First published New Zealand WineGrower magazine, October-November 2009
The Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Bill 2009 passed its third reading on 9 September and will enter into law from 1 October. The Bill has been trumpeted as removing unnecessary red tape by removing costs, uncertainties and delays for home owners and small business, as well as enabling essential infrastructure to be built in a more timely manner. However, it is still uncertain whether such objectives will be achieved in practice and to what extent this will have flow on effects for agricultural sectors such as the viticulture industry.
The greatest implications for viticulture are likely to arise in relation to tree removal, resource consenting, the plan change process, the increased emphasis on the use of national environmental standards and restrictions on involvement of industry groups at the appeal stage.
How do I cut that tree down in my vineyard?
Historically, councils have been able to provide for blanket protection of certain trees in their district plans. This meant that in many districts, particularly in the Auckland region, people would need to obtain a resource consent prior to trimming or removing trees over a certain height. The Bill, however, will prevent councils from prohibiting or restricting the felling, trimming, damaging, or removal of any tree or group of trees unless they are specifically identified in the district plan, or the trees are located within a reserve or conservation area.
From 1 October, a resource consent will no longer be required to trim a tree that has not been specifically protected but, where blanket tree protection rules are in place, trees may not be removed or felled until January 2012 to ensure councils have an opportunity to schedule trees that require protection.
A national environmental standard for frost fans?
National environmental standards (NES) are regulations that prescribe technical standards, methods and other requirements for environmental matters, which must be adhered to in the rules of regional and district planning documents. Until recently NES have been underutilised, with only three currently in place for air quality, drinking water and telecommunication facilities.
The Bill places additional emphasis on the use of NES within the RMA hierarchy of planning documents and signals a focus on the development of new NES in the future. Given the inconsistencies in councils’ approach to frost fans in terms of noise and visual effects, as well as the tension between viticultural activities and rural residential development (such as in the Hurunui District), an NES with specific technical standards for such devices has the capacity to create much needed certainty for the industry.
Plan development and resource consents
The Bill when enacted will remove the mandatory requirement for local authorities to review regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans every 10 years. This is intended to support ongoing review of plans as needed rather than a set cycle of review. The Bill also encourages local authorities to produce combined regional and district plans, such as those in the Marlborough and Tasman districts.
The resource consent process has also been streamlined in a number of ways: the previous onus in favour of public notification has been reversed, and councils will now need to discount administrative fees where consents are processed late. In addition, publicly notified applications for resource consents may be directly referred to the Environment Court.
Industry involvement RMA processes
While the Bill aims to streamline processes under the RMA, it may also place limitations on industry group involvement by restricting those who may become parties to proceedings. Industry representation in plan development or resource consenting will require the demonstration of an interest greater than the public in general. This will necessitate that wine industry groups be involved from the outset of plan review or resource consent processes, to ensure that they will be able to establish standing.
All in all, the Bill is a mixed bag for the viticulture industry. However, there are opportunities for the industry to take a proactive stance in RMA planning processes and the development of NES.