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What’s a Council hearing and how does it work?

Updated: Feb 11

As part of a Council the resource consent, designation or plan change processes, a hearing can often be held. A Council hearing can seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be.


A Council hearing is an opportunity for submitters on a notified proposal (such as a notified resource consent) to speak to a Council appointed Panel (often independent commissioners) about their opinions on the proposal.


Council hearings are a key way for the community to be involved in council decisions under the Resource Management Act. They can appear a little like a court, with lawyers, specialist witnesses (such as planners and engineers) and a Panel listening and asking questions. The Panel/ Commissioners will try to make sure everyone feels comfortable, and not intimidated by the process. Council hearings are designed for you to have your say on the project, and to let others have theirs too.


When do you have a hearing?

Council hearings are part of the notification process of resource consent (sometimes), designation or plan change processes. Hearings usually only occur if there are submissions on the proposal and submitters wish to be heard. The below flow diagram show where hearings sit within the notification process.



Whilst anyone can attend a hearing as they are open to the public, you can only speak at if you have submitted on the proposal and you have stated in your submission that you wish to be heard at the hearing. If you are interested in making a submission on a notified proposal, view our blog on how to make a submission here.


If you’re involved in a hearing, what can you expect?


Pre-hearing evidence

Once you have submitted and have stated you wish to be heard at the hearing, the Council will be in touch to confirm the hearing date and time. They will also advise on dates of when pre-hearing evidence from specialists is required to be provided. This relates to a specialist you’ve engaged, such as a planner, traffic or civil engineer, and they evidence they write. This evidence is then pre- circulated to everyone involved.


Pre-circulation of evidence means that it can be read in advance of the hearing. This reduces the length and cost of hearings by focusing on remaining matters of contention or conflicting opinions.


So, make sure to read the circulated evidence in advance as this will not usually be read out at the hearing, and Commissioners will go straight to questioning the specialists.


People who are not specialists are called “lay witnesses”. If you have submitted on a resource consent for example because this is something you are personally interested in, you are a lay witness. Lay witnesses are not required to provide evidence in advance of the hearing- you can provide your evidence at the hearing itself.


Preparing a statement

The Panel will have already read your submission, but it is often useful to prepare a brief statement to read at the hearing. This is your opportunity to explain the main points in your submission, or to explain the evidence you have provided. It is not an opportunity to raise new issues (unless the application has changed, and you are commenting on those changes).


Decide on the key points you want the Panel/ Commissioners to hear and include them in your statement. Providing examples of what you are talking about, your experiences that relate to your concerns or photos of the area of concern are often useful to the Panel.


You can also comment on the recommendations in the Council Officer’s report, including conditions, or on points raised in other submissions.


Remember that any information you provide during the hearing will be on the public record and can be seen by other people.



The Hearing

A Panel is made up of Councilors and/or Independent Commissioners. They may make a final decision on the proposal (if the Council has given them that authority). However, final decisions on a plan change cannot be delegated and must be made by Councils.

At the start of the hearing, the chairperson of the hearing will run through the order of business and the way in which the hearing is to run. The matters that the chairperson might refer to include:

  • Introducing people at the hearing (including submitters),

  • Who may speak and at what time,

  • Directing the evidence and submissions to be recorded or taken as read, or limited to matters in dispute,

  • Directing the applicant and/or submitters to present within a certain time limit,

  • That evidence is not given on oath,

  • Detailing that there is no cross-examination,

  • General respect for tikanga Māori,

  • The availability or otherwise of equipment such as video, overhead projector, whiteboard etc.

  • Potential timeframe for a decision, and appeal rights.

The normal order of the procedure of a hearing is as follows:

  1. Introduction by the chairperson.

  2. Discussion of any preliminary matters, such as changes to the proposal, new evidence submitted etc.

  3. Applicant presents the resource consent application/Notice of Requirement/ Plan Change and supporting evidence. Specialists acting for the applicant will also represent their evidence, and answer questions from the Panel/ Commissioners.

  4. Submitters in support speak to their submissions and answer questions from the Panel/ Commissioners. If they have engaged specialists, their specialists will also speak at this stage.

