Pre-hearing meetings are encouraged as a means of progressing dialogue between the applicant, the submitters and the consent authority.
Preparing for a pre-hearing meeting
The council may invite or require the applicant and any or all of the submitters relating to a consent application to attend a pre-hearing meeting. The council may only require persons to attend a meeting with the consent holder's agreement.
A council may also invite anyone who has made a submission to a proposed policy statement or plan to meet with the council or another person, for the purposes of clarifying or resolving matters. However, unlike the pre-hearing process for resource consents, attendance cannot be required. The requirements for reporting back by the chairperson, and for the council to have regard to the report as outlined, are similar to those for resource consents.
During a pre-hearing meeting
At the pre-hearing meeting, the chairperson/ facilitator conducts a meeting between the plan developer or resource consent applicant, the submitters, and council staff. Parties have the opportunity to speak directly to each other, clarify the proposal and any concerns, and resolve misunderstandings before the hearing. The facilitator can guide parties to:
- isolate issues
- develop options
- consider alternatives
- reach common ground or an agreement.
For a resource consent application, usually the council employs the facilitator and charges the cost back to the applicant. In most cases, the facilitator will be independent to the council. While s99(4) does provide that a member, delegate or officer of the council may attend and participate in a pre-hearing meeting, it is important for the facilitator to be regarded as neutral by all participants. This enables, for example, council staff to be more forthright in their suggestions, such as introducing draft reports or consent conditions at the pre-hearing meeting in order to assist parties to focus on realistic outcomes and progress discussion on mitigation options.
At the conclusion of a pre-hearing meeting the chairperson of the meeting must prepare a report and circulate it to all parties who attended, at least five working days before the hearing begins. This report must set out:
- those issues that are agreed and those that are outstanding
- the nature of evidence agreed to be called and an indicative timetable for hearing.
The report excludes anything communicated or made available at the meeting on a without prejudice basis.
If a person required to attend fails to come to the meeting, and does not give a reasonable excuse, the council may actually decline to process the application, or to consider the persons submission at the hearing itself. In both situations, there is a right of objection under s357A.
The Hearings Committee must have regard to the report in making its decision on the application.