National Environmental Standards

What are national environmental standards?

National Environmental Standards (often referred to as NESs) provide the opportunity for central government to promote the adoption of consistent standards at the regional and district levels.

National environmental standards are regulations which prescribe technical standards, methods or requirement for land use and subdivision, use of the coastal marine area and beds of lakes and rivers, water take and use, discharges, or noise. They can also prescribe technical standards, methods or requirements for monitoring. 614  

A NES may set a minimum standard, allowing councils to impose stricter standards in their own plans, or it may be absolute, so that local rules cannot be more lenient or stricter than the standard. 615

National environmental standards may contain qualitative or quantitative standards, discharge standards, methods for classifying a resource, methods, processes or technologies to implement standards and exemptions from standards. 616

A national environmental standard may: 617

  • Prohibit an activity
  • Allow an activity (unless it will have significant adverse effects on the environment)
  • Allow a resource consent to be granted for an activity only if it complies with conditions specified in the standard and/or in the rules of a regional or district plan
  • Restrict the making of a rule or granting of a resource consent
  • Require the review of a water, coastal or discharge permit
  • Determine whether an activity is controlled, restricted discretionary, discretionary or non-complying
  • State the matters over which discretion is restricted or control is reserved
  • Specify that a resource consent application must be publicly notified or must not be publicly notified or notified on a limited basis.

National environmental standards may also incorporate by reference standards, requirements or recommended practices of international organisations and any other written material that deals with technical matters and is too large or impractical to include in the standard. 618

What is the effect of a national environmental standard?

A local authority must amend its plan if a rule duplicates or conflicts with a provision in a national environmental standard. Such a plan change will have immediate effect and will not undergo a public notification and hearing process and cannot be appealed. 619  A rule will conflict with a national environmental standard if it is more lenient or if it is more stringent and the standard does not expressly allow this. 620

A consent authority must have regard to any relevant national environmental standards when considering an application for a resource consent. 621  

A national environmental standard will not apply to a resource consent that existed prior to the standard coming into force. However, a standard will apply to a coastal, water or discharge permit at the time a review of the permit’s conditions is undertaken 622  and existing designations will be subject to a standard when the designation lapses or is altered. 623

What is the relationship of a national environmental standard with other documents?

Where a national environmental standard is inconsistent with a water conservation order the more stringent provisions in either document apply. 624

Bylaws prevail over a national environmental standard if they are more stringent than the standard and the standard provides for the making of more stringent bylaws. A bylaw must never be more lenient than a national environmental standard. 625

How are national environmental standards prepared?

The Resource Management Act requires the Minister for the Environment to establish a process for the preparation of a national environmental standard that includes the following:

  • The Minister must notify the public and iwi authorities of the proposed subject matter of the standard and the reasons why the Minister considers the standard to be consistent with the purpose of the RMA.
  • The Minister must establish a process that provides the public and iwi authorities with adequate time and opportunity to comment.
  • A report and recommendations to be made on those comments and the proposed subject matter of the standard must be prepared and publicly notified.
  • An evaluation report (in accordance with section 32) must be prepared and the Minister must have particular regard to that report when deciding whether to recommend the making of the standard.

These steps do not need to be followed for minor changes or corrections are made to a national environmental standard. 637

A national environmental standard is legally established when the Governor General, by Order in Council, adopts the regulations.

What national environmental standards are there?

The following national environmental standards are currently in force:

  1. Section 43(1) Resource Management Act 1991

  2. Section 43B Resource Management Act 1991

  3. Section 43A Resource Management Act 1991

  4. Section 43(2) Resource Management Act 1991

  5. Section 43G Resource Management Act 1991

  6. Section 44A Resource Management Act 1991

  7. Section 44A Resource Management Act 1991

  8. Section 104(1)(b)(i) Resource Management Act 1991

  9. Section 43B Resource Management Act 1991

  10. Section 43D Resource Management Act 1991

  11. Section 43C Resource Management Act 1991

  12. Section 43E Resource Management Act 1991

  13. Sections 44 and 56 Resource Management Act 1991

Last updated at 10:40AM on December 15, 2014