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The hearing process

The Hearings Panel’s role is to hear submissions and evidence on Proposed District Plan.

Once all points have been heard, the Hearings Panel will make recommendations to council about changes to the Proposed District Plan. The council will make the final decisions based on the recommendations received. This follows the process in the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

The Hearing Panel also makes decisions on how hearings will proceed.  The Chair has issued the following direction:

The panel is made up of a mix of independent commissioners and inhouse commissioners (Councillors).  The Chair is independent commissioner Robert Scott.  There are four other independent commissioners on the panel - William (Bill) Smith (Deputy Chairperson), Alan Watson, Peter Kensington and Siani Walker.

Each hearings panel may also include up to two elected representatives (comprising of elected councillors Kelly Stratford, Felicity Foy, Hilda Halkyard-Harawira, Steve McNally) subject to them having achieved commissioner certification under the Ministry for the Environment “Making Good Decisions” Programme.

Hearing commissioners have been selected because they have the right mix of skills, legislative knowledge and familiarity with the district and wider region.  The independent commissioners were chosen from the Council approved “Independent Commissioners List.  All members of the hearings panel must be accredited under the ‘Making Good Decisions’ programme. The Making Good Decisions programme provides training in the council’s functions, responsibilities and powers under the RMA.

A quorum of two is required for any hearing, with the Chair having the casting vote if required.

Please refer to the confirmed hearing schedule for details.

Schedule for the hearings

Hearings are expected to take 15 months but will depend upon the number of submitters who wish to appear before the panel and the complexity of the issues the panel has to deal with.

The structure of the hearings have been confirmed, please refer to the Confirmed Hearing Schedule for details. Once all submitters have been heard, the Hearings Panel will break to consider the submissions and evidence they have heard. Hearing venues have yet to confirmed.

All of the submission points have been coded to a plan topic. If you stated in your submission that you wish to be heard at the hearing, you will be invited to the hearing(s) on the topic(s) that your submission relates to. This may mean you will be required to attend more than one hearing if you submitted on multiple parts of the proposed plan.

This is a report written by an independent Council Officer (set out in section 42A of the RMA). In this report the Council Officer evaluates the issues raised in submissions and makes recommendations to the Hearings Panel. Each hearing topic will have an associated Officer’s s42A report which will be made available on Council website 20 working days before each hearing.

The Officer’s s42A report is just one part of the evidence the Hearings Panel considers in making their decision, alongside information provided by submitters and evidence from their experts. All information and evidence provided is considered equally by the panel.

Because there is so much information to be considered by the Hearings Panel, it would take too long for this to be read during the hearing itself. The Hearings Panel will read everything in advance of the hearing and use the hearing time predominantly for asking questions. This will help to speed up the hearing process. The submitters evidence, including expert evidence, should be circulated ten working days before the hearing. Submitters who intend to call expert witnesses must make the written evidence of those experts available before the hearing.

The Council Officer’s s42A report and evidence from experts will be publicly available on the Council website before the hearing. At the hearing itself, submitters who do not have experts can bring along additional information to support their original submission; this does not have to be made available before the hearing.

No. Hearings are an opportunity to speak directly to the Hearings Panel on the content of your submission should you choose to. If you choose not to attend your submission will still be considered by the Hearings Panel in its entirety.

The council will tell you the date and time of the hearing 6 weeks before the date. You can start getting ready well before then, preparing and practising your statement and gathering your evidence. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for the hearings meetings:

  • it is a good idea to prepare a written statement to read out at the hearing.
  • identify the key points you want to get across, and back them up in your statement.
  • practise reading out your statement. You want to get it right and to look confident and comfortable.
  • think about what questions the hearing committee might ask you, and how you can answer them.
  • go to a council hearing beforehand to see how it works and get a feel for the process. You don’t want surprises on the day.  You can also watch other Council hearings online.

