Boards of inquiry

If the Minister for the Environment decides a proposal submitted for resource consent is nationally significant, it is referred to a board of inquiry. A board is appointed, and they have nine months to consider the proposal and make a decision.

The board runs its own process. It considers all submissions, holds a hearing (unless no-one wants to be heard), and makes a final decision on the matter, independently from the EPA and the Minister.

We provide administrative support services to all boards of inquiry. This ranges from organising the logistics of the hearing, to commissioning specialist advice to assist the board.

How the board is selected

The Minister for the Environment selects a board for a land-based proposal. The Minister of Conservation selects a board for a coastal proposal. The Ministers work together to select a board when a proposal contains both land and coastal matters. 

The Minister selects the board using this process.

We contact possible board members on behalf of the Minister to see if they are interested and available to serve on a board. They are asked if they have a conflict of interest about the proposal.

We contact possible chairpersons for the board in consultation with the Principal Environment Judge and the Chief Justice.

The EPA sends options for the chair and members of the board to the Minister for a decision.

We request the local council to make suggestions for potential board members on behalf of the Minister.

The Minister appoints the board of inquiry through the Appointment and Honours Committee process. 

Members of a board of inquiry

Boards of inquiry are independent, and must have between three and five members. A board can be chaired (but need not be) by either a retired High Court Judge, or a current, former or retired Environment Court Judge.  The other board members are selected based on their:

  • local knowledge of the community
  • understanding of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA)
  • expertise relevant to the proposal
  • knowledge of tikanga Māori.

How the board makes its decision

The board considers:

  • the application documents
  • the reasons the Minister chose a board of inquiry to consider the proposal
  • all submissions received on the proposal
  • information provided by the council
  • expert evidence
  • all evidence and views presented at a hearing. 

The board may also visit the area relating to the proposal. 

The board then makes its decision taking into account the relevant parts of the RMA.

The decision-making process and timeline

A board must consider an application, hold hearings, consider the matter and make a decision within nine months. The Minister does have power to extend this timeframe under RMA in special circumstances.

A flowchart showing the process a board of inquiry takes to decide whether to grant resource consent for a proposal of national significance.

Read the diagram text

Attending a a board of enquiry hearing

The board will ask submitters in advance of the hearing if they wish to appear in front of the board at the hearing to expand on key points of their submission. Submitters can do this themselves, or have someone speak for them. They can also get together with other submitters who hold similar views.

The board may ask questions of submitters and may allow cross-examination of those submitters. This will be set in the hearing procedures.

A submitter can bring their own witnesses to the hearing. A witness may be an independent expert in a technical area, for example, a planner who can interpret a plan.

The length of a hearing depends on various factors, including the number of speakers. 

What to expect at a hearing

Making a decision

After the hearing, the board makes a decision and drafts its report. The decision is made independently of the EPA, the Minister, or anyone else.

The decision is sent out to the applicant and all submitters, and published online. 

Appealing board decisions

Board of inquiry decisions can only be appealed to the High Court on points of law.

There is no general right of appeal against the board's overall decision to approve or decline the proposal. It is only where the board's process or decision is legally deficient that it may be appealed.