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What is an effect on the environment?

Under the RMA, the definitions of 'effect' and 'environment' are very broad. This means you need to look very closely at a proposal. Any effects - whether positive or negative, long or short-term, or when combined with each other - need to be identified. It is unlikely an activity will have no effects. If the Council requires a resource consent for an activity, it is because it anticipates the activity may have some effects needing to be considered.

How do I identify effects?

Every resource consent application needs an Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE) and will not be accepted for processing without one. As a starting point it can be helpful to group the different types of effects under sub-headings and refer to issues and policies in the relevant planning document. For example, what are the effects on the following:

  • land, water, flora and fauna
  • people
  • infrastructure
  • cumulative effects

Note: 'Cumulative effects' are referred to in the definition of 'effect' in section 3 of the RMA as affects that can build up over time or occur in combination with other effects. These are difficult to deal with on a consent by consent basis and are generally considered at a plan change phase.

How do I rank or quantify an effect?

Determining the extent of any environmental effect is fundamental to deciding whether an application is to be publicly notified or be processed as a limited notification. Effects on a person or group are also considered when deciding to notify or limited notify an application.

When making a decision on an application, a more comprehensive effects-based assessment is undertaken to help determine if it’s appriorate. This assessment criteria is set out under section 104 of the RMA and depending on the activity, under section 105 which deals with discharge permits, coastal permits, reclamations; section 106 which deals with subdivisions and section 107 which also deals with discharge permits.

When determining the extent of the effects, it is good practice to think about the level of effects along a continuum to ensure that each has been considered consistently and in turn cumulatively. This continuum may include the following effects:

Nil effects

No effects at all

Less than minor effects

Effects that are discernible day-to-day effects, but too small to affect other persons.

Minor effects

Effects that are noticeable but will not cause any significant impacts.

More than minor effects

Effects that are noticeable that may cause an adverse impact but could be potentially mitigated or remedied.

Significant effects that could be remedied or mitigated

An effect that is noticeable and will have a serious impact on the environment but could potentially be mitigated or remedied.

Unacceptable effects

Extensive adverse effects that cannot be avoided, remedied or mitigated.

Some councils use a similar scale to assess effects based on rating the extent of the effect with a number. Either approach to scale the significance of effects could prove helpful provided there is some guidance on how to apply the scales to different types of activities.

After consultation has occurred applicants may then want to consider whether they should either modify the proposal or introduce measures to reduce the effects. This is what is often referred to as avoiding, remedying or mitigating effects.