The RMA Quality Planning Resource

A number of factors make planning for quarrying or gravel extraction challenging, these include:

  • aggregate is a fixed and finite resource, often found in locations where extraction conflicts with other values (eg, river beds used for recreational purposes, or uplifted rock with high visual and ecological values)
  • an incomplete knowledge of the location, scale and nature of aggregate resources and the high costs to obtain this information 
  • the benefits of locating aggregate resources close to the source of demand (ie, urban areas) due to the high costs of transporting aggregates and associated road damage
  • the negative perceptions of quarries and their effects and the high potential for opposition to established and new quarries
  • there is also no certainty as to where future quarry operations could actually take place. 

Without effective planning for aggregate resources there is the potential for incompatible activities to limit or prevent access to aggregate resources in the future. However, the need to access aggregate needs to be balanced with the effects of quarrying or gravel extraction on the environment and any restrictions imposed on private property rights. This is a key resource allocation issue for councils to consider when reviewing plans and processing resource consents.

How quarrying and gravel extraction is planned for will vary depending on the needs, pressures and availability of aggregate in an area. Given the finite nature and strategic reliance on aggregate it is important these factors are adequately considered against any likely short-term, intermediate and longer-term changes in demand and supply both within, and adjoining, an area.

A 30 to 50-year planning horizon reflects consistently with other strategic planning processes including LTPs, RLTPs and growth strategies, however, in Road Metals Company v Christchurch City Council and Canterbury Regional Council, a lead-in time of 50 to 100 years was considered a more appropriate timeframe given the constraints on availability of aggregate within the area and the need for certainty for future infrastructural development.

Effective planning for aggregate resources is an ongoing process and requires a number of basic interrelated components:

  • projecting the demand
  • identifying aggregate resources
  • assessing and providing appropriate access.

Councils should work closely with the aggregate and quarry industry, tāngata whenua and affected landowners to develop a robust approach to manage access to aggregate resources and the effects of quarrying and gravel extraction.

Projecting demand for aggregate resources

Understanding future demand for aggregate in a location will help inform how it is appropriately identified and managed in plans. The scale and detail of this exercise should be fit for purpose.

The need and location of future demand for aggregate can be identified through a range of methods including:

  • Statistics New Zealand’s population and household projections for regions and districts
  • National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) which provide details of planned and future road construction within each region (available from regional councils and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA))
  • LTPs, RLTPs and the NLTP which provide details of planned and future infrastructure projects
  • economic strategies which provide details of projected industrial and commercial growth
  • growth strategies and asset management plans which identify infrastructure and areas for future development. These are often supported with more detailed studies which may provide general information about the potential future demand for aggregate resources in the area
  • demand studies which project future demand based on a number of indicators and their relationship with past aggregate supply. Environment Canterbury prepared a Regional Gravel Management Report to help with future management of fluvial gravel extraction in the region. The report provides projections of supply of the fluvial gravels in Canterbury and investigates future demand for aggregate in the region based on a number of related drivers. It takes into account forecasts of expenditure on state highways, building consent numbers, economic growth, population changes and industry projections to estimate the annual gravel demands for the region to 2015.
  • monitoring data from quarry operators which is either provided voluntarily (through surveys) or through resource consent conditions or by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals. This data can show current and past demand for aggregates which can help predict future trends
  • aggregate consumption rates which can help approximate quantities eg, it takes approximately 4000 tonnes of aggregate for each kilometre of sealed road and 250 tonnes to build a new house.

In considering future demand, councils should also take into account the need for, and impact of, the supply and demand of aggregate from adjoining areas.

Identifying aggregate resources

Identifying aggregate resources requires understanding of the location, scale, type, accessibility of the resource and the economics of quarrying and gravel extraction. Approaches used to identify aggregate resources vary in their level of detail and scale depending on the needs, pressures and availability of aggregate in an area. A common approach is to identify the aggregate resource in terms of its geological components and scale.

Identification of strategic aggregate resources should also identify other key factors that may affect access to, and viability of, an aggregate resource in relation to its location and surrounding land uses. The use of criteria provides transparency when considering the value and viability of aggregate resources and any subsequent level of protection provided to them and from quarrying or extracting them. It is also important to acknowledge that conditions will change over time (ie, new roads, urban growth) and this can also change the viability of the resource.

