Purpose of the hearing’s/officer’s report
The hearing's/officer's report serves to advise the decision-maker(s) (the hearings panel or commissioner(s), or if no hearing was held, the person with delegated authority), on the matters to be considered. This ensures that an informed judgement on the application can be made. It is important that the author of the report is present at the hearing to answer questions, and that they not be ‘represented’ by another officer or consultant.
What to include in the report
The report needs to assess the application and the supporting AEE, and include an analysis of the matters required by the RMA and the plan(s). It should summarise the submissions received, identify any written approvals supplied, and the outcomes of any pre-hearing meeting(s) or mediation. The report should clearly identify all non-compliances with the relevant Plan(s). Where there is disagreement with any of the applicant’s identification of the non-compliances, the should be clearly identified in the officers report. It may include a recommendation as to whether the application should be granted or declined, or alternatively a conclusion as to whether the effects are (or are not) more than minor, and whether the proposal is contrary to the objectives and policies, leaving the issue of granting or declining consent to the council/commissioners. Regardless of whether the report favours a grant of consent, it is good practice to attach any recommended conditions, including monitoring, as this provides focus and can simplify the decision-making process should consent be granted.
Those presenting expert evidence should read and be familiar with the Environment Court’s Code of Conduct.
As with all reports for consent applications, the scope and depth of a report on a publicly notified or limited notified application should reflect the scale and significance of the environmental effects associated with the proposed activity.
In accordance with s42A(1A), the report does not need to repeat information that has been included in the application. For example, if the proposal, site description or AEE is correct and has been checked and agreed with by staff, any or all parts of these assessments can simply be adopted in the officer's report. These provisions help to avoid unnecessary duplication and provide for more efficiency in report writing.
Councils may have a set format for writing reports on notified consent applications.
It is not good practice to state in the report that the applicant can address certain matters/issues at the hearing. Any gaps should be addressed by way of a request for further information before completing the report. This will provide submitters with the opportunity to consider all information.
It is good practice and courteous to call the applicant and discuss the report's contents before finalising it. This is particularly important if the recommendation is for the application to be declined as the applicant may wish to make changes to the application before the hearing or before the report is released.
When should the report be sent out, and to whom?
The report should be sent to the applicant, any submitters who wish to be heard, and the decision-maker(s) - whether it be a hearing committee, commissioner(s), or a council staff member with delegated authority.
Section 103B(2) of the RMA requires that the report arrives 15 working days before the hearing begins.
Where an application is made for a significant project and it is to be heard, it is good practice to circulate the council officer's report earlier than 15 days before the hearing. This allows all parties to consider the recommendations and assessments made, address them, and potentially commission further evidence where required.