Resource Management Act: RMA Link: Processes: Details

The RMAlink project aims to make community participation in all Resource Management Act processes more straightforward and less time-consuming. More effective participation from those with a concern for the environment will contribute towards improving environmental outcomes nationwide.

Processes: Details

Hosted by:

Wellington Community Network
Subject District and Regional Plan /Policy Processes

Text Designations

A designation is a provision in a district plan which allows a requiring authority to use land for a particular public work or network utility. A requiring authority gives a notice of requirement to a local authority, to include a designation in the district plan. This most often occurs at the time of a plan review, but can be at any other time. Sections 166-186 of the RMA deal with designations. The process followed is similar to a variation or plan change, and provides for public submissions.

A requiring authority may be a Minister of the Crown, a local or regional authority, or an approved network utility operator, e.g. a distributor of electricity, gas or water, a telecommunications provider, an authority that operates a sewage or water supply system, or a road or rail network. Designated sites include schools and tertiary institutions, hospitals, defence and emergency services, landfills and transfer stations, substations, dams, power stations and transmission line corridors.

In effect, the designation creates a special zone within the district plan where the specified activity becomes a permitted activity.Land use consents are not required, unless the activity falls outside the scope of the designation. Regional plan consents are still required for discharges to air and water.

Designations provide for activities and public works / utilities which are often essential services, but limited in their choice of sites. The designation gives providers of network utilities and public facilities certainty and the ability to plan ahead. It gives them control over activities on the site to prevent anything that may compromise future works, even if the site remains in private ownership.

Tensions can develop between the communitys desire to achieve a good environmental outcome, and the necessity to provide public utilities such as a road or a wastewater treatment plant, within a designated area.

Sometimes the designation gives the community prior notice of a proposed public work several years in advance. Project details may be unclear at the notice of requirement stage. Outline plans may be prepared at this stage (section 176A), leaving details to be finalised later. This creates for uncertainty regarding what may be constructed in future, and the environmental effects. There is no requirement for public consultation on an outline plan, or on changes to an outline plan.

When individuals or communities object to a designation, the Environment Court looks at likely environmental effects, how effects can be mitigated, and whether the work is reasonably necessary, i.e. whether alternative sites, routes or methods have been considered (section 168). But wider sustainability issues are outside the Courts jurisdiction, e.g. could travel demand management and investment in public transport be used as an alternative to a motorway extension? This is one of the RMAs limitations in ensuring sustainability. This point was referred to in the Takamore Trustees High Court decision.

Making A Submission
Use Form 21: Submission on a publicly notified requirement for designation or heritage order, or alteration of designation or heritage order.



MFE (2004) The Designation Process
Ministry for the Environment, Wellington.
A guide for people whose land may be affected by a designation, and want to know how they can be involved in the process. One of the 'Everyday Guide to the Resource Management Act' series. Available online at

MFE (2004) Making a Submission About a Resource Consent or Designation
Ministry for the Environment, Wellington.
A guide on how to make good written submissions to your local council about a resource consent. One of the 'Everyday Guide to the Resource Management Act' series.

MFE (2004) Appearing at a Resource Consent or Designation Hearing
Ministry for the Environment, Wellington.
A guide for people who have made a submission and want to speak at the Council hearing. One of the 'Everyday Guide to the Resource Management Act' series.

MFE (2003) A Guide to Designations Under the Resource Management Act 1991. ME489
Ministry for the Environment, Wellington. ISBN 0-478-18910-9
Provides guidelines on how to use the designation provisions of the RMA. FAQs, step-by-step guides, detailed guidance, forms. Includes case law on various aspects of the designation process. Available online at

Harris, R.(2004) Handbook of Environmental Law.
Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand, Wellington
Pages 123-127 discuss designations for public works and network utilities, and the planning implications.

Journal Articles

Brabant, R. (1997) Sections 16 and 17 Duties, and Designations Resource Management Bulletin, v2, p85
Discusses duty to avoid unreasonable noise and general duty to avoid, remedy or mitigate in relation to activities on designated land.

Sutherland, Lisa (2001) Management Plans Problems Ahead
Resource Management Journal, July 2001. p7-11
Article discusses management plans as a response to lack of available information at the time a designation is approved (or a consent granted).

Web-Based Resources

Resources: See Include Requirements (Designations) under Guidance on Planning Processes. Notes include case law on designations.


Relevant Case Law