Information to help identify strategic aggregate resources and constraints can be gained from:

  • geological surveys and extractive viability studies, which can be used as a basis for more detailed exercises 
  • preliminary ecological monitoring for river-bed gravel extraction to identify any presence of nesting bird or freshwater fish species
  • hydrological information for river-bed gravel extraction to ascertain which areas require extraction for flood protection purposes
  • collecting monitoring data from quarries that estimates how much aggregate remains (including consented sites not yet in operation)
  • council planning maps, overlays and schedules
  • transport management plans
  • community consultation exercises
  • relevant studies into cultural and heritage values (including iwi management plans).

Approaches used to help identify aggregate resources include:

  • aggregate assessments and strategies
  • policies to identify aggregate resources.

Where appropriate, councils should also identify the use of recycled aggregate that is, or is likely to be, available to meet future demand. The use of recycled aggregate is increasing with a number of councils promoting its uses through objectives and policies in plans. Recycled aggregate can help meet future aggregate demand and reduce the need for new aggregate through re-using material that would otherwise be cleanfilled or dumped.

Regional aggregate resource overview

The Tasman Resource Management Plan provides management methods based on an overview of the aggregate resources in the region. The provisions in the plan relating to aggregate were informed by a strategy consisting of key studies and findings of past aggregate and soils studies. This includes identifying three environments in the district where there is high quality hard rock suitable for aggregate production. These environments are in the eastern ranges, the alluvial plains of particular catchments, and in the beds of two key rivers in the area. Based on the overview of aggregate from the strategy, the plan seeks to increase the uptake of opportunities to extract aggregate from the ranges and limit the future extraction in the fluvial and river-bed environments due to the ecological and physical issues associated with extraction in these environments.

Northland Regional Council, Far North District Council, Whangarei District Council, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals) and GNS Science have taken a collaborative approach to providing a detailed overview of the mineral resources at the regional level and the potential contribution of these resources to the viability of the region. This exercise produced a mineral resource assessment of the region, including rock and sand aggregate and the potential value and economic impact of those resources. The results were reported in two reports, the Mineral Resource Assessment of the Northland Region (May 2007) and Northland’s mineral resources - Potential economic impacts (May 2007).

Policies to identify the regional aggregate resources

Policy 5.4.1 of the Proposed Northland Regional Policy Statement states that mineral resources will be considered regionally significant, based on

  1. Relative scarcity;
  2. Potential contribution to the regional economy from the extraction;
  3. Current and potential demand, and location with respect to demand;
  4. Constraints on extraction including existing or planned settlement and access to the site;
  5. Constraints on other development and land use as a result of extraction;
  6. Quality and size of deposit; and
  7. Importance to infrastructure development.

Policy 5.1.3(d) deals with avoiding the adverse effects of new use(s) and development, particularly residential development on the use and development of regionally significant minerals.

The Auckland Council Regional Policy Statement states that one of the key methods to implement the mineral objectives and policies (chapter 13) is for the Auckland Council to prepare an evaluation of the location of actual and known potential mineral resources available and the foreseeable demand for mineral resources in the region. The RPS requires that on completion of this evaluation, the Auckland Council will review policies and methods to determine the most appropriate mechanism to implement the information from the process. While the Auckland Council Regional Policy Statement will be superseded by the Auckland Unitary Plan (notified September 2013) the Regional Policy Statement will remain relevant until the Unitary Plan becomes operative.

Method 51 of the Operative Wellington Regional Policy Statement identifies the Wellington Regional Council as the lead agency to identify the location of significant resources in the region.

Also see the FutureProof and SmartGrowth growth strategies which include actions to identify aggregate resources to be implemented through RPS and district plans.

Assessing and providing appropriate access to aggregate resources

Once the demand for, and location of, aggregate resources is understood, then objectives, policies and methods can be developed in plans to provide the appropriate access to them. Appropriate access to both existing and potential areas for future quarrying should be weighed up with Part 2 matters of the RMA, in particular, the adverse effects of quarrying and methods available to manage them.