The statement you read out at the hearing will expand on the points you’ve made in your written submission. Your statement might include examples that illustrate some of the points in your submission, or comments about the recommendations in the council officer’s report.

If you would like to bring additional information to the hearing in support of your original submission, you will need to prepare this in time for the hearing.

If you would like an expert to give evidence on your behalf, they will need to make their evidence available to all submitters before the hearing. This is called pre-circulation of evidence.

Evidence is anything that backs up your statement. Evidence can be oral, written or visual – you can use photographs and drawings as evidence. Evidence should focus on facts, not emotions, and be directly relevant to the submission.

More information about how to do this will be made available closer to the date of hearings. For more information you can also download the MFE guide for appearing at a Council Plan or Plan Change Hearing.

An expert is a person who is recognised in their field for having expertise either through qualifications or experience.

It’s important to note that the panel will only accept ‘expert evidence’ from someone both qualified and independent. This means that if you are the submitter, your submission cannot be considered ‘expert evidence’ because you will not be seen as independent.

Any expert must comply with the Environment Court of New Zealand Practice Note 2014 Part 7 Expert Witnesses code of conduct. This code can be found here.

The Hearings Panel can ask that ‘expert conferencing’ happens before and possibly during the hearing. When a number of submitters have engaged experts on the same subject and those experts do not agree on certain things, the panel can ask that these experts meet and try and come to agreement. Any areas of agreement and disagreement are recorded and provided to the Hearing Panel – as an appendix to the Council Officer’s s42A report.

In your invitation to the hearing you will be given a scheduled time. You don’t have to come for the whole day if you don’t want to or your other commitments don’t allow it. Hearings are open to the public to observe and there will be an area where you can sit and listen for as long as you like. When it is your turn, you will be asked to come forward and speak to your submission. At this stage, you should introduce yourself and anyone who may be appearing with you.

Following introductions, the chairperson will ask you to speak to your submission. Briefly summarise the main points of your submission along with any recommendations. You may want to share information in support of your submission that will assist the Hearings Panel to understand your submission. Because of time constraints and the fact that the Hearings Panel will have already studied your submission, you should not read it out.

Please provide electronically any supplementary information to hearings panel staff prior to the meeting and bring at least ten copies to a submission hearing.

After you present your submission, the hearings panel will usually ask questions to clarify points in your submission. If there are any other people appearing with you, you may wish to call on them to answer questions.

Sometimes the hearings panel will ask for additional information during the hearing. If you agree to provide the information, you should forward two copies of each item of information requested to the administrator of the hearings panel by an agreed date.

More information on this can be found on the quality planning website or in the Ministry for the Environment Plan Change Hearings Guide.

The following people have the right to speak at a hearing:

  • submitters who have requested to be heard and anyone presenting evidence on their behalf
  • any other experts presenting evidence on behalf of the council who had a report circulated before the hearing
  • any commissioner(s)

Any submitter who did not request to be heard or anyone attending the hearing does not have the right to speak. The council officer does not have an automatic right to speak but is commonly invited to do so by the chair of the Hearings Panel.

You will need to advise the Hearing Administrator, 4 weeks prior to attending the hearing that you wish to provide written or spoken evidence in Māori. This is required to ensure we can support that request.

You have to pay for your own costs, such as travel to and from the hearing, time off work, and lawyers’ and professionals’ fees. You don’t have to pay for anything else.

If you stated you did not wish to attend a hearing when you put in your submission, you will not be invited to a pre-hearing meeting or a hearing. However, your submission will still be considered in its entirety by the Hearings Panel. You are still welcome to attend the hearings as an observer as they are open to the public.

After all submitters have been heard on one topic, the Hearings Panel will break to consider the submissions and evidence they have heard. At the end of the hearings process, the panel will deliberate the information heard and make a recommendation to council on issues for the proposed plan. The council will make a final decision on accepting the recommendations or not.

This information has been provided based on Hearing Panel directions. This can change through the hearings process.

Last updated: 17 May 2024 10:23am