New Zealand: Dirtiness limits for dirt – new soil contamination standards

Brief Counsel

A new National Environmental Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health (NES) will take effect from 1 January 2012.

This Brief Counsel considers the key features of the NES and its implications.

Scope of the new NES

The NES creates a nationally consistent set of planning controls and soil contaminant standards.  In some districts, these controls will be stricter than current territorial authority requirements while, in others, they may be more lenient.

The NES overrides district plan rules and can affect any new notice of requirement for a designation or alteration to designation, application for resource consent or a review of existing resource consent conditions.  It appears from the NES that it is not intended to affect regional plan rules relating to contamination or discharges.

The purpose of the NES is to ensure that land affected by contaminants in soil is appropriately identified, assessed and remediated (if necessary) at the time of development, to make the land safe for human use.

It applies only to land which is, has been or is more likely than not to have been the site of activities on the Hazardous Activities and Industries List (HAIL) maintained by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE).  Under the NES, a person can determine if the NES planning controls apply to land by either:

  • obtaining information from the relevant district council's dangerous goods file,  property files, resource consent database or other "relevant registers", or
  • having an environmental consultant conduct a "Phase I" desktop study.

The NES is supported by a risk-based set of standards for 12 priority soil contaminants, as set out in MfE's Methodology for Deriving Standards for Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health document.

The following activities are permitted activities (requiring no resource consent under the NES) subject to certain requirements being met:

  • the removal of underground fuel storage systems, and associated subsurface soil sampling, investigation and land remediation
  • small scale (no more than 25m3 per 500m2) and temporary soil disturbance activities (two months' duration), and soil sampling, and
  • subdivision or change of land use (absent other rules applying via the relevant District Plan1) where a Phase I desktop study states it is highly unlikely that there will be risk to human health if the subdivision/change of use is undertaken (a copy of the Phase I study is to be provided to the relevant district council).

Where a "Phase II" detailed site investigation report finds that the soil contaminant standards within the NES are not exceeded, a subdivision or change of land use is a controlled activity (again, absent other district rules applying), requiring resource consent and giving the council the ability to impose consent conditions. 

Where the Phase II investigation finds NES soil contaminant standards are exceeded, a restricted discretionary resource consent will be required.


The NES could result in additional investigation, resource consent application and remediation costs where a HAIL activity is, has been or is more likely than not to have been undertaken in the past. 

In some cases, these increased costs could affect the viability of development proposals.

District councils are not currently required to show HAIL sites on a Land Information Memorandum (LIM) or Project Information Memorandum (PIM).  Landowners and developers may therefore prefer to have an environmental consultant conduct a Phase I study of a subject site.

The level of information held by councils and vendors will improve as a result of the NES because, whether or not a resource consent is required by the NES for a proposed subdivision or change of land use, the NES requires copies of Phase I and Phase II reports to be provided to district councils, which will then be held on council files/databases (and available for public review). 

Overall, we consider that the NES may result in contamination issues featuring more prominently in property negotiations, with risk allocation and price adjustments being used in transactions to address any such issues.

Requiring authorities will also need to be careful about assuming that a designation will provide all-encompassing land use authority to proceed with a project as the NES could mean fresh land use consent is required where the designation has not been included in the district plan before the NES comes into force on 1 January 2012.  

Chapman Tripp has expertise in resource management and contaminated land laws in New Zealand, and is happy to help you understand how the NES might impact on your business, development proposal or property transaction.


1Where a resource consent is required under other district plan rules, resource consent will still be required e.g. subdivision always requires at least a controlled activity resource consent from a district council.

The information in this article is for informative purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Please contact Chapman Tripp for advice tailored to your situation.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions