and local government organisations or agencies. It can look into any decision made by a government agency that affects an individual personally. It also decides whether a Minister of the Crown, or central, local or regional government, should have to release information that someone has asked for.
The office doesn’t investigate decisions made by Ministers of the Crown or local bodies as a whole, although it can look into any advice they have been given. The office can’t investigate matters that are subject to legal action, such as appeals before the Environment Court.
The Office of the Ombudsman will usually investigate a complaint only after you’ve tried to resolve it with the organisation concerned. It will look at whether the matter you are concerned about:
- appears to have been contrary to law
- was unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory
- was in accordance with a rule of law or a practice that is or may be unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory
- was based on a mistake of law or fact
- was wrong.
The Office of the Ombudsman usually resolves issues informally. But if it believes someone’s complaint is well founded, it can recommend a local council puts things right. Local councils don’t have to accept these recommendations, but usually do.
Office of the Controller and Auditor-General
The Office of the Controller and Auditor-General (the office) is independent of any other government agency and reports to Parliament. It ensures government departments and ministries, state-owned enterprises, local councils and other public bodies are doing their jobs properly and according to the laws they work under.
The office can investigate how local councils spend public money. This includes keeping an eye on how they apply the RMA in their areas, and their processes and procedures. It cannot investigate local council policies.
The Office of the Controller and Auditor-General will sometimes follow up inquiries from members of the public about how a public body has used its resources. As well as financial issues, this includes accountability, performance, governance and behaviour. For example, it can investigate how a council has delegated its decision-making powers (as allowed under the RMA) to council officers. The office may report to Parliament or any other person following an investigation. While the office can make recommendations, it can’t compel organisations to accept them.
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (the commissioner) is also independent of other government agencies and reports to Parliament. The commissioner’s primary objective is to contribute to maintaining and improving the quality of the environment in New Zealand. This is achieved through giving information and advice to Parliament, councils, businesses, tangata whenua, communities and other public agencies.
You can contact the commissioner if you have a complaint or are concerned about how a council or other body is managing the environment or their planning processes. The commissioner may provide advice or decide to investigate your concerns in more detail, depending on their significance and on the commissioner’s current strategic direction.
The commissioner can investigate and report on any matter where the environment may be, or has been, adversely affected. The commissioner has wide powers to obtain information and protect the confidentiality of information where appropriate. The commissioner can report findings and make recommendations, but cannot make binding rulings or reverse decisions made by public authorities.
Minister and Ministry for the Environment
The Ministry for the Environment advises the Government on the environment and anything that might affect it. It is responsible for administering the RMA, drawing up environmental guidelines, developing national policy statements and national environmental standards, and working on any environmental problems that can’t be fixed locally.
The Ministry helps the Minister for the Environment carry out their statutory powers under the RMA.
While the Ministry can, on behalf of the Minister, look into complaints on local issues and discuss the matter with the council, it can’t reverse local council decisions or handle objections.
Minister and Department of Conservation
Under the RMA, the Minister of Conservation has particular responsibilities for the coastal environment. These include preparing and adopting the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, approving regional coastal plans, and monitoring relevant permits and plans. The Department of Conservation, in its role as a conservation advocate, can also take part in proceedings under the RMA.
You can contact the Minister of Conservation if you disagree with the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement or how the regional coastal plan or coastal permits are administered in your area.
Resolving RMA concerns
© Ministry for the Environment