Environmental / Resource Management

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics - The RMA in Numbers

Thanks to the Ministry for the Environment there is a report every two years on the manner in which local authorities implement the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). The report for the period 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011 is now available - click here.

It comes up with the sort of figures that would be useful to have to hand when the question of the effectiveness of the Act and the efficiency of local authorities is brought up. Wherever you sit on the spectrum of opinion on that matter, those figures are interesting.

Apart from the fact that the total number of consent applications processed to a decision is declining - from around 58,000 in 1997/98 to 36,154 in 2010/11 - it is fascinating to learn that only 0.56% of those applications were declined in the survey period.

Some other interesting statistics:

  • 95% of resource consents were processed on time
  • 91% of decisions on consents were made by officers under delegated authority
  • 4% of consent applications were publicly notified
  • 2% of consent applications were subject to limited notification
  • 68% of consents that required monitoring were monitored
  • average consent charges range from $832 for a non-notified land use consent to $19,499 for a notified land use consent from a territorial local authority.

What do these selective statistics tell us? Not a lot in some respects. It does not matter that 95% of resource consent applications are processed on time if you have one of the 5% that are not. And why would you care that 99.44% of applications are granted if yours is one of the 0.56% that are declined?

We are no closer to learning whether the decisions made are good ones, or whether the process represents good value for money. And since the report tells us only 1% of consent decisions were appealed, we are unlikely to find out.

What the report does do is establish trends over time, and to some extent the effect of amendments to the RMA such as the enactment of the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009. For example it may be significant that since the last report in 2007/08 the percentage of applications processed on time has increased from 79% to 95%. It may be equally significant, in terms of where resources are being put, that the percentage of consents that require monitoring that are actually monitored dropped from 79% to 68%.

We should not lose sight of the fact that the report also coincides with the period in which the effects of the global economic crisis have been felt. Put simply, local authorities have had less to do and the opportunity to improve response times and other performance indicators.

Also coinciding with the report, Environment Minister Nick Smith has announced a formal review of sections 6 & 7 of the Resource Management Act to address the detail of how to give greater weight to natural hazard risks. Dr Smith is commissioning an independent technical advisory group headed by Auckland barrister Alan Dormer that will report back to the Government by March. The review of the RMA is on-going, and it has yet to be seen whether it will lead to a regime considered by the Act's detractors to be more conducive to development.

Make of it what you will, information is power, and this report contains information that will be grist to the mill of future RMA reforms and reviews.

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The contents of this publication are general in nature and are not intended to serve as a substitute for legal advice on a specific matter. In the absence of such advice no responsibility is accepted by Brookfields for reliance on any of the information provided in this publication.


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