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“Scope” and how it can reduce resource consent times and costs

Updated: Feb 20

Needing a resource consent can be daunting; are you opening a can of worms or is it more straight forward than you think? If your development needs resource consent, this doesn’t mean it’s a free for all in terms of assessing all potential adverse effects. What’s relevant and what the council can assess, or the “scope”, is set out in the planning documents and the RMA. Its important to know the scope of your proposal, as this guides the type and detail of assessment you need to provide and also what Council should be assessing. Knowing the scope of your proposal can save time and money.

What is scope?

In this blog we take a look at scope as identified in district and regional plans. The rules in a regional or district plan determine the activity status of any particular proposal, which then determines the ‘scope’. Each of the rules in a regional or district plan must specify whether a particular activity is:

  • Permitted;

  • Controlled;

  • Restricted Discretionary;

  • Discretionary;

  • Non-complying; or

  • Prohibited.

This is called the “activity status”. These different categories determine what can be considered when making decisions on a resource consent application (including conditions that can be added) and essentially will determine the ‘scope’. Let’s take a look at these in more detail.

Summary of activity statuses

The activity status type is a hierarchy, moving from permitted up to prohibited. The complexity, level of assessment needed and what the Council can assess increases the further you move up the hierarchy.

  • Permitted activity: No resource consent is required, and the activity can occur ‘as of right’. Plans will also usually identify specific “Standards” that apply to permitted activities. You need to make sure that your proposal meets these too, or it may still require resource consent. An example may be earthworks, where you meet the maximum area control but some of the works will be in a floodplain, and there are Standards that control works in floodplains.

  • Controlled activity: Resource consent is required but must be granted. The application is assessed only in relation to specific matters listed in the Plan. The Council has “reserved control” over these matters (they are often called “Matters for Control”). The Council can only assess the proposal in terms of these matters; this is the “scope” (i.e. any potential effects outside the matters of control will not be assessed). Conditions must also relate to the Matters for Control.

  • Restricted discretionary activities: A resource consent is required but again the Plan restricts the “scope” of the application to specific matters. These are called the “Matters for Discretion” and are listed in the Plan. This means that the Council has limited the range of matters it can consider when assessing the application and imposing conditions. Council can only set conditions that are related to the Matters for Discretion; no other conditions can be added unless the applicant offers them.

  • Discretionary activities: A resource consent is required and the council can consider any environmental effect relating to your application. Conditions can be imposed relating to any matter (to the extent applicable under the RMA).

  • Non-complying activities: Resource consent is required and again the Council can assess any potential environmental effect. The scope for a non- complying application is wide, and your assessment should be detailed and comprehensive. The Council may only grant the resource consent if it meets RMA tests.

Prohibited activity: This is the highest level of activity status; you cannot even apply for resource consent for a prohibited activity.

Knowing the scope of a proposal, allows you to focus your assessments on the right areas, get the specialist inputs you need and submit a resource consent application that covers what’s needed and doesn’t address what’s not relevant. This will save you spending time and money on assessing issues that are irrelevant to the Council. It will also allow you to question out of scope queries from the Council, helping to keep the resource consent processing on track and keep costs down.

Resource consent requirements

An application for resource consent requires an assessment of environmental effects (AEE) which details all potential effects of that activity. This assessment must be prepared in accordance with the scope of the application, so it’s important you know this from the outset. For example, a controlled activity resource consent should address the Matters of Control identified in the Plan, whereas a non-complying activity must be comprehensive, considering all potential effects including a full assessment against objectives and policies. To avoid delays and costs later on, make sure you get the correct advice up front.

The AEE should contain detail that corresponds with the scale and significance of the effects the activity may have on the environment and should be prepared in accordance with the requirements in Schedule 4 of the RMA. You can find out more about this in our blog on s88 RMA.

What now?

Development is different for every person and every site and needs a unique approach. If you want to know more, get in contact with our friendly team. We provide free upfront, preliminary advice and can assist you with deciding what development options are best for you.

You can contact us on or 09 427 9966. We look forward to your call!


As with all our blogs, the information detailed here is general in nature and meant as a preliminary guide only. To the best of our knowledge it is correct the time of publication. This should not be substituted for your own investigations or use of your own professional’s.

© Planning Plus Ltd 2024

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