The consultative process
For most policy and plan documents the level of legal effect they have changes as they move through the consultative process. For example, provisions in ‘proposed plans’ have legal status when considering resource consent applications. The degree of weight given to those provisions varies depends on how far through the formal submission process the relevant plan is and whether or not that provision has been opposed in submissions or appeals.
This page tells you more about the consultation and different stages our policy and plan documents can go through. The legal status of the provisions within these documents increases as they move from the initial discussion stage to the operative stage.
Discussion documents (sometimes also called issues and options documents) set out the background to an issue and discuss options for how council might deal with the issue. They are generally used as a tool in the consultative process to generate public discussion and feedback. These documents have no legal effect and any submission process for these documents is informal.
Draft documents generally have no legal effect, although they may be taken into account in resource consents or when making funding decisions. They are generally used as a tool in the consultative process to show people what could be in the proposed document and give people something more specific to respond to. Any submission process for these documents is informal.
Proposed documents are prepared under the Resource Management Act, and are formally advertised or publicly notified. When documents are notified people are invited to make a written submission on the document. Submissions have formal legal status in plan preparation processes. Submissions can either support what is in the document or oppose it and ask council to change the document. Council then holds hearings and makes decisions on each of the submissions and the changes that have been asked for. A proposed document moves through the following phases:
- Notified – submissions called for but not yet considered by council.
- Decisions – council makes decisions on the submissions, which may change the notified document. For documents prepared under the Resource Management Act and the Biosecurity Act, people who made submissions may appeal the decisions that council has made if they think council has got it wrong.
- Appeals – council's decisions have been appealed to the Environment Court. The Environment Court is responsible for determining whether or not council has made a right decision. The court may direct the council to negotiate with those people who have appealed the decisions to try to reach a resolution before going to another hearing. From time to time, the Environment Court will order council to change the plan as appeals are resolved. If there are no appeals made on parts of the document then these parts are considered to be beyond challenge and become effectively ‘operative’.
Operativedocuments are documents that have been completed. This means there is no more opportunity for council or the public to make changes to the document, until it is notified and the whole process gone through again. Council must resolve to make plans/documents "operative". Resource Management Act Plans must be reviewed every 10 years. Most other plans must be reviewed every three or five years.
To make changes to notified documents council can notify a variation to a proposed plan or a change to an operative plan prepared under the Resource Management Act. This happens when the council thinks that certain parts of the plans need changing or adding to, maybe to deal with a new issue that has come up. These go through the same consultation process as described above.
The Ministry for the Environment oversees the implementation of the Resource Management Act. For more information about policy formation under the Act you can check out the Ministry's website.
Waikato Regional Council also carries out consultation activities required under the Local Government Act 2002.
For example, Waikato Regional Council is committed to ensuring that effective consultation is undertaken with members of the regional community. Our 'WISE Consultation Strategy' promotes opportunities for participation in general decision-making processes by encouraging the most effective and efficient ways of consulting. This strategy closely follows the decision-making and consultation principles of the Local Government Act 2002. A copy of the strategy can be downloaded in PDF format from our Local Governance Statement.
The Local Government Act also describes a 'Special Consultative Procedure' - a statutory minimum procedure that local authorities must follow when making particular decisions. This procedure must be used, for example, for the adoption of a Long-Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP). The steps involved include:
- preparation of a Statement of Proposal and a Summary
- public consultation including consideration of written and oral submissions
- deliberation in an open meeting of the council.
The Department of Internal Affairs oversees the implementation of the Local Government Act. For more information on decision-making and consultation processes and getting involved with your council, check out their website.