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Environmental Risk, New Zealand Legislation and Standards

Dr Bob Thorne

Environmental Risk and the Resource Management Act

The relationship between community and individual amenity and the adverse effects of noise is fundamental in the description of intrusive noise or noise that disturbs. For a sound to become noise, it must be unwanted by the recipient. Noise intrudes upon the amenity of a community and due to its unpleasantness causes annoyance and distress. The mechanism for this transformation of sound to noise varies widely from person to person.

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is New Zealand’s primary planning and environmental management legislation. It has a risk management structure that follows a logical sequence based on definitions of terms.

The RMA requires an assessment of the actual or potential effect on the environment of the proposed activity as required by sections 104 (1) and Schedule 4.

Section 5(2) of the RMA states:

“In this Act, 'sustainable management' means managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing and for their health and safety while- (c) Avoiding, remedying or mitigating any adverse effects of activities on the environment.”

In community and individual terms ‘environment’ must consider amenity values (and their associated social, economic, aesthetic and cultural conditions) as a component of Section 5(2) of the RMA. ‘Amenity values’ has the general meaning of:

"Those natural or physical qualities and characteristics of an area that contributes to people’s appreciation of its pleasantness, aesthetic coherence, and cultural and recreational attributes."

Section 16 places a duty to avoid unreasonable noise. The occupier of land is obliged to adopt the best practicable option to ensure the emission of noise from that land does not exceed a reasonable level. 'Best practicable option' means the best method for preventing or minimising the adverse effects on the environment having regard, among other things, to:

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