A s32 evaluation is a key requirement throughout the plan-making process and the Resource Management Amendment Act 2013 provides greater guidance and specificity about what is required in section 32 reporting, particularly for the assessment of costs and benefits. These changes come into force on 3 December 2013 and require s32 evaluations to now:

  • specifically assess the benefits and costs of the environmental, economic, social and cultural effects
  • assess the opportunities for providing or reducing economic growth and employment
  • quanitify the costs and benefits of provisions, where practicable.

The s32 evaluation process will help identify the degree and nature of issues and the effects around quarrying or gravel extraction in an area and provide a framework from which to consider and test appropriate objectives, policies, and methods in plans.

The findings of an evaluation will vary by location and circumstances. However, a number of points that councils should consider in evaluating appropriate objectives, and the effectiveness and efficiency of policies and methods may include:

  • the extent to which the aggregate resource is known/identified
  • the strategic value of the resource in relation to the demand for aggregate within/outside the region including:
    • the amounts of aggregate needed
    • the timeframe for expected demand
    • the scarcity of the resource and alternative locations
  • the positive benefits of quarrying or gravel extraction
  • the opportunities for economic growth that are anticipated to be provided or reduced
  • the opportunities for employment that are anticipated to be provided or reduced
  • how well existing quarries fulfil current and future needs versus the need for new sites
  • the nature and density of surrounding land uses
  • the different scale and nature of aggregate resources, the quarrying or gravel extraction activity and its potential effects
  • any particularly sensitive land uses (i.e. schools), areas of significant landscape value or areas of importance to iwi and waterways
  • costs of restricting the rights of landowners
  • competing values for a location (refer Winstone Aggregates v Rodney District Council [2009](A054/09)
  • potential loss of high valued land for other activities
  • the proximity of a site or resource to transport networks.

In assessing the appropriate level of access to aggregate resources, councils need to have regard to any sites with existing use rights. It is important to establish baselines for effects as existing quarries can continue with their activities provided the level of effect does not change. Existing use rights need to be considered in developing plan provisions for quarrying and gravel extraction and in developing appropriate mechanisms to manage the effects of quarrying and gravel extraction.

A range of methods that may inform, develop and deliver a policy framework to provide appropriate access to aggregate resources includes:

  • growth strategies
  • objectives and policies recognising the importance and management of aggregate resources
  • methods such as zoning (including buffer areas and potential aggregate extraction areas), setbacks and no complaints covenants.

Growth strategies

  • Growth strategies are non-statutory documents generally developed at the regional or sub-regional level. They can strongly influence future land use and development, should be informed by infrastructure planning and be linked to the future demand and provision of aggregate resources.
  • Growth strategies can identify the importance of aggregate resources as part of future growth and help project future aggregate demand by identifying the future location and pattern of development within an area. Although strategies are useful to provide a collaborative approach to planning for aggregate resources, their influence can be limited in RMA decision-making as they are largely non-statutory. Strategies can, however, identify implementation measures that can subsequently be incorporated into regional policy statements and plans to give them more statutory weight. See the key linkages between non-RMA plans and strategies for more information.
  • Strategies are best developed collaboratively with councils, relevant agencies and key stakeholders such as the aggregate industry (local quarry operators), development representatives, affected landowners, and iwi and community groups. Strategies developed in consultation with the wider community and industry will help to achieve buy-in to the ‘vision’ and the methods proposed to implement and deliver that vision.
  • An example of a collaborative strategy developed in consultation with the community is Sustainable Futures 30/50 led by Whangarei District Council. This strategy involved a series of public consultation exercises with the community and iwi groups in developing a strategic planning programme to assess and plan for infrastructure requirements over a 30 to 50-year timeframe.
  • The FutureProof Growth Strategy and Implementation Plan developed by the Hamilton City, Waikato District and Waipa District Councils, Environment Waikato and tāngata whenua provides a good example of a collaborative framework for the management of growth and the provision of infrastructure. The strategy has a 20 to 50-year planning horizon and includes a specific section on mineral resources (8.31). This recognises the need to plan for existing and new sources of aggregate to meet future growth needs while managing conflict with sensitive land uses, and the adverse effects of quarrying.
  • The strategy contains two actions to address this issue. The first is for Environment Waikato to investigate mineral demand and resource potential in the area, and, if necessary, map it and develop management strategies. The second action is to “ensure rural-residential and urban development avoids mineral resource areas and that conflict between extraction of mineral resources and associated activities has been reduced by ensuring that any sensitive activities are not located adjacent to where mineral resources are being extracted”. Both actions are identified for implementation through the RPS and district plans.
  • The SmartGrowth 50-Year Strategy and Implementation Plan is a strategy that was revised and adopted by Environment Bay of Plenty, Western Bay of Plenty District Council and Tauranga City Council in 2007 following consultation with the community and tāngata whenua. SmartGrowth is a cooperative approach to manage growth in the sub-region that sets out future settlement patterns, densities and transport networks that could be used to forecast the location and scale of aggregate demand. The strategy includes an aggregate and other mineral resources section (7.2.7) that recognises similar issues and objectives as the FutureProof example above.

