The RMA Quality Planning Resource

Regulatory Instruments 

The use of regulatory controls should be responsive to the particular landscape values and natural character that apply to a particular area or feature. Regulatory instruments that are typically used to manage landscapes include:

  • Regional Policy Statements
  • Regional Plans and Regional Coastal Plans
  • District Plans

Regional Policy Statements  

Regional policy statements provide the overarching policy direction for protecting outstanding landscapes and natural features in a region. Regional Policy Statements may:

  • Establish robust criteria for assessing the significance of landscapes;
  • Set clear policy direction on the landscape evaluation process and possible management techniques to be adopted by territorial local authorities; and
  • Identify significant landscapes. If identified, specific policy direction and tools should be described to ensure territorial local authorities can effectively manage the identified landscapes. 

Regional Plans and Regional Coastal Plans 

Very few regional plans explicitly address landscape management as an issue. However, landscape can be indirectly managed through other issues, such as erosion management, floodplain management, vegetation clearance, activities in the coastal environment or involving the margins and beds of rivers and lakes. Regional coastal plans apply to the coastal marine area and can provide useful direction and mechanisms for managing coastal landscapes and natural character values in the coastal environment.

District Plans  

District plans are a principal regulatory instrument used to manage effects on landscapes. As land use and subdivision are primary issues and drivers of landscape change, they are the focus of objectives, policies and associated methods (including rules) in many District Plans.  

Landscape assessments should be used to inform the District Plan by providing background on the landscape character of the area, and an evaluation of the landscape’s values. It is important there is community input into these assessments through effective engagement and consultation.  

If particular landscapes are sensitive to landscape change, under higher pressure, or valued higher by the local community, they should be identified in the District Plan and spatially identified on the Planning Maps to provide a high level of certainty about their location and extent.  

Regulatory Management Approaches 

Accurate mapping of landscapes and natural features provides certainty about the areas where landscape management provisions and rules apply. Schedules of the mapped areas, with summary information about the important landscape characteristics to be managed, can be useful as they provide a clear basis for policies and rules. 

Assessment criteria (e.g. siting buildings within an outstanding natural landscape or feature) should clearly relate to the important aspects or values of the landscape or feature requiring protection. These are generally more useful if they are area-specific so that the criteria provide some overall guidance about managing a particular landscape or feature. 

Consideration of differences in scale is essential when formulating rules relating to landscapes and features. Rules for landscapes that cover large areas may need to be more generic, whereas rules for natural features may need to be more site-specific. In either instance, the rules must manage the elements or values recognised and be clearly tailored to the particular landscape characteristics to be managed. 

Landscape issues necessarily require a degree of case-by-case consideration and judgement. Consequently, the use of restricted or full discretionary activity status (instead of permitted or controlled) to manage activities that could affect important landscapes is recommended as it enables proposals to be turned down or modified if necessary, and can better take into account the cumulative effects of activities.

The range of regulatory approaches that can direct the provisions for landscape management can include:

  • Landscape categorisation and character areas
  • Identification of Special Areas or Zones
  • Ridgeline, Viewshaft or Feature Protection
  • Structure Plans
  • Activity status and thresholds
  • Resource Consent Conditions

Landscape categorisation and character areas
Under this approach landscape character areas or features are classified according to identified landscape values. The classification and mapping of these landscapes is then supported by a suite of objectives, policies, rules and assessment criteria which align with the values and significance of the different landscape categories defined (e.g. ‘general landscape issues’, ‘protection of outstanding natural landscapes and features’, ‘maintenance and enhancement of visual amenity landscapes’ and ‘other rural landscapes’).  

Identification of Special Areas or Zones
This approach is essentially a zoning technique whereby specific areas are identified based on their sensitivity to and ability to absorb landscape change.  

Ridgeline, Viewshaft or Feature Protection
This approach involves the identification of particular ridges and/or viewshafts and/or features often highly valued by the community and potentially under threat from forestry, inappropriate tree planting, earthworks, buildings, utilities and vegetation clearance, and the development of appropriate statutory planning provisions to manage the effects of such activities. Accurate mapping and a description of the key characteristics of the landscape being managed are important elements of this process. 

Structure Plans
Structure Plans are high level plans that illustrate the spatial arrangement of land use types in a defined area, and identify associated infrastructure (e.g. roads, schools) and existing natural features. They can be used, for example, to deter development in areas of high landscape value, or to apply a specific management framework to different areas based on the landscape values.  

Activity status and thresholds
As a subset of area wide or area specific rules, activity status and associated thresholds are a common method used by regional and territorial authorities to manage effects on landscapes. This typically involves more stringent thresholds or higher activity status being applied to identified areas which are more sensitive to landscape change, under higher pressure, or valued higher by the local community. 

