Significance & Engagement Policy

1.0 Purpose

The purpose of the Significance and Engagement Policy is to:

  • enable the Council and its communities to identify the degree of significance attached to particular issues, proposals, assets, decisions and activities
  • provide clarity about how and when communities can expect to be engaged in decisions about different issues, assets or other matters
  • inform the Council from the beginning of a decision-making process about:
    • the extent of any public engagement that is expected before a particular decision is made
    • the form or type of engagement required.

The Significance and Engagement Policy must list the assets considered by the Council to be strategic assets.

2.0 Background

The Local Government Act (the Act) requires the Council to adopt a Significance and Engagement Policy1 which sets out:

  • the Council’s general approach to determining the significance of proposals and decisions in relation to issues, assets and other matters
  • any criteria or procedures that are to be used by the Council in assessing the extent to which issues, proposals, assets, decisions or activities are significant or may have significant consequences
  • how the Council will respond to community preferences about engagement on decisions relating to specific issues, assets or other matters, including the form of consultation that may be desirable
  • how the Council will engage with communities on other matters.

One of the roles of the Council is to “enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of communities”2. In meeting this role, the Council will give consideration to the views and preferences of persons, likely to be affected by, or to have an interest in, the matter, to the extent that is proportionate to the significance of the particular matter. This does not necessarily require the Council to undertake any consultation process or procedure3. As well as the views of communities and affected and interested parties, there are a wide range of information sources, considerations and perspectives that will inform the Council’s decisions, including the requirements of Government policy, technical matters and the financial implications, as illustrated below:

Sustainable Decision-Making Diagram

The Council considers all these factors, including public input into significant decisions, policies or programmes undertaken, to ensure they reflect the aspirations and priorities of communities and interested groups throughout the Timaru District and that sustainable decisions are made.

This Significance and Engagement Policy aims to enable a flexible but focused approach to engagement that:

  • recognises the importance of involving Timaru District’s diverse communities in the Council’s work
  • provides a range of options and methods for engagement with different groups and communities and for issues, decisions and proposals with different degrees of significance
  • demonstrates our commitment to building ongoing relationships and greater understanding of community views and preferences.

3.0 Key Definitions

  • significance4, in relation to any issue, proposal, decision, or other matter that concerns or is before a local authority, means the degree of importance of the issue, proposal, decision, or matter, as assessed by the Council, in terms of its likely impact on, and likely consequences for,—
    • the Timaru district:
    • any persons who are likely to be particularly affected by, or interested in, the issue, proposal, decision, or matter:
    • the capacity of the Timaru District Council to perform its role, and the financial and other costs of doing so.
  • significant5, in relation to any issue, proposal, decision, or other matter, means that the issue, proposal, decision, or other matter has a high degree of significance.
  • strategic asset6, in relation to the assets held by a local authority, means an asset or group of assets that the local authority needs to retain if the local authority is to maintain the local authority's capacity to achieve or promote any outcome that the local authority determines to be important to the current or future well-being of the community; and includes—
    • a) any asset or group of assets listed in accordance with section 76AA(3) by the local authority; and
    • b) any land or building owned by the local authority and required to maintain the local authority's capacity to provide affordable housing as part of its social policy; and
    • c) any equity securities held by the local authority in—
      • (i) a port company within the meaning of the Port Companies Act 1988:
      • (ii) an airport company within the meaning of the Airport Authorities Act 1966
  • engagement, the process of seeking information from the community to inform and assist decision-making and of providing relevant information to the community. There is a continuum of community involvement.

4.0 Policy

4.1 General approach to determining significance 

  • The Council will exercise its judgement on a case by case basis, when considering the degree of significance of an issue and the corresponding level of engagement. The decision on a matter’s significance rests with the Council, or a committee or officer acting under delegated authority from the Council.
  • The significance of the issue and appropriate forms of engagement will be considered in the earliest possible stages of a proposal or process, before decision-making occurs. If necessary, significance and engagement will be reviewed as the proposal develops.
  • The significance of the issue, proposal or decision will determine how much time, money and effort the Council will invest in exploring and evaluating options and obtaining the views of affected and interested parties.
  • The commitment to invest in exploring options and obtaining the views of communities and affected and interested parties does not mean that the Council will have to fully consult with the public for every decision it makes, nor does it bind the Council to the views of communities and interested or affected parties.
  • Every decision the Council makes must be made in accordance with the decision-making requirements set out in sections 76-82A of the Act. However, the nature of the decision-making process required will be determined in proportion to the level of significance of the issue or proposal.