Objectives and policies

Objectives and policies are developed in RPS’s or plans to help address key resource management issues including those relating to access to aggregate resources. Plans must give effect to the policies and objectives of a RPS. Methods, including rules and performance standards, are identified and developed to enable objectives and policies to be achieved. In order for the methods to be used effectively in plans a clear set of objectives and policies is a prerequisite.

For example, the Auckland Council Regional Policy Statement, contains objectives to ensure mineral extraction activities and mineral deposits valuable for development in the region are not unnecessarily compromised, and that the region’s need for rock material continues to be met. This objective recognises the high economic cost and environmental impact of transporting aggregate resources from outside the region. Policy 13.4.1(2) of the RPS aims to protect existing mineral extraction sites from activities which would unduly limit their operations to the detriment of the regional environment, including its economy. The policy also aims to protect areas of minerals which have the potential to provide cost effectively for the region’s future needs from activities that may compromise them. While the Auckland Council Regional Policy Statement will be superseded by the Auckland Unitary Plan (notified September 2013) the Regional Policy Statement will remain relevant until the Unitary Plan becomes operative.

The Waikato Regional Policy Statement recognises the importance of mineral resources to the economy and infrastructure of the region. An objective of the RPS is that the extraction of mineral resources is not unnecessarily restricted by sensitive activities, extraction is neither prevented nor protected by unnecessary plan provisions, and adverse environmental effects are managed in an integrated and effects-based way. Policy 3.14.2 looks to address these issues when managing mineral resources by recognising the incompatible nature of activities and only imposing controls necessary to address adverse environmental effects and likely conflicts with incompatible activities. Policy 3.14.3 also recognises the extraction of mineral resources in some areas may be unsuitable. The policy provides for the regional council and district councils to consider both the beneficial and adverse effects of conflicting activities prior to decisions about the use and development of natural and physical resources. The RPS also recognises that in the implementation of the policy, decision-makers may need to differentiate between existing sites and prospective sites.

Policy 60 of the Operative Wellington RPS directs that particular regard be given to the social, economic, and environmental benefits of using mineral resources within the region. It also requires that particular regard be given to protecting significant mineral resources from incompatible and inappropriate land use alongside. Examples of methods to protect significant mineral resources include the use of buffer areas in which sensitive activities may be restricted, and the use of noise reduction measures and visual screening.

Chapter 14 Disturbance, Deposition and Extraction of the Environment Bay of Plenty’s Regional Coastal Plan provides for sand, shell, shingle and/or mineral extraction within the coastal marine area but only in appropriate locations while avoiding, remedying or mitigating any associated adverse environmental effects. Under policies 14.2.3(h)–(j) this allows for a precautionary approach to sand extraction in the coastal marine area. The policies recognise extraction activities as generally inappropriate in the Habitat Preservation Zone and encourage future extraction to occur in less sensitive areas, such as inactive beach areas.

Objective 18.3.1 of the Whangarei District Plan is to achieve exploration, extraction and processing of minerals in a manner that avoids, remedies or mitigates any adverse effects on the environment and community, and on the relationship of tāngata whenua with their ancestral lands, sites, water, wāhi tapu and other taonga. Objective 18.3.2 and Policy 18.4.2 seek to achieve this through managing conflict with incompatible activities around existing quarries and limit development through subdivision that may compromise or unduly constrain access to existing operations or to potential significant mineral resources.

