An issue is an existing or potential problem that must be resolved to promote the purpose of the RMA.
Identifying an issue is the starting point of the public policy cycle. It is also the main justification for policy development and local authority action. There are two types of issue: environmental issues, and corporate issues.
Environmental issues [Of course there are some procedural matters that must be dealt with within plans such as cross-boundary issues and monitoring but these need not be presented in the objectives policies framework.] usually concern conflicts between uses and users of resources, and the associated environmental effects of use. An environmental issue can be:
Most issues in a plan should be existing problems or potential problems, rather than issues requiring positive action. Presenting issues as problems fits the process of issues leading to objectives, rather than the other way around.
However, including issues requiring positive action does allow plans to be proactive and focus on creating positive things, rather than be purely reactive and focus on removing negative things.
Sometimes the purpose of the RMA is best served by acknowledging, through an issue requiring positive action, that inaction by a local authority would allow a substandard environmental outcome to continue or worsen.
Issues requiring positive action will usually involve methods available under legislation such as the Local Government Act or the Biosecurity Act, rather than rules under the RMA.
Corporate issues generally don't belong in a plan. Corporate issues arise from the administrative, financial, and procedural challenges that local authorities face in working with the RMA.
They include things like a lack of information, lack of staff capacity, and difficulty in drafting provisions that recognise the diverse interests of the community.
Although local authorities need to find ways to deal with corporate issues, such issues don't justify action under the RMA. If corporate issues must be included in a plan, they should be identified separately from environmental issues.
Procedural issues such as cross boundary issues and monitoring need to be addressed in a plan, but don't need to be part of the objectives and policies framework.
An objective is a statement of what will be achieved through the resolution of the issue. [Concise Oxford Dictionary (7th edition); Oxford Compact Thesaurus (2nd edition).] Every issue should have at least one corresponding objective that clearly states the aim, intention, purpose, or target for the issue being addressed. These statements provide the framework that establishes what policies must achieve.
Plans are complex policy documents, and objectives sometimes need to convey intended outcomes at both strategic and operational levels.
There are two types of objectives: outcome objectives, and administrative objectives.
Outcome objectives focus on the environmental outcomes to be achieved. An outcome objective can be:
A closed objective may also be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound).
Both types of objectives should clearly add value to the RMA, rather than merely repeat the Act. They should be concrete, and not be qualified by statements like "as far as practicable".
For more information on objectives, see Regional Policy Statements and Regional Plans: A Guide to their Purpose, Scope, and Content, Hawke's Bay Regional Council, Taranaki Regional Council, Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council, Otago Regional Council, and Southland Regional Council, March 1998.
Administrative objectives relate to how the local authority intends to deal with an issue from an administrative and policy-making point of view. They might concern matters like:
Like corporate issues, administrative objectives don't serve any particular purpose in a plan, and are not critical to good practice.
However, plan developers might choose to include administrative objectives because, for example, they aid understanding of the plan.
Record administrative objectives separately, under a specific heading. This can avoid repetition, and provide better flow between outcome objectives.
The definition of "policy" is widely debated. [See Regional Policy Statements and Regional Plans: A Guide to Their Purpose Scope and Content, Hawke's Bay Regional Council, Taranaki Regional Council, Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council, Otago Regional Council, and Southland Regional Council, March 1998.] The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a policy as "a course or general plan of action adopted by government, party, person etc". This fits the wider definition of public policy as being "whatever a government chooses to do or not to do". [Dye TR (1998) Understanding Public Policy(9th ed), Prentice Hall, Hall Jersey.]
Any statement of a local authority's intended action or attitude towards an issue is a policy, regardless of how specific that statement is. This is confirmed by a Court of Appeal definition (see text box).
In Auckland Regional Council v North Shore and Ors (CA 29/95), the Court of Appeal was asked to consider the definition of a policy. The Court found that the term "policy" is to be given its ordinary present day meaning and may (in law) be "either flexible or inflexible, either broad or narrow".
