Pragmatic and positive changes proposed for Resource Management

Pragmatic and positive changes proposed for Resource Management

The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill was recently introduced to Parliament by the Hon. Nick Smith. The Bill proposes a number of changes to environmental legislation to achieve better integration across the resource management system. The Bill had its first reading in Parliament on 3 December 2015 before being referred to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee.  There is now an opportunity for everyone to have a say in the development of this Bill with submissions open until 14 March 2016.

The Bill was first proposed in 2013 and sought a much greater emphasis towards economic development. The proposal was later dropped because of a lack of support from the Maori Party and United Future, and again after Winston Peters’ win in Northland in early 2015.

The Bill proposes more pragmatic changes to process, to cut out unnecessary red tape, rather than being politically divisive. While some say the changes don’t go far enough, the fact that they are relatively non-controversial is evident from the general support it is receiving.

There are 40 changes proposed across seven pieces of environmental legislation. That’s an impact on 235 clauses and eight schedules. Narrowing that down to changes with the most impact on Harrison Grierson clients is a challenge, but important where they are particularly relevant.

What are the issues and what is proposed in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill?

We have 78 District Councils in New Zealand and each District Council has its own District Plan. Within these District Plans, there are over 50 different definitions of how to measure the height of a building.[1]

The proposed National Planning Templates seek to streamline inefficiencies arising from the numerous District Plans. Councils will be required to follow a national planning template within two years of the amendment, which will improve consistency and reduce complexity.[1]

The Bill introduces two new plan making processes to sit alongside the existing process (which will now have tighter timelines). Plan making processes have been notoriously slow and expensive – six years on average. A new collaborative track is proposed where interest groups are encouraged to work together to find planning solutions. A streamlined process is proposed where the Council and Government agree on a tailored approach to specific local conditions. The streamlined option must involve consultation and submissions, but not necessarily a hearing. Ministerial consent at the start of the process, as well as on the final plan would be required, but the decision will not be subject to appeals – only judicial review.[1]

The Bill introduces reduced requirements for consents by creating a new 10 day fast-track for simple consents.  This includes the ability to treat boundary activities as permitted where they have been agreed by the relevant neighbours, and the ability to treat certain activities as permitted where the effects are no different than if there wasn’t a rule breach, and where the effects on any persons are considered no more than minor. Fixed fees for processing and remuneration for hearing panels and hearings is also proposed.[1]

The proposed Bill is requiring Stronger National Direction for growth (ie. housing) and provision for national regulations to address nation-wide issues like dairy stock in rivers. Stronger National Direction will create greater consistency across plans and set clear guidance for Councils.[1]

So what does Harrison Grierson think of the proposed changes?

While the changes are significantly less than earlier proposals, they are generally positive. The Bill still has some hurdles to go through, but we can see real value in what is proposed. National direction and national templates have been talked about for years and once implemented will make it much simpler for those of us making applications throughout the country. For clients, the biggest positive change is the potential for a streamlined plan making process. However, the proof is in the pudding on this one. It’ll be some time before the first application is made - and “streamlined” doesn’t always mean less bureaucracy. Weren’t the 2009 amendments called something like that…? Reduced requirements for consents are potentially a win but consistent application is the key. The likelihood is the reduced requirements will benefit “mums and dads” undertaking small home alterations, rather than property developers undertaking comprehensive residential developments.

[1] Q&A: Resource Legislation Amendment Bill 2015  http://www.beehive.govt.nz/sites/all/files/1.%20Q&A.pdf

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