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Wetlands- What's changing and how does it affect you?

Updated: Feb 20

You’ve likely heard mention in the media about all the upcoming resource management changes. This includes replacing the Resource Management Act with the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), Strategic Planning Act (SPA) and later the Climate Adaptation Act. National Policy Statements on Indigenous Biodiversity and Highly Productive Land are being drafted. National Environmental Standards are also proposed for change- including the National Environmental Standard on Freshwater.

We’ll be discussing the RMA reform, in particular the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA), Strategic Planning Act (SPA), in the coming weeks. In this weeks blog we take a quick look at changes proposed to the National Environmental Standard on Freshwater.

Many people developing land, be that developers or new property owners, have run into issues with the current National Environmental Standard on Freshwater (NES(FW)). In our experience, this is largely due to the broad definition of wetland in the NES(FW) and the multiple potential consent triggers. This could include:

  • Discharges of wastewater, stormwater or sediment laden water within 100m of a watercourse,

  • Diversion of stormwater within 100m of a wetland,

  • Earthworks within 10m of a wetland,

  • Vegetation clearance within 10m of a wetland.

Some activities are also prohibited (where a resource consnet cannot be applied for).

This can mean that for a relatively innocuous development, multiple resource consent triggers under the NES(FW) could be present. In many cases, establishing if the “wetland” meets the relevant definitions (and therefore confirming if the NES(FW) provisions even apply) can be problematic, and lead to disagreement between ecology specialists. Artificial wetlands can also be affected, and no specific provision is made in the NES(FW) for landfills, quarries, mines and other regionally important activities. Usually these can only locate where the resources themselves are located (i.e. in many cases the activity can’t be relocated away from the wetland, as the resource isn’t in that location.

To try and address some of the concerns expressed, the Ministry for the Environment is looking to amend the NES(FW) and has released an exposure draft following initial consultation. The exposure draft includes:

  • In terms of constructed wetlands, the exclusions are now narrowed to refer to excluding “a deliberately constructed wetland”.

  • A new discretionary activity consenting pathways for quarries, landfills and mines is introduced.

  • A new restricted discretionary activity pathway for urban development is proposed to be introduced. This is proposed to link with the National Policy Statement on Urban Development, and also require a new policy in regional plans.

  • New appendices are proposed in relation to offsetting and compensation.

  • New rules are proposed in relation to discharges within 100m of a wetland, where there is no hydrological connection to the wetland (such as the wetland being uphill, or in another physically separated catchment) and no adverse effects on the wetland will be created.

The consenting pathway when there is a hydrological connection is also simplified in some cases.

While not addressing all concerns, the changes noted in the exposure draft will assist in removing some of the more “administrative” type consents that developers are required to seek at the moment. It should also help improve consistency in some areas and reduce time delays relating to differences of opinion.

The exposure draft does not have any legal weight at present and is open for feedback until 10 July 2022.

Wetlands on your site or those adjoining can impact on the development type you propose and its location. By addressing these issues at the start of your project planning, you can avoid costly redesigns and reassessment. If you would like to discuss your proposal and get these issues addressed at the start, get in contact with our experienced team of planners. With undertaking work for private developers and processing applications for local Councils, we have a great overview of the process from all sides. You can contact us on or (09) 427 9966. We look forward to helping you on your development journey.

Hannah Thomson is Director of Planning Plusand has over 20 years of resource management experience working in both local government and the private sector. This includes five years at Rodney District Council in roles including Senior Planner and Team Leader. Hannah has a wide range of experience including commercial, rural, residential and coastal development and subdivision on small to large scales and appearances at both Council and Environment Court as an expert witness for mediation and hearings. Hannah has assisted Councils with policy development and has also assisted private individuals with submissions to Council.

​Hannah holds the qualifications of BSc (Environmental Science) and Master of Applied Science (Environmental Management), is a Member (Int) of the New Zealand Planning Institute and Secretary of the New Zealand Planning Institute Auckland Branch Committee. Hannah is also a member of the Resource Management Law Association.


As with all our blogs this information is preliminary in nature only and we have used our best endeavours to ensure it is correct at the time of writing. It is not intended to substitute for your own investigations or obtaining specific advice on your proposal from professionals. Planning Plus LtdTM is not liable in any way for any errors or omissions.

© Planning Plus Ltd 2024

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