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Good District Plan provisions save time and money

By Anna Bensemann | Sep 09, 2021

New planning provisions in district and regional plans can lead to an increase in public notification of resource consent applications to ensure any activities that are outside the anticipated planning provisions are appropriate. The costs of the public notification and subsequent hearing process can be in the order of tens of thousands of dollars to the applicant under the RMA’s user-pays system, emphasizing the need to get our planning provisions correct early on.

The Resource Management Act (RMA) dictates that councils review their district and regional planning provisions every ten years. This is to ensure sure they keep up with changes in legislative requirements set at a national level, advances in our understanding of our environment, the effects our activities have on the environment and to reflect our changing attitudes towards environmental management.

Because of the complicated process for making changes to planning provisions, our district and regional plans have not kept up with legislative, environmental and community expectations and changes. Many councils are now going through a full district plan review to ensure the provisions meet the community’s expectations around the use and development of land, air and water resources. Selwyn District Council has recently notified a proposed district plan.

As a proposed new plan is subject to community scrutiny through the submission and hearings decision-making process, any recently made operative plan is considered, in a planning context, to be the only anticipated and expected use of resources. Therefore anyone who wishes to undertake an activity that is not entirely consistent with the planning provisions needs to have their application tested in a community context, with any decision able to reflect the submissions of the wider public. This is achieved through the public notification of the application and a council hearing for a commissioner to make the decision on the proposal, instead of the less expensive path of council planning staff making the decision without a hearing.

In a system of user pays under the RMA, public notification carries a significant cost implication for the applicant, through council hearing fees and associated planning expertise and legal representation at a council hearing.

This highlights the importance of getting both council plan rules, and their associated objectives and policies, correct through the plan review and change process. This will ensure that future activities are only restricted where there is a genuine environmental effect. However, if a rule is proposed in a district plan and is not challenged through a public submission it will become operative. Submitters need to understand the implications to their current and future activities from the existing district plans and any proposed changes to district plans.

In a world of extensive compliance considerations, keeping an eye on district plan changes can seem daunting. However not doing so, could have far greater cost implications in the future. Submissions on the Selwyn District Plan close 11 December 2020.