NES and its environmental requirements

Keeping up with the ‘clean, green’ image in New Zealand.

We’ve all heard the slogans thrown around about New Zealand before – 100% pure, clean, green, the world’s ‘middle earth’ – but do we deserve such accolades?  Well… the sceptics would say no.

In 2006 our snow-capped mountains, clean rivers and beautiful countryside were ranked number one in the Environmental Performance Index according to indicators on air and water quality, land use and resource management. But since then, we’ve slipped from our lofty heights. Why?

Put simply – we’re growing. And as our population increases, so too does our ‘human impact’ on the environment. So while we live in sparsely populated lands and a have a fairly small footprint by global standards, we now need to look at planning for the future as a necessity, rather than an ignored task on our development ‘to do’ list.

Enter environmental legislation and regional regulations…

Shortages of land in built-up regions and the conversion of sites from industrial to residential use has led to a minefield of environmental requirements for developers, project managers and planners. The problem is many aren’t aware of these requirements or do not understand the implications. It’s not until they’re digging away and are ordered to stop that they realise they’ve made a resource consent faux pas in the eyes of the regional council.

That’s why at Coffey, we think it’s crucial to understand the history of your land in the initial stages of development – to keep your development schedule on target for completion and budget blow outs at bay. 

What are the major environmental requirements, and how do they affect you?

In 2012, the government introduced the National Environmental Standard (NES) for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil ­– a Resource Management Act (RMA) legislative tool of prescribed technical standards, with the goal of maintaining a clean and healthy environment. 

NES legislation requires environmental investigations for potentially contaminated properties when changing land use, subdividing, disturbing soil, and a variety of other activities.

Regional councils were given the ability to enforce the NES regulations to achieve a more consistent approach across New Zealand.

The change caught many developers unaware – when their resource applications returned with conditions requiring environmental investigation. There was a lack of knowledge about the newly introduced regulations, and an unclear understanding of how the regulations affected projects – in particular when it came to contaminated land.

With so much emphasis placed on protecting our environment and ‘clean, green’ image, ignoring environmental site investigation and then finding contamination will have costly timing, design and health and safety impacts on your project.

20151030 NES regulations infographic

View a PDF of 'Is your property on contaminated land?

Be proactive with environmental investigations.

While many view these environmental requirements as just a bunch of red tape – restricting and delaying developments, creating unaffordable housing and slowing New Zealand’s economy – this legislation is here to stay.

And let’s face it – the reasons for having them are fundamentally good. We all want a safe environment to live in! So it pays in the long run to know what it all means for your project.

What we do know is that the vast majority of properties will require at least a desktop study. And if contaminating activities have occurred on the site in the past, site sampling and potentially remediation and site management will be needed. 

Satisfying these requirements can be time consuming and costly if done on a reactive basis, so building this into your initial development plans will be key to having a ‘no surprises’ approach to keep your project on track and your costs in check. 

Investigate your site at the start.

Environmental requirements can often be addressed in conjunction with your geotechnical assessments. 

By understanding the nature and extent of your contamination early you’ll be able to consider environmental requirements in initial development stages so you can plan your time and expense accordingly, and minimise risks to your development team.

We’ve worked on several properties in the Wynyard Quarter redevelopment area, on Auckland’s waterfront, to help our clients understand their obligations under environmental legislation.

Decades of historic landfilling with waste and hydrocarbon and heavy metal contamination from storage and production activities meant remediation was required for land development. 

We provided site assessment and remediation assistance, allowing our clients to comply with consent conditions, minimise health and safety risks from contamination and reduce project remediation time and soil disposal costs.

We also worked with two of New Zealand’s largest residential insurers following the Canterbury earthquake sequence. 

Our ongoing advice on land contamination and its implications have helped protect repair workers and long term residents from potential contaminant hazards.

Through collaboration with our geotechnical team, we’ve been able to assess a multi-stage process – identifying and categorising hundreds of sites concurrently with other repair and rebuild activities to avoid delays to residents getting back into their homes.

This has also allowed us to provide timely advice, manage safety and give certainty around key health outcomes like exposure to hazardous materials – protecting the interest of all parties involved.

By investigating your site early, we’ll be able to help you schedule and budget for disposal and remediation of your contaminated soil in your development plan.

When involved early, we can adjust your foundation design to minimise costs associated with removal and disposal of contaminated soil. And you’ll avoid RMA non-compliance fines and delays during the consent process.

Importantly, this also ensures you meet your duty of care by protecting workers from exposure to chemical hazards during development.

To successfully grow New Zealand without detrimental effects to our environment, we need to be aware of the regulations and standards that have been created to ensure a sustainable future.

While it seems easier to assume that contaminated soils won’t be of concern to your project – it is more likely that contamination exists as we repurpose and renew the scarce available land in cities.

By addressing the potential of contamination at the beginning of your project, you’ll be able to take the necessary steps to set realistic budgets that include disposal and remediation costs and come up with design solutions for foundation works that take this into account – not to mention keep workers safe from exposure. 

How Coffey can help.

Delays to consent, re-investigation and re-design are a nightmare. So why do we keep taking the ‘reactive’ approach to contaminated land, when we could simply be proactive and anticipate the problem from the start?

Change your approach to contaminated land and contact our environmental services team at the start of your development planning for advice and guidance on your environmental requirements.