Basic advice for RMA hearings

Anything to do with the law can get really complex, and there are some basics that are really helpful to understand.

In a hearing, decision makers may only consider the matters and evidence raised in that hearing.

If it is common knowledge, and it is not explicitly raised, it may not be considered.

The weight given to any particular piece of evidence will usually vary with the degree of expert knowledge.
Thus a submitter with little experience saying something carries less weight than a practicing professional with 20 or more years of experience in that particular field saying the same thing. Submitters may develop such arguments themselves by reference to published peer reviewed papers, but they must be able to handle cross examination or counter evidence on those subjects.

In terms of plans.

Plans have many different types of rules.

Some rules say what is permitted as of right – no consent required.
Some rules say what is permitted, but may be conditioned, and a consent is required.
Some rules say what is neither allowed nor refused, but must be considered on its merits, and may be conditioned.
Other rules say what is not usually allowed.
Other rules state minimums that must be met.

Some rules are in local plans, some in regional plans and policies and standards, some in national policies and standards, some are written into statutes (laws and regulations and notices).

Some things only require consent of neighbors and those directly affected.
Other things must be publicly notified.

It is usually a good idea to consult a professional planner if you get into the situation where you are going to a hearing, or are requiring a complex consent.

In most cases, the law or rule that applies is the one that was in force on the day of the application (not necessarily the one in force on the day of the hearing).

The Resource Management Act is some 770 pages. Then there are all the annotations about precedents from particular decisions of particular judges in particular cases and situations.

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management as one example is 34 pages.

Local and regional plans can add up to thousands of pages, and some of those will have complex case law associated with them. Officers reports should make most of the relevant issues clear.

There is a hierarchy of law – Acts, National Policy, Regional Policy, Regional Plans, Local Plans.

Nothing in this is necessarily simple.

Some of the issues present are extremely complex, many different levels of relationships and influence between rules and ideas and values.

If you end up in a hearing, be prepared to listen carefully, to pay attention, to ask questions if you have even the slightest suspicion that something may not be as it seemed to you.

If you are a submitter, then get the best experts you can find.
Get the best legal and planning advice you can afford given the importance of the matter to you.
Experts do not need to have PhDs or cost a lot, they simply need to have credible experience in the particular matter at issue.

If you are representing yourself, then pay attention. Most things said in a hearing are said for a purpose. If something seems to have no purpose, then you are probably missing something. Make a note. Ask a question about it at an appropriate time. See where that leads. Be respectful.

If you want a condition to achieve an outcome, then be as specific as possible in asking for that particular condition, and why it matters.

And all activity is a balance of rights and responsibilities, of known and unknown, of order and chaos, of the proven and the creative, of credibility and uncertainty, of freedoms and constraints.

In situations like that, all any of us can do is the best that we can on the day.