Managing Development Impacts

There are a range of different methods available for practitioners to manage the impacts of coastal land development. Methods can be statutory, non-statutory or a combination of both. Some statutory methods are also regulatory.

Statutory methods under the RMA

Regional policy statements

The purpose of regional policy statements (RPSs) is to provide an overview of the resource management issues of the region, and set out policies and methods to achieve the integrated management of the natural and physical resources of the region. RPSs are a key RMA instrument in achieving integrated management of the coastal environment as regional and district plans must give effect to RPSs.

The broad scope set out in s59-62 of the RMA provides the opportunity to strategically address coastal land development throughout the region by:

  • providing a regional framework for the integrated management of coastal land development through the identification of issues, objectives, policies and methods that cross jurisdictional boundaries, and the processes to be used to deal with cross-boundary issues
  • providing an overview of the significant resource management issues in the region relating to coastal land development
  • including resource management issues of significance to iwi authorities
  • identifying regionally significant areas and features in the coastal environment that should be protected and provided for in regional and district plans
  • setting out specific local authority roles and responsibilities for the control of the use of coastal land in relation to natural hazards, hazardous substances and biodiversity.

Regional coastal plans

Regional councils are required to prepare regional coastal plans under s64 of the RMA to achieve the purpose of the RMA in relation to the coastal marine area. Regional coastal plans are limited to managing effects within the coastal marine area. These plans are important for addressing the effects of activities in the coastal marine area associated with land development (eg, discharges and facilities such as jetties).

Regional plans (including regional coastal environment plans)

Regional councils may prepare regional plans under s65 of the RMA to help them carry out their regional functions. Importantly, section 64(2) of the RMA allows regional councils to incorporate a regional coastal plan into a regional plan "where it is considered appropriate in order to promote the integrated management of a coastal marine area and any related part of the coastal environment". These regional plans that apply to the wider coastal environment are often referred to as regional coastal environment plans.

As coastal land development issues are inextricably linked between land and the coastal marine area, regional plans that apply to the wider coastal environment (including the coastal marine area) offer a significant advantage to manage coastal land development impacts and promote integrated management.

Regional plans can also be developed to control the use of land above mean high water springs when considered appropriate to carry out the functions of the regional council in section 30(1)(c) of the RMA. Many of these functions are relevant to the management of coastal land development impacts such as discharges to air, land and water, biodiversity, and avoidance or mitigation of natural hazards. Other uses of coastal land are primarily controlled through district plans.

District plans

District plans help territorial authorities carry out their functions in order to achieve the purpose of the RMA, through the use of objectives, policies, and rules. District plans must also take into account iwi management plans. District plans may include a definition of the inland boundary of the coastal environment.

District plans may also use coastal zones to provide particular management of the coastal environment above mean high water springs. Zones and overlays on district plan maps help to identify the location of significant natural features, landscapes, heritage sites, hazard zones and other areas, and provide specific objectives, policies and rules to control the adverse effects of land development. Subdivision rules are an important control, as they influence the likely density (and associated effects) of development in the coastal environment.

District plans should aim to provide integrated management that recognises the connections between the various elements of the coastal environment, including significant landscapes, natural character and natural hazards.

The Environmental Defence Society's Community Guide to Coastal Development provides general guidance on objectives and policies that could be included in plans to manage the effects of coastal development.

Integrated coastal planning instruments

There is a growing trend towards having a “single plan” approach or more integrated and combined planning instruments. This may include incorporating a regional coastal plan into a regional plan that applies to the wider coastal environment (i.e. a regional plan: coastal environment or regional coastal environment plan); developing combined plans within one authority; developing combined plans between local authorities (such as in the Wairarapa); and developing complementary provisions in plans with a common boundary to address issues across the land/sea interface. Holding joint hearings and forums on resource consent applications can ensure that issues are dealt with in an integrated manner.

Esplanade reserves and areas

The RMA provides for esplanade reserves or strips through district plans or resource consents (see s229 RMA). Esplanade reserves are a useful method to maintain or enhance many coastal values including natural character, biodiversity, public access, and amenity values. Esplanade reserves may also provide access to undertake customary activities and mitigate the effects of natural hazards.