Resource Consent Conditions
Resource consent conditions often apply or adapt the findings of proposal-based landscape assessment to avoid, remedy or mitigate the adverse effects on the landscape. 

Conditions can cover:

  • Floor levels and earthworks – floor levels may be specified and details regarding earthworks, final contours and stormwater treatment provided;
  • Built form details – specific standards (e.g. maximum height of structures and/or buildings, size and position of building platforms and maximum site coverage, colour of materials, reflectivity of materials);
  • Curtilage areas - specific standards (e.g. the size of curtilage areas, the size and heights of decks, patios or fences) and rules regarding the type of activities permitted such as restrictions on the use of exotic plant species outside the curtilage area;
  • Landscaping - preparation and implementation of detailed landscape plans. They may require final approval by a design committee or a council landscape architect. They are likely to include lists of appropriate species and conditions regarding ongoing maintenance and the timing of implementation (e.g. implementation of planting may be linked to completion of earthworks);
  • Access – the design and maintenance of the access roads; Utilities – power, phone, sanitary pipe work and water tanks may be required to be addressed in terms of their siting and level of visibility;
  • Protection of buffer/natural areas – specialist advice may be required to determine appropriate buffer areas; and
  • Promotion of ecosystem restoration – this could include the restoration of indigenous ecosystems and processes.

Non-regulatory Approaches

Often the best means of protecting and maintaining and enhancing landscapes is to support landowners in protecting and managing recognised values. Strategic documents linked to annual planning documents are also an effective way for councils to work towards landscape management objectives, through planning and budgeting for land acquisition, education programmes, community projects, and incentives schemes. The range of non-regulatory instruments used to achieve sustainable landscape management can include: 

  • Guidelines/practice notes
  • Design Review Panels
  • Non-statutory strategies/plans
  • Education/Information/Stakeholder Groups
  • Land Acquisition/Reserves
  • Covenanting
  • Transferable Development Rights
  • Incentives
  • Monitoring landscape change

Guidelines/practice notes
Design guides can encourage good design outcomes for a number of activities. Several councils have prepared such guidelines, typically relating to rural subdivision and earthworks. Good design guidelines are based on a robust understanding of the local landscapes and the particular character and features that are important and valued, and how activities can be designed in an appropriate manner. 

Design Review Panels
Design panels can be a successful, cost effective approach to sustainable landscape management. Although they are most commonly used in urban situations they can be equally effective in a rural landscape context. Their key strength is that they provide a means whereby the applicant and the design panel can collaborate on proposals that are appropriate to the circumstances and that comply with resource consent requirements. 

Non-statutory strategies/plans
Pressures on a particular resource (such as a landscape) may require a targeted management response. A non-statutory document provides a level of flexibility to investigate and understand a particular issue, and develop a suite management mechanism for the particular resource. These management mechanisms can include implementation through statutory tools, such as a District Plan.  

Education/Information/Stakeholder Groups
Targeted education programmes and the provision of information can raise community awareness and understanding of the landscape. Additionally, the establishment of landcare groups (e.g. coast care group) provides an opportunity for resources to be pooled to implement specific projects. These groups and projects are not often solely for landscape reasons, but for a wide range of purposes.  

Land Acquisition/Reserves
Some of the most highly valued landscapes are owned by the Crown and administered by a government department or local authority. The acquisition of land can be an appropriate mechanism where landscape values are extremely high, and/or risks to landscape change is likely to have an irrevocable effect on the landscape. The management of these areas is often also controlled by other legislation, including the Conservation Act 1987 and Reserves Act 1977. Partnerships between agencies to manage such landscape issues jointly can help ensure efficient and co-ordinated efforts (e.g. input into conservation management plans for land administered by the Department of Conservation within an outstanding landscape). 

Covenanting
Applying covenants to land can be an effective way of protecting valued landscapes on private land. There are different levels/strengths of covenant and they include the QEII National Trust and under the RMA, ss 108 & 109.  

Transferable Development Rights
Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) is a tool that involves the exchange of zoning privileges to manage growth. The intention behind the system is to enable subdivision to occur in areas considered more suitable for it while reducing development options in areas that may be less suited.  

Incentives
Incentives can be used to encourage landowners to adopt recommended measures to protect landscape values: for example, assistance with the cost of fencing and managing forest remnants and wetlands. 

Monitoring landscape change
Environmental indicators that provide a good indication of changes in landscape character can be difficult to capture meaningfully. A comprehensive landscape characterisation process can provide a useful base of information to draw upon as specific attributes to be measured should be selected from key characteristics that have been identified in an area.