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Roles and Responsibilities

What is a contaminated site?

Who does what?

Why is it important?

What is risk management?

Risk assessment fundamentals

Risk assessment methods

Limitations of risk assessment

What are RA tiers?


Problem Identification

Receptor Characterisation

Exposure Assessment

Toxicity Assessment

Risk Characterisation

RM Decisions






This section provides an introductory overview of the responsibilities of the landowner, and the main organizations that have roles in managing contaminated sites.

Landowner's Responsibilities

In simple terms, the person who contaminated the land and/or the existing landowner is primarily responsible for the management of that land. This is straightforward if the discharger is the landowner, or the landowner has full knowledge of the contamination. However if is not the case, it can become quite complicated (refer Liability Section).

The landowner needs to ensure that the site meets the requirements of the Resource Management Act 1991, does not create an environmental health nuisance, and does not adversely affect other property.

Under the Resource Management Act contaminated land may require resource consents to discharge contaminants to land air and water and/or require a land use consent for that land use. The landowner will need to check the provisions of any relevant regional plan and any district plan to see what consents are needed. Council staff will be more than happy to help landowners in this area.

In some cases a contaminated site may meet rules in a regional plan and or district plan, and may not require a consent, or the land may already have the required consents. In these situations, the landowner will need to comply with conditions that are set out in these consents, or in the rules of the plan. Again, council staff will be more that happy to explain what these conditions mean to a landowner.

Council Responsibilities

Resource Management Act 1991

Regional councils and territorial local authorities (district councils or city councils) both have responsibilities to manage contaminated land.

Under the Resource Management Act 1991, regional councils are specifically responsible for managing discharges of contaminants into land air and water. They will manage these through policies and rules in regional plans and through resource consents.

Some regional plans may also look at other ways (apart from rules) to help people manage contaminated sites (for example by providing information and technical assistance to landowners on good management practices for sites).

Territorial local authorities (TLAs) are responsible for managing effects from land uses. In other words, TLAs are generally responsible for managing how the land will be used. For contaminated land these responsibilities are more general than those of a regional council, but under the Resource Management Act 1991 both councils have to work together to manage these sites. A TLA will manage land use through policies and rules set out in its district plan and the landowner will again need to be aware of what these rules are and what they mean for the site.

Both regional councils and TLAs are required to collect and keep information about contaminated land. In many cases councils are developing integrated contaminated land databases for their regions to provide information about contaminated land.

Building Act 1991

TLAs are responsible for managing buildings under the Building Act. The purpose of the Act is to ensure that buildings are safe and sanitary and any person wanting to construct or alter a building needs have a building consent, which will be issued by the TLA.

The Building Act is supported by many statutory technical documents. One of these is the Building Code, which sets standards for the construction of buildings and provides guidance on all aspects of building, including the management of contaminants.

Approved Document F1 of the New Zealand Building Code Handbook and Approved Documents requires people to assess the potential for contaminants on site to adversely affect the building or its occupants as a part of the building consent process. It sets out (in a relatively complex manner) guidance on site investigation, risk assessment methods, and on appropriate guideline levels to adopt for each site.

TLAs can use the requirements of the Building Act to ensure that the risks to people and the buildings are considered in the building consent process, and some councils are requesting that desktop, or specific site investigations are undertaken prior to issuing a building consent on potentially contaminated land.

Health Act 1956

District Health Boards and TLAs have responsibilities under the Health Act to ensure public health and wellbeing. While most people are familiar with the council's role as environmental health officers (e.g. dealing with food premises and noise), its functions under the Health Act extend to ensuring public health generally, including issues that can arise from contaminated land that may affect the health of others.

TLAs can require landowners or occupiers to mitigate or remedy adverse effects on public health from contaminated land, and can take enforcement action where necessary.

In summary, the person primarily responsible for the management of a contaminated site is the discharger and/or the landowner. This person must ensure that the site meets the requirements of the Resource Management Act 1991, does not create an environmental health nuisance, or affect other property.

Regional councils and territorial local authorities have quite wide ranging roles in managing contaminated land and territorial authorities have quite specific functions to manage the effects of contaminated land on buildings and on the public generally.

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Page last updated: 01 May 2007

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