History of the court

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First town planning legislation

In 1926 the Bill which led to New Zealand's first town planning legislation was introduced. During the Bill's second reading, the then Minister of Internal Affairs responsible for the Bill insightfully observed that ‘Cities and towns in the Dominion at the present time have no schemes of town planning and the sooner the controlling authorities have the power and set to work and draft such schemes the better for themselves and the people generally’. Ground breaking as the 1926 Act was, however, it did not provide a right of appeal to an independent forum.

First appeal rights

When Parliament first set up a system for appeals from planning decisions under the 1953 Act, it sought an entity that would travel to all parts of the country, look at planning schemes, and hear evidence on the spot. That way, if people were unhappy with a local authority's decision, they could appeal to a body with expertise to deal with matters of a technical nature and knowledgeable about local body planning and administration.

A judicial panel or board was constituted, with a person of legal standing presiding ‘to ensure that there is justice as between the people and the authority, to hold the scales of justice and to preserve the rights of the individual’.

The first planning appeals were heard in February 1955.

Emergence of the Planning Tribunal

In the 1970s and early 1980s, it was not only the number of appeals, but the manifold issues that arose which underlined the need for and importance of the appeal system.

The Appeal Boards were replaced by the Planning Tribunal following the passing of the Town and Country Planning Act 1977.

Resource Management Act 1991 & Environment Court

By the late 1980s it was thought in some quarters that statutory planning and environmental controls should be consolidated under a new comprehensive piece of legislation.

As a platform for reform the concept of sustainably managing natural and physical resources, with an emphasis on looking to the effects of activities, took hold with the enthusiastic encouragement of Geoffrey Palmer as he then was. Hence, the Resource Management Act (RMA) came about with effect from October 1991.

The work of the Planning Tribunal and later the Environment Court (which replaced the Planning Tribunal in 1996) has proceeded apace since, in a climate of continually evolving case law and statutory amendments, and amidst modern social, cultural and economic conditions.

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