Assessment of Environmental Effects

Preparing an assessment of environmental effects (AEE) for a resource consent application is easy if you tackle it in steps.

Step 1: Identify the activities for which a resource consent is sought
What is it exactly that you intend to do? Which District Plan rule/s will your project breach? How will it affect the environment? You will need to think about your proposal and how it will change the site you intend to use or develop.

Step 2: Inspect and describe the site
Even if you already own and live on the site, you should take a fresh look at the area and think about its physical limitations and locality. For example, Is the site flat or sloping? Are there any significant trees or vegetation? Are there any unusual features? What is on the neighbouring properties? Is there access to Council services?

If you're not sure about items such as significant trees or council services, phone the council on resource@hdc.govt.nz or phone 06 871 5000 and we'll help you identify them.

Step 3: Talk to the Council's Environmental Planning team
Once you have done your homework, it is a good idea to talk to an Environmental Planner before submitting your resource consent application. Processing the application is generally simpler and quicker, and less costly, if you have already sought the Council's advice. It is a good idea to bring site photos with you to a pre-application meeting.

A pre-application meeting will assist with:

·        Confirming whether or not you actually need a resource consent

·        Identifying the type of resource consent required - either land use of subdivision

·        Explaining the resource consent process and what you have to do

·        Identifying what relevant information the Council holds which may assist you, where to obtain the correct application forms, on so on

·        Identifying the information you will need to provide with your application, for example, plan requirements.

·        Identifying any people likely to be affected by your proposed activity, and any consultation you are required to do.

·        Giving an indication about whether your application will be notified or non-notified.

·        Detailing the application fee required and an estimate of likely costs, if this is different from the application fee.

Step 4: Identify the environmental effects
Consider the site of your proposal and its locality, and understand the environmental issues that would result from your activity. AEEs should anticipate what could be considered unexpected situations.

Once you have identified the actual and potential effects, you should consider how significant they are likely to be. What might happen? What could be the scale, intensity, duration and frequency of the effects?

For example, an extension to an existing building might result in the following effects:

·        Temporary effects while the extension is being built, such as dust, noise and fewer parking spaces.

·        Permanent effects such as loss of privacy, shading, visual effects, changes to stormwater, changes to the shape of your site with changes to overland flow, and the loss of significant trees.

·        Cumulative effects such as a change in street character and loss of urban vegetation.

Step 5: Re-evaluate your proposal
Using all of the information that you've gathered for the AEE, take a fresh look at your proposal and see if you need to change anything. You might decide that some environmental effects of your activity would be significant and that you should change your proposal to avoid or fix (remedy) them, or to reduce their effect (mitigate). There might be alternative ways, with less-significant environmental effects, that would achieve the same goals.

'Avoid', 'remedy' and 'mitigate' are terms used in the Resource Management Act. Each represents a different way of addressing an adverse effect so that it is acceptable. For example, regarding an adverse visual effect of a quarry:

·        You would avoid the visual effect if you did not quarry or if the quarry was located out of sight

·        You would remedy the visual effect if you filled in the hole

·        You would mitigate the visual effect if you planted trees around the hole

All three actions might address the adverse effect, but all three outcomes might not be acceptable to the community. It is the purpose of the AEE to work out whether or not an effect needs to be addressed, and if so, the best way to do this.

Re-evaluating your proposed activity can result in a 'win-win' situation, with a better proposal design and better environmental outcomes.

Step 6: Finalising the AEE
The greater the scale and significance of the effects that your activity might have on the environment, the more information you will need to provide in your AEE.

You need to include enough information in your AEE so that Council can properly evaluate your proposal. Some proposals will require more detail and analysis than others. For example, adding a carport onto the side of a house is likely to require much less information and detail than a multi-storey development in an area that is valued for its natural attributes.

You should also check the fourth schedule of the Resource Management Act 1991 . This schedule is a guide to what should be considered when preparing an AEE.

For more complex applications, you might need to get specialist advice. There are a number of professionals who assist in preparing AEEs, such as engineers and resource management consultants. Council's Environmental Planning team can tell you if you need specialist advice and what type of professional would be best to help.