Honesty, said the Court, is said to be the best policy. "Most people would prefer to take some discretion in implementing it, but if applied remorselessly it would not cease to be a policy." The Court went on to say that one would be on unsafe ground to suggest that a policy could not include something highly specific.
However, policies can be treated differently in different plans, depending on the context and the local authority. A policy in one context may be a method, or even an objective, in another.
It is important not to get trapped in circular arguments about what defines a policy. It is far more valuable to ask:
Substantive policy states what is going to be done. [Anderson J (1984) Public Policy Making and Introduction(3rd ed) Houghton Miffin, Boston.] In the RMA context, "what is going to be done" relates, first and foremost, to the position a local authority will take on the use of a resource.
A substantive policy is often more like a principle than an action. For example, the course of action in this policy is to prefer one form of resource use over another: floating structures and piled platforms are preferred ahead of reclamations and causeways.
There are three main types of substantive policies. Practitioners refer to these as the "decision-making policies". They are:
Policies "to ensure" will usually need to be supported by the more specific "not accept" or "require" policies. For example, the "to ensure" policy above doesn't give any guidance about the basis of control, or when avoidance, mitigation or remedy are acceptable.
If a policy is to "control" or "limit" some form of activity, further policies need to give direction on how that control or limit will be exercised. [Hawke's Bay Regional Council et al (1998) Regional Policy Statements and Plans: A Guide to their Purpose, Scope and Content.]
Procedural policy concerns how, and by whom, things will be done. A procedural policy might be a statement about methods to be used, or about processes to be followed. Some procedural policies may relate to administrative objectives.
Identify substantive policies separately from procedural policies, to help the flow of the plan.
A method is the way a policy is implemented. As noted earlier, a method could be described as a specific form of policy. However, the RMA chooses to "tease out" methods from policies, consistent with the public policy cycle.
Methods can be distinguished from policies by the fact that their purpose is purely explanatory. They provide no decision-making guidance, and merely state how the relevant policy will be implemented.
Broadly speaking, methods are either regulatory or non-regulatory.
Regulatory methods involve the use of specific coercive powers provided by the RMA or other legislation. They include the specific regulatory measures available to local authorities under the RMA: rules, resource consents and conditions, designations, heritage protection orders, enforcement orders, and abatement notices.
Regulatory methods also include different techniques for implementing policy. Examples include zoning, classifying water ways for specific uses, and requiring documents such as structure plans and network management plans.
Non-regulatory methods are either operational programmes (such as education, funding or grants schemes, or technical assistance), or economic instruments (mainly rating policy, financial contribution policies, or transferable rights or permits regimes).
The Local Government Act 2002 places little restriction on operational methods The Local Government (Rating) Act 2002, the Resource Management Act, and other legislation limits the use of economic instruments.
Environmental Results Anticipated (ERAs) are closely related to objectives. They reflect what might be achieved from the combined effect of the objectives, policies and methods.
The general purpose of ERAs is to encourage policy makers to specify their expectations in a way and with a transparency that might not be appropriate in the objectives themselves. They also provide milestones against which progress can be measured.
ERAs can have any one of three distinguishing features that make them valuable additions to plans. These features are:
The RMA's definition of "environment" includes social and economic conditions that affect or are affected by ecosystems, resources or amenity values.
It is useful to specify what indicators will be used to assess the extent to which ERAs are met. This demonstrates that thought has been given to monitoring.
The RMA also requires local authorities to identify the principal reasons for adopting objectives, policies and methods. This requirement links directly to section 32.
Identifying principal reasons provides an opportunity for local authorities to state why one provision is more appropriate than another in its efficiency and effectiveness.
Principal reasons should focus on key issues and key alternatives. They might focus on concern for the social and economic costs of an alternative provision. They might explain that the local authority believes the environmental costs or risks of the alternative provisions outweigh the social and economic costs of the proposed provisions.
Principal reasons should not merely repeat the issue. They should focus instead on explaining why particular provisions have been included. This can be an opportunity to introduce some of the corporate issues and administrative objectives discussed earlier.