Proposals of national significance

Big infrastructure plans or public works, such as major new roads and wind farms, are examples of projects that may be proposals of national significance.

We manage the decision-making process for proposals of national significance under part 6AA of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

Proposals of national significance may include:

  • applications for resource consent
  • preparation of a regional plan (other than a regional coastal plan)
  • a change to a district or regional plan
  • an application for a change to or cancellation of conditions of a resource consent
  • a notice of a requirement for a designation or to alter a designation
  • a notice of requirement for a heritage order or to alter a heritage order.

The Minister for the Environment (or Minister of Conservation for proposals in the coastal marine area) must decide whether it is a proposal of national significance and, if it is, they refer it to a board of inquiry or the Environment Court for decision.

Applying directly to the EPA Plus

In most cases, you can apply to us for the above, instead of using the usual council decision-making process.

We assesses the proposal for completeness, provide a recommendation to the Minister about whether it is a proposal of national significance, and advise whether the matter should be referred to a board of inquiry or to the Environment Court.

We then send the application to the Minister who must decide whether your application is a proposal of national significance.

If the Minister does not agree that it is a proposal of national significance, we send your application to the relevant council to deal with it in the usual manner.

Make an application

Applying to the EPA for a proposal of national significance (PDF, 255KB)

Process for new plans and plan changes Plus

You can apply to us with a request for the preparation of a regional plan (other than a regional coastal plan) or a request for a change to a regional or district plan.

After receiving a request we will make a recommendation to the Minister for the Environment as to whether or not to they should refer the matter to a board of inquiry, the Environment Court, or the local authority. The matter can only be referred to a board of inquiry or the Environment Court if it is, or is part of, a proposal of national significance.

A council cannot make a direct application to us for the preparation of a plan or a plan change. However, it can request that the Minister for the Environment (or Minister of Conservation in the case of a Regional Coastal Plan) call in the following plan situations:

  • A plan change (including a change to a regional coastal plan) or a request for change that has been adopted by the council

  • A request for the preparation of a regional plan that has been adopted by the council

  • A variation to its proposed plan.

The Minister for the Environment (or Minister of Conservation in the case of a Regional Coastal Plan), can also call in a plan or a plan change at his or her own initiative.

The Minister may request advice from us on whether the matter is a proposal of national significance and for a recommendation on where the matter should be referred to for a decision (such as a board of inquiry or the Environment Court). We may request further information from you in preparing our advice and recommendation.

The process for a new plan or plan change that is called in

If the matter is called in, different notification and decision-making processes apply, depending on whether the Minister refers it to a board of inquiry or the Environment Court. There are also specific provisions that apply for direct applications for the preparation of regional plans or plan change requests. 

In all cases:

  1. After the Minister issues a direction on a matter, we must give public notice of the Minister’s direction and serve certain persons with the notice, and provide a 30-working day submission period. All the information about the particular proposal will be made available on our website.
  2. Anyone can make a submission on a proposal.
  3. After the submission period closes, we produce a summary of all the submissions received on the matter. We publicly notify the summary and provide a 10-working day period for further submissions.

    Only people representing a relevant aspect of the public interest, or who have an interest in the proposal greater than the general public, or are the local authority, may make a further submission.

    We will provide all submissions and further submissions to the Board of Inquiry or Environment Court, depending on where the Minister has referred the matter for decision.
  4. Where the matter is to be heard by the Environment Court, we do not have any further role with how the matter is progressed and the Court will set timeframes and procedural requirements. The Environment Court will hold a public hearing
  5. If the matter is heard by a board of inquiry, we continue to have a role with providing secretarial and support services to the Board. The Board will hold a hearing (unless no-one wants to be heard).
  6. There is opportunity to appeal a decision of a board of inquiry or the Environment Court to the High Court only on questions of law. Otherwise, the local authority must then implement the decision.
The Minister can call in an application Plus

A 'call in' means when the Minister for the Environment (or Minister for Conservation for proposals in the coastal marine area) considers a matter to be a proposal of national significance, they call it in, and refer it to a Board of Inquiry or the Environment Court for decision. 