Zoning

Zoning is a well-established planning tool to divide areas of land into areas to manage particular effects, activities or uses within the area through the application of rules, including performance standards. This includes identifying the different types of activities that may be included in an area under sections 77A and 87A of the RMA, ie, whether it is a permitted, controlled, restricted discretionary, discretionary, non-complying or prohibited activity and the subsequent standards or conditions it must meet.

Zoning can be used to help regional councils carry out their functions, for example, through identifying areas with high ecological or landscape value, but is primarily used by territorial authorities to identify rules that apply to activities within a defined area in district plans.

The development of zones, appropriate activities, rules and standards should take into account those matters discussed in assessing and providing appropriate access to aggregate resources and the effects likely to be generated from quarrying. This requires consultation with key stakeholders such as affected landowners, industry, tāngata whenua, community groups and the relevant council in the district or region. This may result in different provisions for different quarrying activities in different areas.

Zoning can be used to identify potential aggregate extraction sites and to protect established sites from incompatible or sensitive activities that may lead to reverse sensitivity pressures. Zoning can also be effective to discourage quarries in areas valued for other reasons such as ecology, natural character or amenity.

For example, chapter 18 of Part II of the Tasman Resource Management Plan provides a zone (Residential Activity Restriction Area) around established quarries where residential dwellings are a restricted discretionary activity, and amongst other matters, the Council will consider the extent to which the dwelling may compromise the efficient operation of the quarry.

In some instances, it may be necessary to develop a hierarchy of zones or policy areas to provide for the appropriate level of protection of access to aggregate resources, such as:

  • a quarry zone where quarries are an established activity, with plan objectives, policies and rules allowing and encouraging quarry development and/or discouraging other activities from establishing in that zone
  • a buffer zone around a quarry site where activities are more tightly restrained to avoid reverse sensitivity pressures and to serve as a reminder of the potential for adverse effects from the quarry within that zone
  • a potential aggregate extraction zone where a combination of factors indicates that aggregate extraction could be appropriate in the future. In some areas it may be appropriate for sensitive development in close proximity to the zone to be constrained by using quarry or buffer zones.

Refer to the guidance on the plan development process for more detailed information on the key steps to plan development.

Buffer areas on quarry zones

Buffers establish an area around existing quarries or activity zones that prevent activities sensitive to quarrying locating there. Case law provides clear guidance on the use of buffers and that they should only be considered where an activity has taken all reasonable steps to internalise adverse effects. This can involve a quarry purchasing surrounding land to provide a buffer. However, all reasonably practical mitigation measures intended to internalise the effects may still fail to stop those effects from being experienced outside the boundary of the property. Such effects could include traffic noise, dust, noise, vibration and visual effects.

The use of buffers will require the consideration of the significance of the operation and other matters outlined in assessing and providing appropriate access to aggregate resources, including the effects likely to be generated from quarrying and reasonable measures taken to internalise them.

In considering the use of a buffer, councils must be satisfied the effects from the activity are internalised as far as is reasonable and consider the appropriate distance to mitigate the effects in question against the significance of the quarrying activity. Compliance with buffers means that effects are measured from the notional boundary of the buffer rather than the site. This can raise issues over access to private land to undertake monitoring of effects and compliance.

An example of this approach is in the Special Rules Section of the Tasman Resource Management Plan. The Plan identifies Quarry Areas by Residential Activity Restriction Areas. The combined effect of the rules for these two areas is to mitigate the effects of quarrying in two ways: by regulating quarry activities and by reducing incompatible land uses in the vicinity. In Quarry Areas, quarries are a discretionary activity provided they comply with a number of terms and conditions, whereas the construction of a new dwelling or a residential activity is non-complying. In the Residential Activity Restriction Area, a new residential dwelling is a restricted discretionary activity and must be set back 500 metres from a working quarry. The council also restricts its discretion to a number of conditions including the extent to which the dwelling may individually or cumulatively compromise the efficient use of a Quarry Area or an existing quarry.

Potential aggregate extraction zone

The Waikato District Plan 2011 contains an ‘Aggregate Resource Policy Area’ (ARPA) as a policy overlay on the planning maps and has an associated objective, policies and a subdivision rule that imposes restrictions on allotment size, location and layout. This policy area was incorporated into the plan by way of a consent order following the resolution of an appeal and currently only applies to one specific site in the Rural Zone.