Esplanade reserves have a fixed boundary which means that the area may be lost through coastal erosion. Esplanade strips differ in that they are created by instruments on the title of the land, remain in private ownership and have boundaries that move with any changes in the location of mean high water springs resulting from erosion or accretion. Esplanade strips may therefore have the advantage of maintaining access in the longer term where land is subject to erosion. For more information see Esplanade Area Guidance.

Resource consents

Most coastal developments will require resource consent before they can proceed (eg, subdivision, coastal structures, discharges and earthworks). Resource consents will often be required from both regional councils and territorial authorities, particularly where land development may impact on the coastal marine area. In these situations, each council should be aware of any related consent requirements and consider holding joint hearings on notified applications to ensure that an integrated approach is taken to address all the environmental effects arising from a proposal.

Any application for resource consent is required to include an assessment of the actual or potential effects of the development on the environment (AEE) as prescribed in the Schedule Four of the RMA. The resource consent process provides the opportunity for all actual and potential effects of coastal land development proposals to be identified and assessed. The assessment of resource consent applications should be guided by relevant objectives, policies and rules within regional and district plans and the regional policy statement.

Where approval is considered appropriate, the RMA allows any adverse effects to be remedied, avoided or mitigated through appropriate conditions of consent. Because a resource consent application is site-specific, it provides opportunities to focus on the specific attributes of the site and to tailor consent conditions to protect or enhance elements of the coastal environment such as public access, biodiversity, landscape or heritage features. Financial contributions can also be imposed as a consent condition to offset adverse environmental effects provided these are imposed in accordance with the relevant plan.

Many assessments of environmental effects will provide locally relevant information on the existing environment, such as natural character. These assessments may include information that may have been relatively unknown or un-researched in the past, on matters such as marine biodiversity. This information can then contribute to the knowledge base for future planning. Monitoring can also be required as a condition of resource consent to provide more information for assessing potential effects associated with future coastal development or coastal planning.

Assessment of environmental effects may include a cultural impact assessment. A cultural impact assessment provides local information on tangata whenua values and an assessment of the effects from a proposed development on those values.

Designations and heritage orders

Territorial authorities can designate and then acquire land for public open space purposes or as heritage precinct using powers under Part 8 of the Act. Details of the designation process can be found in the Designations, Notices of Requirement and Outline Plans guidance note. Detail on historic heritage management is also available.

Monitoring and reporting

The monitoring and reporting requirements for local authorities under s35 of the RMA are a useful tool for determining the issues and impacts associated with coastal land development, as well as monitoring the success of management methods to address those issues and impacts.

Policy 28 of the NZCPS 2010 requires the effectiveness of the NZCPS 2010 to be monitored and reviewed and specifies details of the matters to be covered and the timeframe for this to occur.

Delegations, transfers and joint management agreements

Transfers and delegations under s33 and 34 of the RMA can be used to transfer powers and delegate RMA functions. This can help with integrated management of coastal development across mean high water springs. It is important to consider the practical extent and effect of such delegations and that relevant plans and policies are integrated on these matters.

Sections 36B-E of the RMA provide for a local authority to enter into a joint management agreement with any public authority, including an iwi authority or group that represents hapu for the purposes of the RMA.

Statutory methods under other legislation

Long-term plans

Long-term plans are prepared by councils under the Local Government Act 2002 and describe the communities' desired outcomes over at least a 10-year period. Long-term plans provide a good tool to identify community aspirations in relation to coastal land development. The community outcomes direct the annual planning and budgeting of the council.

The Long Term Plan does not override the provisions of RMA plans (or other statutory documents), nor is there a legal requirement that new plans and strategies that are adopted, while a Long Term Plan is in force, must conform to it. However, because the Long Term Plan records the outcomes identified by the community and describes how the local authority will contribute to these, it is expected that local authorities will use this process to inform other plans and strategies. See the Relationship between the Local Government Act and RMA for more information.

