New Zealand: To approve or not to approve (resource activity); that is the question

Last Updated: 9 September 2015
Article by Kirstie Wyss

What is a written approval?

The resource consent process under the Resource Management Act 1991 ("RMA") provides an opportunity for certain persons affected by an activity seeking consent, to become involved in the decision-making process. A consent authority is required to notify adversely affected persons of the application for consent. Those affected persons are then entitled to lodge a submission in support or opposition to the application. Anyone who has lodged a submission can bring evidence and be involved in the hearing of a resource consent application.

The notification provisions in the RMA provide that a consent authority cannot decide that a person is an affected person if that person has given written approval to the activity. This means that any person who has provided written approval will not be notified of the application for consent. Further, when making a decision on whether to grant the consent application, the consent authority must disregard any effect on any person who has given written approval.

In reality, a written approval is exactly as the name suggests, a signature from a person consenting to a specified activity. There is no set form for a written approval. However, many consent authorities have their own forms for applicants to use when obtaining written approvals.

I need resource consent – should I get written approvals?

By obtaining written approvals, particularly from adjoining neighbours when the effects of your activity are localised, there is a greater chance that the consent authority will consider your application on a non-notified basis. This means that there will not be an opportunity for people to make submissions on your application. A non-notified application process is generally faster and cheaper, compared to an application that has been notified.

However, obtaining written approvals does not guarantee that your application will not be notified. The consent authority may consider that your activity has effects on the environment that require it to be publicly notified. Written approvals must also be obtained from both the owners and occupiers of a site for the adverse effects in relation to that site to be disregarded. This can get administratively complicated and time-consuming when out-of-town owners, companies or trusts are involved.

It is important to provide a copy of your resource consent application setting out the reasons why you need consent (e.g. the specific non-compliances with the relevant plan) and how your activity may affect the person from whom you are seeking written approval. It is also important that they sign any relevant plans (e.g. a subdivision survey plan) so you have a specific record of consent.

If you do not obtain all of the required written approvals, it's not the end of the world. The consent authority may consider that these people are not affected, or may decide to notify them of your application. In our experience, even if a person does not provide written approval to an application, this does not necessarily mean that they will become involved in the hearing of the application (e.g. by lodging a submission in opposition).

I have been asked to provide written approval – what are the implications?

If you give written approval to an application for resource consent, you are deemed not to be an affected person and will not be notified of the resource consent application. This means that you will not have any ongoing involvement in the decision-making process, such as the ability to lodge a submission. When the consent authority is considering the application, any adverse effect on you will be disregarded. You are not legally required to give written approval. You may also discuss the application with the applicant to obtain further information. While a conditional written approval is not valid, you could see if the applicant is willing to amend their application to address any concerns you may have.

You may withdraw your written approval before the consent authority makes a decision about who to notify, or before the application is determined. Now that the six-month consenting amendments are in place for notified consents, this timeframe is likely to be much shorter and provide less time in which for you to withdraw your written approval ( click here for further information on these changes).

If you do not provide written approval, the consent authority will consider any adverse effects on you when making a decision on the application.

It is also important to consider how your decision on the written approval will affect your relationship with the person seeking your approval, especially if you may want their written approval in the future.

If you provide a written approval and are selling your property, you are required to disclose this to any would be purchasers of your property under the standard form Agreement for Sale and Purchase.


If you require resource consent, it is generally beneficial to try to obtain written approvals.

There are both positives and negatives to providing written approvals. If you are being asked to provide a written approval, you will need to carefully consider whether the activity requiring resource consent will have an adverse effect on you and the implications of providing written approval.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Kirstie Wyss
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