The Ministry for the Environment ("MFE") has released interim guidance to assist those who prepare evaluation reports under s 32 of the Resource Management Act 1991 ("RMA").  Section 32 sets out matters that councils, Ministers, and private plan change proponents must examine and assess when a proposed plan, plan change or policy statement under the RMA is prepared.

The guidance is intended to build on and replace guidance previously available on Quality Planning's website, and incorporates changes to s 32 arising from the Resource Management Amendment Act 2013.

Those changes came into force on 4 December 2013, and aim to improve the quality of evaluation reports by providing greater detail on what is expected.  As amended, s 32 includes express requirements that the reports:

  • Identify and assess the benefits and costs of the environmental, economic, social and cultural effects anticipated from the provisions.
  • Quantify, if practicable, those benefits and costs.
  • Contain specific assessments of the opportunities for economic growth and employment.
  • Contain a level of detail that corresponds to the scale and significance of the environmental, economic, social and cultural effects anticipated from the proposal.

Key features of the interim guidance document include:

  • An emphasis on preparing evaluations at an early stage rather than as a last minute add-on contributing little to the plan development process.
  • A list of 12 tasks or stages involved in developing an evaluation report.  It is intended that practitioners should be able to follow these in a systematic manner.  Detailed guidance is given in relation to these tasks.
  • There is also guidance as to the level of detail likely to be required in an evaluation report, relative to the scale and significance of the proposal.  This has been provided through a table that matches the likelihood of specific tasks (eg economic analysis) being required against proposals with different levels of scale and significance.
  • A number of illustrative case studies taken from actual plan change processes.

MFE has requested feedback on the guidance before it is finalised, with comments due by 21 February 2014.  MFE also intends to hold focus group sessions in early 2014 to further inform the finalised guidance.  A copy of the interim guidance document is available here.

The interim guidance document will be of particular interest to planners, economists and private plan change proponents, as well as other practitioners who may be closely involved in preparing section 32 reports.  We recommend that those affected by the interim guidance document engage in the consultation process at an early stage in relation to any concerns or suggested improvements to the guidance.