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But that’s the way we have always done it!

By Anna Bensemann, Senior Planner Baseline Group | Nov 22, 2021

Just because you have always been allowed to do something does not mean you will not need a resource consent for that activity in the future. Activities to the use of the coastal environment, a discharge to land, air or water, a water take for irrigation, or the use of the bed of a river may require a future consent if a Regional or Unitary Council change the rules.

Rules change because every ten years councils are required to review their regional plans that manage these activities. In the process of revising these plans a Regional or Unitary Council may identify an environmental effect that requires new rules to manage.

If the result of the review process determines a new rule is to be imposed, which may remove the permitted activity status from the activity, people who carry out the activity have six months to seek a resource consent. This time frame applies only from the date the rule becomes operative in the plan and is set out in section 20A of the RMA.

Some rules have legal effect from the date the council notifies them for public submissions, but if you have been operating legally under old permitted rules, you can continue to operate until the rule becomes operative. Only once operative does the six-month time fame to seek a resource consent apply.

Through the resource consents process Council may require you to change the way you carry out the activity. Using the example of a septic tank system, they may require you upgrade the tank or the disposal field to meet current design standards for onsite wastewater disposal. For a water take they may require that you meter how much water you are taking and provide the results to ensure you are complying with your allocated volume of water.

Resource consents for these activities are also subject to a duration, meaning they expire within a certain timeframe. The longest this timeframe can be is 35 years, however often this time frame is reduced. In the example of a septic tank system, many modern systems are only guaranteed for 15 years. At that point council requires you to renew your consent so an investigation to ensure it is functioning correctly can be undertaken.

Section 20A of the RMA does not apply to land use activities or buildings which are established before a rule change comes into effect, and these activities have existing use rights under another part of the RMA.

Because you have always been allowed to carry out an activity, does not mean it is ok to continue, at least not without some consideration of the way the activity is carried out, and what best practice methods are available to achieve a better environmental outcome. When your council notifies a plan review or change make sure you check how a rule change might affect you to be sure you can carry out the activity the way you have always lawfully done.

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