  5. Submitters in opposition speak to their submissions and answer questions from the Panel/ Commissioners. If they have engaged specialists, their specialists will also speak at this stage.

  6. Council officers highlight any issues arising from what they’ve heard at the hearing and answer any questions from the Panel/ Commissioners.

  7. Applicant responds (Right of Reply).

  8. The hearing is closed or adjourned by the Chairperson, for a decision to be made.

It is important to remember that the Panel are there as decision makers who have to consider both sides of an argument, they are a neutral party and they have been trained in decision making.


When it's your turn to present

When it's your turn to present to the Panel/ Commissioners, as a lay witness you will usually have the chance to read out a written statement, and to present evidence that supports your submission. You may read out your original submission or have a short summary of its main points you want to highlight. The Panel might ask you about your submission, your statement, or your verbal evidence.


When presenting you want to make sure the Panel fully understands and focus on your main points of concern. Keep your statement focused. Speak clearly and slowly and try not to repeat yourself.


It’s important to stick to the main issues, and the issues that are relevant. The Panel is only interested in the relevant facts and related opinions- don’t talk about issues that aren’t relevant to the project, or issues that the Panel/ Commissioners can’t make a decision on. For example, past Council decisions, past grievances or issues with Council staff or the applicant are not usually issues that Commissioners can comment on in a resource consent hearing.


Here are some key ways you can ensure your main issues are heard and you keep in the right frame of mind for any questions from the Panel:


· Stick to the facts in your statement.

· Focus on the environmental matters, not simply what you like and dislike.

· Expand on your submission, but don’t introduce new issues.

· Don’t repeat yourself or be long-winded.

· Keep calm and polite.


If you're presenting evidence, make it as clear and as simple as possible. Give the Panel a copy of your data or reports, and make sure its form a reputable source (or you have a specialist giving evidence on those issues).


Can you ask questions?

If you don’t understand what’s going on at the hearing, you can ask questions, but generally only about procedure. These questions should be addressed to the chairperson of the Panel.


You can only speak directly to the Panel, when you are presenting your submission or answering a question. You must never interrupt someone speaking, even if you disagree with what they’re saying.


Only Panel members/ Commissioners can ask questions directly to a person. As a submitter, you are usually not allowed to ask questions to an applicant, their representatives or other submitters at the hearing. Likewise, the applicant and other submitters can’t ask you questions- there is no cross examination at a Council hearing.

You can suggest questions for the Panel to ask others, but the Panel doesn’t have to ask them. Raise any questions you would like them to answer with the chairperson, when you are speaking about your submission.


A hearing allows people on both sides to have a say and contribute to the Council’s decision making. You’re doing your bit by respectfully being a part of the process and making sure your opinion is clear and easy to hear and by sticking to the issues that concern you and are of relevance.


The decision

A Council decision will be issued most likely after the hearing, as the Panel/ Commissioners will usually need to deliberate in private and consider all the information and assessment presented at the hearing. You will be notified of the decision when this has been made and you’ll also be advised of your rights to appeal should you object to the decision.


Need help with your development?

If you’re thinking about developing your land, give our specialist team a call. With experience in urban, commercial, coastal and rural development we can assist with all types of land development. We have extensive industry contacts and will manage inputs from other specialists making the process easier and faster for you. Give us a call to discuss your ideas. You can contact us on hello@planningplus.co.nz or (00) 427 9966.




Charlotte is a Senior Planner at Planning Plus® and has over 10 years’ experience in resource management, working in both local government and the private sector. This includes time spent at Auckland Council as a Senior Planner where she processed a wide variety of resource consent applications. Charlotte has extensive experience in the resource management field including residential, rural, commercial, heritage and coastal development as well as subdivisions ranging from small to large scale.

Charlotte holds a Bachelor of Planning with Honours from the University of Auckland and is an Intermediate Member of the New Zealand Planning Institute.


Disclaimer

Please remember that the advice in this blog is general in nature and based on information and advice available at the time of writing. We recommend you get your own planning advice. 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 from professionals. Planning Plus LtdTM is not liable in any way for any errors or omissions.

© Planning Plus Ltd 2023



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