4.2 Criteria for assessing significance

In assessing the degree of significance or significant consequences, the Council will consider the following:

  • The number of residents or ratepayers affected and the degree to which they are affected by the decision or proposal
  • The degree to which any particular grouping in the community is affected by the decision or proposal
  • The degree to which the issue has a financial impact on the Council’s overall resources or on the rating levels of its communities
  • The degree to which a decision is inconsistent with one already made in a Council policy or strategy
  • Whether there is historical level of interest or reasonable expectation of wide community interest being generated 
  • Whether there is a legal requirement to engage with the community
  • Whether the asset involved is a strategic asset as listed in 4.5.

In general, where a proposal or decision is affected by a number of the above considerations, it is more likely to have a higher degree of significance. Guidance on the use of the significance criteria on a continuum of low to high can be found in Schedule 1.

4.3 General approach to engagement

Engagement provides an opportunity for the Council to better understand the views and preferences of interested and affected persons on a decision or proposal being considered by the Council.

The Council will endeavour to apply the following general principles to community engagement:

  • Appropriate – The Council will determine the appropriate level of engagement on a case by case basis, according to the degree of significance.
  • Genuine – Engagement will be based on an open mind to community feedback and willingness to listen before making decisions.
  • Timely – Where reasonably practicable, the Council will give the community a timely opportunity to have a say.
  • Informed – The Council will seek to ensure the community can give informed feedback and wherever possible enable the community to consider options relating to the decision.
  • Balanced – The Council will weight consultation or engagement feedback accordingly with other considerations.
  • Two-way – The Council will always provide feedback to those who made the effort to give us their opinions and will explain our decisions.

In determining the processes and methods appropriate for engaging with communities, the Council will be guided by the following:

  • the extent to which the current views and preferences of persons who will or may be affected by, or have an interest in, the decision or matter are known to the Council
  • the degree of significance of the issue, decision, proposal, asset or other matters
  • the objectives of the engagement
  • the preferences, capacities, views and values of the community groups and individuals affected by and / or interested in the decision or proposal
  • the diversity of preferences, capacities, views and values amongst the community groups and individuals affected by and / or interested in the decision or proposal
  • the benefits, limitations and costs of the range of possible processes and methods for engaging 
  • timing issues, including any concurrent engagement processes on other matters
  • opportunities provided for efficient and effective engagement.

The Community Engagement Guide (see Schedule 2) identifies the form of engagement the Council may use to respond to some specific issues. This is based on an ‘engagement spectrum’ approach7 and provides examples of types of issues and how and when communities could expect to be engaged in the decision-making process. The methods identified are not a definitive list, but an indication of the spectrum of engagement opportunities that may be useful for the Council and our communities.

4.3.1 When the Council will engage

a) When legislation requires that consultation be undertaken:

The Council will consult when it has a legislative requirement to consult (e.g. Local Government Act 2002, Resource Management Act 1991). The Council will undertake these consultation processes using the legislative requirements guiding them, as a minimum. The Council may choose to consult further depending on the level of significance of the matter being considered. If so, the Council will consider the principles of consultation in section 82(1) of the Local Government Act 2002, but only to the extent that they are consistent with the particular legislative requirements.

b) When a significant proposal or decision is being considered:

Subject to consideration of significance under this Policy, the Council will look to undertake what it considers to be an appropriate form of engagement. Note that a ‘significant’ decision will not automatically trigger application of the Special Consultative Procedure (SCP).

c) For some matters that are not considered significant:

In general, where a matter is not considered significant under this Policy, consultation will not be undertaken. In some cases, particularly where a decision has relatively high significance the Council may decide to consult or undertake some other form of engagement on the matter.

