The Ministry for the Environment has released a new guide to section 32 of the Resource Management Act 1991, following substantial amendments to that section in December 2013. The guide is intended to help practitioners and decision-makers to undertake best-practice evaluations under the revised section 32.
The purpose of section 32 evaluations has not changed. It remains that:
- new proposals be examined for their appropriateness in achieving the purpose of the RMA;
- the benefits, costs, and risks of new policies and rules be clearly identified and assessed; and
- the analysis be documented, so stakeholders and decision-makers can understand the rationale for policy choices.
The previous version of section 32 required an evaluation to be carried out prior to a proposed plan, policy statement, plan change or variation being publicly notified. The evaluation would be carried out by either the relevant Minister, local authority, or person requesting a plan change as appropriate. The evaluation was required to examine the extent to which each objective was the most appropriate way to achieve the purpose of the Act, and whether, having regard to their efficiency and effectiveness, the policies, rules or methods proposed were the most appropriate for achieving those objectives.
As noted, the overall purpose of section 32 evaluations has not changed with the 2013 amendments. However, the section now encourages quantification of costs and benefits where practicable, and requires identification of opportunities for economic growth and employment that are anticipated to be provided or reduced. It also requires an overall more robust, better-documented analysis that is proportionate to the scale and significance of the environmental effects anticipated from implementation of the proposal being considered.
The guidance document released by the Ministry for the Environment breaks the process of preparing a section 32 report down into key steps, such as:
- defining the problem;
- scoping and organising the evaluation approach;
- identifying and assessing objectives;
- identifying and screening response options;
- collecting information on the selected options;
- evaluating the options;
- writing an evaluation report;
- considering the evaluation, assessing changes post-notification; and
- making a decision.
Of course, no two section 32 evaluations will be alike, and the guidance document emphasises that the process should be flexible and customised to individual proposals. Involving stakeholders and having strong supporting evidence are integral to the section 32 process, as is succinct and high-quality analysis.
The guidance document is available here.