It is intended that Council will carry out a future plan change where areas of rural zoned land, that meet the criteria for an ARPA set out in Chapter 4 of the District Plan. The areas of land identified as meeting the criteria will be identified on the planning maps by the ARPA policy area and will then be subject to the existing objective, policies framework and subdivision restrictions.

The plan change will result in there being two approaches to identifying aggregate extraction areas. The first (and existing) approach involves identifying areas of existing or consented aggregate extraction as ‘Aggregate Extraction Protection Policy Areas’ in the plan and providing an external buffer around these areas through restrictions on subdivision and housing development (200 metres for sand and 500 metres for hard rock).

The second (and new) approach will involve identifying areas where a combination of factors indicates that aggregate extraction could be appropriate in the future. These areas will be subject to the ARPA overlay on the planning maps and associated planning provisions. Chapter 4 of the District Plan identifies five criteria that must be met before an area is considered an ARPA, including:

  • there is a substantial volume of high-grade aggregate resources, particularly where the resource is in close proximity to a significant market
  • the transport network provides a convenient and direct route from the resource area to a major market
  • large land holdings predominate
  • current development does not unduly constrain access to or transportation of aggregate
  • aggregate extraction would not compromise the matters identified as being of national importance under section 6 of the RMA.

The ARPA policy area does not imply approval in principle for extraction, and aggregate extraction remains a discretionary activity requiring resource consent. However, the ARPA seeks to retain access opportunities to aggregate resources by managing the subdivision process. In this instance, subdivision of properties within the Rural Zone and the ARPA, becomes a restricted discretionary activity instead of controlled activity, allowing particular attention to be paid to the size, location and layout of new lots, for example, to ensure additional lots are away from haulage routes and that a sufficient buffer is retained between the aggregate extraction and residential activities.

The identification and management of subdivision in rural/ARPA will help retain access to resources but also help internalise the effects of any future quarrying within a site. This will occur by only applying the ARPA to large lots and then managing subdivision to ensure they do not change significantly in size (eg, a small additional lot may be created but the large lot will not be cut in half). The size of any internal buffers will differ between hard rock and sand, and this should be reflected in the size of land holdings to which this policy applies. Whereas this approach is easier for hard rock resources given their location on hilly areas where existing lots are large and there is little subdivision pressure, it will be more challenging for sand resources some of which are located in more populated areas where smaller titles predominate and subdivision pressures are greater.

Please contact the Waikato District Council if you would like to discuss this approach further.

Setback policies and rules

This approach is similar to a buffer zone but differs in that it uses policies and rules that require minimum setback distances for new activities from established quarries, or consented quarries. This can be a useful method to protect quarries from conflicting activities such as residential development, while also providing appropriate levels of amenity for new activities.

For example, rule 2.4.6(g) of the Waipa District Plan requires that new dwellings should not be constructed closer than 500 metres to a site used for mineral extraction or where a consent has been granted for mineral extraction. 

No complaint covenants

These are an optional mechanism that can be included on a title by a landowner at the time that a property is subdivided or developed. No complaints covenants are used to prevent persons moving into an area from complaining about the adverse effects of a nearby established activity. Such instruments will often include a prohibition on the owner or occupier from:

  • suing for nuisance
  • taking any type of enforcement action under the RMA (in relation to specified activities)
  • making opposing submissions against an application by the effects-producing landowner to obtain new resource consents (in respect of specified activities) or renew existing ones
  • funding or being otherwise involved in any of the above activities.

A resource consent applicant will often propose such a covenant to respond to the concerns of existing operators about their potential to complain about the operator’s effects. A covenant may be either agreed as a condition of the consent under s108 RMA, or by private agreement, and can be registered on the title of the receiving site under s109 of the RMA. If a no complaints covenant is imposed as a condition of consent under s108 of the RMA, it needs to meet the ‘Newbury’ test for validity.

To be effective, no complaints covenants need the consent of all parties and cannot be imposed without the applicant’s consent. No complaint covenants also generally need to be used in combination with other methods that mitigate the effects of vibration, such as acoustic insulation and setback distances.

No complaints covenants have been successfully used in a variety of situations where incompatible activities are proposed. For example, the City of Napier District Plan lists the use of no complaints covenants as a non-regulatory method to avoid reverse sensitivity issues in the city’s Rural Environment (Objective 33.2).