Making a decision on national significance Plus

There are many things the Minister may take into account when deciding whether a matter is a proposal of national significance and, if so, whether to direct the matter to a Board of Inquiry or the Environment Court for decision. This is set out in section 142 of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

Some of the things the Minister considers

The Minister considers whether the proposal: 

  • generates widespread public concern or interest regarding the actual or likely effect on the environment, including the global environment
  • involves or is likely to involve significant use of natural and physical resources
  • affects or is likely to affect a structure, feature, place, or area of national significance
  • affects or is likely to affect or is relevant to New Zealand's international environmental obligations
  • results in or is likely to result in or contribute to significant or irreversible changes to the environment, including the global environment
  • involves or is likely to involve technology, processes, or methods that are new to New Zealand and that may affect its environment
  • is likely to be significant in terms of the Treaty of Waitangi
  • will assist the Government in fulfilling its public health, welfare, security, or safety obligations or functions
  • affects or is likely to affect more than one region or district
  • relates to a network utility operation that extends or is proposed to extend to more than one district or region.

The Minister must also consider:

  • the applicant's views
  • the local authority's views
  • the capacity of the local authority to process the matter
  • recommendations from the EPA.

The Minister issues a report − called a direction − that must include the reasons for directing the matter to a Board of Inquiry or the Environment Court.

We tell the applicant and council

Once the Minister has made a direction, we provide notice of the direction to the applicant and the relevant local authorities.

What happens if the proposal is referred to a board of inquiry Plus

We provide administrative support to the Board, including the public submission process, commissioning reports, and organising and managing the Board of Inquiry hearing.

A Board is appointed by the Minister, but makes its decision independently. A Board must hold a hearing unless it considers this unnecessary, and the applicant and submitters do not want to attend a hearing.

The Board of Inquiry has nine months to make a decision from the date the Minister's direction is notified.

Read more about Boards of Inquiry

What happens if the proposal is referred to the Environment Court Plus

The nine-month timeframe for deciding a matter does not apply to the Environment Court. We must provide the Court with all relevant material gathered, including any submissions. We then have no further formal involvement in the process.

Go to the Environment Court website

See applications referred to the Environment Court

Making a submission Plus

Once the Minister has accepted a direct application or called in an application, we publicly notify the Minister’s direction and invite submissions on the matter. The public notice states the reasons for the Minister’s direction, where to view information, and the closing date for submissions.

Submissions must be lodged with the EPA within 30 working days after the public notice is announced. Anyone can make a submission, including those who have made a submission to the local authority.

Read more on how to make a submission

There may be a public hearing

If a hearing is held, the applicant and any submitter will have a right to be heard and the board may permit cross-examination. The board must make its decision within nine months of the Minister’s direction being notified.

What to expect at a hearing

Legislation Plus

Our role is to process these applications for proposals of national significance. This involves providing administrative support for the decision-making process, which can include supporting the board of inquiry and the hearing process.

EPA functions

Part 4A of the Act describes the EPA's functions under the Act. Part 6AA contains detail around what matters can be lodged with the EPA, powers for the EPA to request further information and commission reports and timeframes for the EPA to make its recommendation to the Minister.

Nationally significant factors and direction

Part 6AA also gives examples of the factors that the Minister may consider when determining the 'national significance' of a matter, and processes following the Minister's direction on whether to refer a matter to a board of inquiry or the Environment Court.

Appointing the board of inquiry

If the Minister directs a matter to a board of inquiry, sections 149J-149S of the RMA set out how a board is appointed, its power, functions and responsibilities in making a decision on the matter.

Environment Court

Sections 149T-149U govern the decision making process where a matter is referred to the Environment Court.

Appeals

Section 149V sets out how the final decision of a board of inquiry or the Environment Court can be appealed.