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