Council is reviewing all geothermal provisions in the Regional Natural Resources Plan and Rotorua Regional Geothermal Plan. The Regional Policy Statement will not be reviewed, so this is our starting point.

Geothermal Plan review

The review of the regional plans will eventually be part of a formal Resource Management Act 1991 process, but there is a lot of work that is needed to get to that point. This includes:

  1. Reviewing our understanding of the resource (e.g. research, monitoring and modelling).
  2. Reviewing and monitoring the effectiveness of current planning provisions.
  3. Developing system management plans (a whole system approach) to inform policy.
  4. Identifying the community's values through community engagement.
  5. Weighing up different management options and their costs and benefits .

From this work we will develop informal draft plan provisions, before a formal plan change is publicly notified for submissions under the Act.

Monitoring effectiveness 

The Regional Policy Statement requires system management plans for some geothermal systems including Kawerau, Tauranga and Rotorua. 

System management plans ensure that where a system is being heavily used (either by a small number of larger users or by multiple small users) it is managed on a whole system basis in a sustainable way.

What does an SMP include?

The content for a system management plan is set out in the Regional Policy Statement and includes objectives for its overall management and strategies to achieve the objectives. However, there is no set template and it may take on varied forms and include additional information as suits the system to be managed.

Although it is not a statutory document, for Rotorua and Tauranga in particular, the content included in the system management plan will form the basis for changes to the geothermal provisions of the Regional Natural Resources Plan and the Rotorua Geothermal Regional Plan. For other systems (e.g. Conditional Development Systems), the system management plan might form part of information submitted in support of resource consent applications.

Who prepares an SMP?

Where there are a large number of small users, such as in the Rotorua and Tauranga systems, the Regional Council will prepare the system management plan. Where there are a small number of large users, the consent holders will generally prepare the system management plan.

Engagement with the community throughout the plan review process is crucial.

At all key stages of the plan review, we will be holding targeted workshops with interest groups (e.g. well owners, direct heat users, tourism operators), and the wider community. Hui have also been held to ensure the multiple interests of Māori in geothermal management are provided for, and these will continue throughout the process.We began our engagement in the Rotorua area in 2018 and will extend this more widely over time.

Most recently in September and October 2019 we met with Māori and interest groups to share information about the state of the Rotorua geothermal system and to discuss and gather feedback on issues, objectives and policy options identified in two key documents:

Key themes we heard were:

  • Questions about how certain the science informing the plan review can be
  • Efficiency, use and innovation should be a focus
  • Incorporation of Mātauranga Māori principles a priority
  • Consenting and process barriers need to be addressed
  • Governance and ownership an unresolved issue
  • Bringing the community together to listen to differing views is important

Next steps

The feedback that we’ve gathered to date will be used to help inform the development of a draft Rotorua System Management Plan. 

Throughout 2020 we will be:

  • refining management options through data analysis, computer modelling and further research
  • working with Māori, including members of the Ahi Kaa Roa working group, on how best to ensure the inclusion of Mātauranga Māori principles
  • engaging with our Treaty partners at regular intervals
  • seeking guidance and direction from our geothermal liaison group
  • facilitating focussed workshops with stakeholders and key agencies/industries
  • reporting key project milestones to Council for approval.

Timing for completion of the draft Rotorua System Management Plan is expected to be towards the end of 2020.

This will then be used to guide the development of Rotorua specific provisions for the geothermal chapter of the Regional Natural Resource Plan.

A formal plan change under the Schedule 1 of the RMA to incorporate provisions will then follow later in 2021, this will include a public notification and formal consultation process.

Please contact us if you'd like to be added to our database and be kept informed.

Geothermal surface features include geysers, springs, mud pools, steaming ground and geothermal vegetation. Assessing the significance of geothermal features is important to ensure that significant features can be protected, that we understand why these features are valued and the effects we need to manage.

Although a large number of geothermal features have been identified in the Bay of Plenty, they have not been classified in a way that takes account of their status as taonga, outstanding natural features or their significance as indigenous vegetation or habitat.

The Regional Policy Statement includes criteria (Appendix F) to be used to reach an overall judgement of the significance of features. We are carrying out a process to assess the significance of surface features in the region, in consultation with landowners, as part of our geothermal programme.

The Resource Management Act 1991 requires Council to review its regional plans and make the information publicly available. Council has looked at the effectiveness of the Regional Water and Land Plan geothermal provisions (now replaced by the Regional Natural Resources Plan) and the Rotorua Regional Geothermal Plan. For more information please see the links to the Review of Geothermal Provisions and the Rotorua Geothermal Regional Plan Review 2010 below.