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A Practical Guide for District Plan Reviews

By Anna Bensemann | Sep 08, 2021

Understanding changes in legislation can be difficult enough, and with the Government bringing in new provisions under National Policy Statements and National Environmental Standards, it can be difficult to keep up. At a local level, there are many district and unitary councils going through a plan change process after their 10-year plan review and are making rule and policy changes consistent with national legislative changes.

The daunting process of keeping up with this change is important, not only for having your say on any proposed provisions at submission time, but also to understand your ongoing obligations for the lawful operation of your business.

There are two key dates in the life of a plan change that trigger when rules become operative, and therefore start to impact your business. The first is when the plan is initially publicly notified. Even before you make a submission to the rules there are a suite of rules that have legal effect immediately. These rules relate to the following: protection of water, air or soil for soil conservation, areas of significant indigenous vegetation, significant habitats of indigenous fauna, historic heritage, or aquaculture activities.

If you wish to undertake an activity that requires resource consent under these new rules, or in the case of water take and use, discharges to land, air or water or any coastal activities you need to renew a consent that has an expiry date, you will need to comply with the notified rules if they have immediate legal effect.

The second key date in the life of a plan change is the day that decisions are released. This is after all submissions and further submissions have been received, and hearings are complete. The decision-makers will release their findings, and 30 working days after this any parts of the plan change not appealed to the Environment Court are considered to be operative.

This is when rules relating to subdivision, and land use consents such as building placement on properties, use of land for commercial or residential activities out of the designated zone, or any other matter not already legally operative under the first key date. Anyone with an existing land use consent does not have to change what they are doing to fit with the new rules, it is only new activities or significant changes to existing activities that will be subject to the new land use consent rules.

Given Plan Changes can take years to complete and may result in significant changes at key milestones, it is important to be clear about when rules have a legal effect in order to ensure you are meeting your legal compliance during the plan change process.