Current and Recent Past Practice of the Environment Court Concerning Appeals on Proposed Plans and Policy Statements

Paper by Acting Principal Environment Judge Laurie Newhook


[1] The last decade has seen considerable advances in the approach taken by the Environment Court not only to ensuring resolution of Plan and Policy Statement appeals, but across the board.  In particular, reflecting an international trend, case management techniques have been developed and then continually refined.  A major restructuring of the staffing and work of the Court’s three registries occurred in 2002. 

[2] Up to that time, there had been a steadily growing backlog of cases in the Environment Court.  Many steps were then taken to address this, including those mentioned above, and the appointment of an extra judge and an extra commissioner.

[3] Since that time the backlog of cases in the Court has steadily reduced, as is demonstrated year-on-year by the annual report of the Registrar of the Court.

[4] Personal impressions have been gained by us that the timeliness of disposal of Plan and Policy Statement appeals have benefited, along with other aspects of the work of the Court. However we considered it necessary to check these things from records of the Court.

[5] What follows must be seen to be within the narrow compass which it is intended it address. The Court is aware of a current debate in the resource management field in New Zealand about whether legislation will continue to provide for plan and policy statement appeals to the Court into the future.  The Court takes no part in that debate which concerns matters of possible future Central Government policy on which it would not be proper for us to comment for constitutional reasons. 

This paper simply describes current and recent past Court practice, and lessons we believe have and can be learned from that, including case management techniques that have been and are employed, and that can be ordained by the Court going forward.

[6] So what do the figures show?  The Court’s database, and its current and archived files, are probably the best source of information, so we have turned to those.  They appear to confirm many of our impressions, and a sample chosen of sets of plan reviews illustrates a range of approaches taken by the Court and parties, and a commensurate range of outcomes.  Not surprisingly, the more assiduous the case management and mediation practices undertaken, the more quickly has resolution been achieved.  The approaches that have been less “hands on” have resulted, quite logically, in longer resolution times.

[7] We address several reviews in turn.

For a full copy of the paper, click here.