Triennial agreements

The Local Government Act 2002 (LGA) requires all councils within each region to agree on protocols for communication and coordination. Triennial agreements meet the requirements of the LGA and are a good method to assist with the integrated management of the coastal environment.


Under s145 and s146 of the Local Government Act 2002, territorial authorities can make bylaws for a number of purposes. This includes protecting the public from nuisance, for public health and safety reasons, and the management of infrastructure, reserves and recreational grounds. Consequently, bylaws are a useful way of managing some of the issues associated with coastal land development, both on land and in the coastal marine area (eg, navigation).

Bylaws can be used as an alternative to setting rules in a district plan. Bylaws have more limited rights of appeal and therefore provide greater certainty but less flexibility than RMA instruments. Permit and penalty processes made under bylaws can be simpler than resource consent processes, which makes bylaws useful to control short-term and temporary activities.

Reserves and parks planning

Reserve management plans and reserve acquisition plans are prepared under the Reserves Act 1977 and are a useful way to establish and manage public spaces. Councils are required to prepare reserve management plans for every reserve they administer. These plans should address management issues specific to each particular reserve and park, and provide opportunities to maintain and enhance public access, open spaces and recreational opportunities. These plans should align with the communities' needs, demands and desires for reserve management.

Some councils prepare plans for the coastal reserves they administer. The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act (2000) has been specifically produced to achieve integrated management across land and sea, across statutes and agencies involved in managing this area. The Act aims to ensure the effects of coastal development on the Hauraki Gulf are given proper consideration and its life-supporting capacity is protected.

Non-statutory methods

Many non-statutory methods have aspects of regulatory control or may be incorporated into regulatory documents to provide stronger methods for implementation.


Strategic documents such as growth, coastal and conservation management strategies (promoted and facilitated by DOC) are a useful method to provide a long-term direction for a particular area and may help achieve a ‘vision’ for the coastal environment. Strategies can provide a holistic approach to management and can recommend implementation measures that can involve changes to statutory documents such as regional and district plans but have the disadvantage of being largely non-statutory. Any new RMA plan or plan change is still subject to the Schedule One of the RMA plan change process.

Strategies are a good mechanism for integrated management of coastal development issues and effects particularly when prepared jointly by the agencies responsible for managing the coastal environment. Strategies should be developed in consultation with the community to help achieve strong community buy-in to the vision and methods of implementation. Strategies may lead to the development of structure plans for implementation at the local level.

Structure plans

Structure plans seek to achieve the effective planning and management of growth by integrating the protection, use, management and development of land and resources within a particular area. Structure plans often have a broad physical plan (or map) that identifies areas of growth, protection, parks and infrastructure and community requirements over a long timeframe (usually 20 years). Structure plans are often used to implement the vision of a regional or district strategy at a local level.

Structure plans have the advantage of providing detailed information on how a specific area will be developed and can be used to provide for the holistic management of coastal development. Structure plans allow for the strategic consideration of all potential impacts of developing an area allowing methods to be developed in advance to mitigate those effects.

Like strategies, structure plans are generally developed as non-statutory documents and may lack 'teeth' when it comes to their implementation. However, many councils are now incorporating structure plans into district plans through the RMA plan change processes. These structure plans have the status of a rule in the plan.

Management plans

Management plans are usually prepared in response to a specific issue or for areas that are experiencing pressures and adverse effects from coastal land development. Management plans include reserve management plans, harbour management plans, coastal erosion management plans, coastal compartment management plans, asset management plans, catchment management plans, conservation, and biosecurity management plans.

Management plans are generally not statutory although they may be referred to in regulatory documents. Larger management plans often involve a number of agencies and can provide a useful tool for integrated management across jurisdictional boundaries.

Iwi management plans

An iwi management plan (IMP) is a term commonly applied to a resource management plan prepared by an iwi, iwi authority, runanga or hapu. An IMP identifies important issues to tangata whenua regarding the sustainable management of natural, physical and cultural resources of their rohe (territory). IMPs (also known as hapu environmental management plans, or iwi planning documents) are expressions of kaitiakitanga, and consolidate tangata whenua knowledge on resources and resource management issues important to them.