4.3.2 When the Council may not engage

Information is always necessary for the decision-making process. However, there are times when it is not necessary, appropriate or possible to engage the community on a matter or decision. The Council may also choose not to consult on a matter based on the criteria below and any legislative requirements.

The Council will generally not engage:
a) When the matter is not of a nature or significance that requires consultation8; or
b) When the Council already has a sound understanding of the views and preferences of the persons likely to be affected by or interested in the matter9; or
c) Where there is a need for confidentiality or commercial sensitivity10; or
d) Where the costs of consultation outweigh the benefits of it11; or
e) For organisational decisions (i.e. operational matters and staff changes); or
f) Where the matter has already been addressed by the Council’s policies or plans, which have previously been consulted on; or
g) During emergency management situations in a State of Emergency; or
h) For any decisions that are made by delegation to officers; or
i) For an urgent, immediate or quick response or decision is needed or it is not reasonably practicable to engage; or
j) When works are required unexpectedly or following further investigations on projects, already approved by the Council; or
k) For business as usual - the works required are related to the operation and maintenance of a Council asset and responsible management requires the works to take place.

4.4 Procedures for determining significance and engagement

For decisions that are to be made by the Council or a committee, the degree of significance and engagement will be reported on through the Council reporting template. Reports will include a statement regarding:

  • the degree of significance of the proposal or decision, including an explanation of the assessment criteria that are considered to be triggered
  • the range of community views that might exist
  • whether there is need for further community engagement prior to a final decision being made
  •  the appropriate observance of the decision-making requirements set out in sections 76-82A of the Act.

A written engagement plan will generally be developed only for proposals or decisions with a high degree of significance.

In each case, it will be for the Council or committee to determine if it agrees with the significance and engagement assessments, and any engagement plan, set out in the report.

For decisions that are made by officers under delegated authority, significance and engagement will be considered, but it will not be necessary to document any assessment. Typically, such decisions are likely to be of low significance. For instance, officers are generally delegated administrative decisions that flow from a Council plan or policy (e.g. the budgeted and routine renewal components of headworks of a water supply). The significance usually rests with the Council's decision to adopt or amend the plan or policy and not with each action taken by officers in implementing the plan or policy.

4.5 Strategic Assets

Section 76AA (3) of the Act requires the Council to identify and list the assets it considers to be strategic assets. The Council considers the following assets or groups of assets it holds to be strategic:

  • Council’s equity securities in Timaru District Holdings Ltd
  • Council’s Social Housing assets as a whole
  • Cultural and Learning facilities as a whole
  • District cemeteries as a whole
  • Parks facilities as a whole
  • Recreational facilities as a whole
  • Redruth Landfill
  • Roading network as a whole
  • Timaru Airport
  • Wastewater and Stormwater networks as a whole
  • Water supply networks as a whole.

Under section 97(1)(b) of the Local Government Act 2002, decisions to transfer the ownership or control of a strategic asset to or from the Council cannot be made unless they are first consulted on in accordance with section 93E and explicitly included in the Long Term Plan.

To remove doubt, strategic assets as defined above are the assets as a whole entity and not the individual elements of that asset. This means that the requirements of Section 97(1)(b) of the Act are only triggered if the proposal relates to the asset as a whole or where it would materially affect the nature or operation of the asset.

4.6 Policy Review

The policy will be reviewed at least once every three years. It may also be amended from time to time.

Schedule One: Significance Criteria Guidance

Schedule Two: Community Engagement Guidance


1This is a new requirement under section 76AA of the Act, introduced in July 2014 as one of a number of amendments to the legislation. Timaru District Council already had a Policy on Significance, a requirement under section 90 of the Act, which has now been replaced by the new section 76AA. The existing Policy on Significance has been reviewed and integrated into this Significance and Engagement Policy.

2Local Government Act 2002, Section 10

3Local Government Act 2002, Section 78

4Local Government Act 2002, Section 5

5Local Government Act 2002, Section 5

6Local Government Act 2002, Section 5

7International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) framework

8Local Government Act 2002, Section 82(4)(c)

9Local Government Act 2002, Section 82(4)(b)

10Local Government Act 2002, Section 82(4)(d)

11Local Government Act 2002, Section 82(4)(e)


Adopted by Council 25 November 2014