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Time matters – With Resource Consent

By Lisa Perry, Planner, Baseline Group, Christchurch Ph 0800 257 123 | Mar 08, 2024
Baseline team discussing resource consent

For most development projects, time is money and a common complaint with Resource Consent is delays. Consent authorities have a duty to avoid unreasonable delays. Not keeping to agreed timeframes under the Resource Management Act (RMA) has implications for applicants and consent authorities alike. For applicants, timeframe over runs can result in cashflow crises and budget blow outs. For consent authorities (Council), a timeframe failure allows applicants to claim refunds on processing fees of up to 50% and may also result in reputational damage if it is a regular occurrence.

Reasonableness; however, is not a science. It is defined by an individual’s beliefs and expectations. To create certainty and consistency around what a reasonable timeframe is, the RMA outlines what is expected and what happens when timeframes are not met.

The “statutory clock” for resource consent applications starts when an application is accepted as complete by Council under s88 of the RMA. An application is complete when: 1) the relevant form has been correctly filled out, 2) enough information describing and assessing the proposed activity has been supplied, and 3) the deposit has been paid. Once accepted, Council has 20 working days to process the application. During those 20 working days, Council can “stop the clock” for various reasons, the most common being an official “Request for Further Information” (or RFI) under s92 of the RMA. The clock starts again when Council receives the further information and is satisfied that it answers the request. If Council exceeds their statutory processing days, applicants are entitled to a discount on fees of 1% per day to a maximum of 50%.

There are times when, for genuine reasons, Council is unable to process an application within 20 working days and Council can extend timeframes under s37 of the RMA. Time limits can be extended by twice the statutory time limit i.e., to 40 working days but only if special circumstances apply (e.g., large and/or complex applications), or the applicant agrees. In deciding to extend a time limit, Council must consider 1) the effect on anyone who may be affected by the extension of time, 2) the benefits to the community of having an adequate assessment of effects of the activity, and 3) Council’s duty to avoid unreasonable delay. Given the above, the decision to extend time limits is not simple. It is a balancing act between an individual’s private property rights, and the community’s right for sustainably managed natural and physical resources, whilst always considering what is reasonable or unreasonable delay.

Whilst applicants do not have power and control over the entire process, applicants are able to make the process smoother and quicker. Applicants can pay their deposit on the due date, and while Council manages their statutory obligations, applicants can ensure their applications are complete with all the relevant information to enable Council to make good decisions. To give your application the greatest chance of success, and avoid delays, engage planning professionals early for guidance.

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