Sections 61, 66 and 74 of the RMA require regional councils and territorial authorities to take into account any relevant planning document recognised by an iwi authority and lodged with the council when preparing or changing any RMA planning document.

As tangata whenua have a special interest in the coastal environment IMPs are useful to identify sites and places of cultural importance within the coastal environment and articulate the views of tangata whenua on coastal land use, subdivision and development. IMPs are also useful to help practitioners recognise and provide for tangata whenua values when developing coastal land development provisions in plans and may include specific information on how tangata whenua want to be involved in policy, planning and resource consent processes. Frequently Asked Questions on Iwi Management Plans provides more information on Iwi Management Plans.

Cultural Impact Assessments

A Cultural Impact Assessment (CIA) is a report documenting tangata whenua values, interests and associations with an area or a resource, and the potential impacts of a proposed activity on these. CIAs can facilitate meaningful and effective participation of tangata whenua when assessing the actual and potential effects of coastal development on cultural values. There is no statutory requirement for resource consent applicants or the consent authority to prepare or commission a CIA but they can help provide a full and accurate assessment of environmental effects.

CIA reports can be an excellent source of information on tangata whenua views on coastal development, and can provide guidance on how to recognise and provide for the special relationship of tangata whenua with the coastal environment. Further information is available in Frequently Asked Questions about Cultural Impact Assessments.

Public education

Public education is a useful mechanism to manage coastal land development because it can raise awareness of key issues and impacts. Effective education may result in community 'buy in' to implementation measures, 'empower' people to adopt better coastal management practices, and ultimately result in less intervention being required from local authorities. For example, education may encourage landowners to manage coastal hazard risk by dune planting and rehabilitation. Public education is also helpful to ensure people are aware of acceptable behaviour on public coastal land, such as not walking on sensitive dunes or driving on the beach.

Community approaches and joint initiatives

Community approaches and joint initiatives can be a useful "bottom-up" method to manage coastal development impacts. Many of these initiatives have been successfully implemented including dune care (coast care) groups that are driven by community participation, with help from local or central government.

Community and other relevant stakeholders can be encouraged to accept responsibility for environmental management issues, including developing and implementing appropriate management actions. Communities then take ownership of coastal management issues and statutory agencies can be less focused on regulation and more focused on facilitating the community stakeholders to take coastal management actions.

Technical assessments

Technical assessments can be undertaken to assess special features in the region or district such as outstanding and significant landscapes, natural character, biodiversity and ecological values, tidal and oceanic activity, or sites of importance to tangata whenua. These may also be undertaken to assess the values associated with a particular area that may be facing development pressures. These assessments are usually made into reports and the identified features and areas can subsequently be incorporated into regional or district plans through schedules, maps or zones.

Design guidelines

Design guides are a useful method to manage the specific effects from coastal land development and use. Design guidelines can manage the effects of coastal land development by requiring proposals to address the impacts on particular aspects of the coastal environment.

Land acquisition

Land that is not in public ownership may be acquired and set aside as a mechanism to maintain or enhance public access, natural character and open space in developing coastal areas. Although councils have the ability to acquire land through the Public Works Act 1981, councils very seldom use compulsory land acquisition. The favoured approach is to try to negotiate with landowners to obtain land, or obtain land, such as esplanade reserves, when considering subdivision proposals. Alternatively land can be designated as a reserve and then acquired. See the Esplanade Reserves, Esplanade Strips and Access Strips Guidance Note for more information.

Asset management plans

Asset management plans are developed to meet the functional requirements of assets and infrastructure. Usually prepared by local authorities and network utility providers, they specify levels of service and performance measures for infrastructure. Asset management plans may be used to plan for growth along the coast or pressures on infrastructure and discharges (eg, stormwater network). They can also be used to plan for recreational facilities near the coast such as boat ramps and reserves.

Financial incentives

Financial incentives are means of monetary support that encourage or motivate people to do certain things. Examples of financial incentives include the provision of funding for private protection or restoration works, such as heritage or biodiversity funds, and rates relief.