The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill 2005 was announced last week. Overall, the proposed changes are positive and should particularly help to improve and expedite the plan-making process. They will not be a complete answer to the frustrations arising for many participants in the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) processes and, while politically expedient, they are undoubtedly less far-reaching than the Government would like to see.
A number of informed commentators are calling for better integration of urban planning and infrastructure delivery, as well as separation of the environmental protection and urban planning functions of the RMA.
The Bill is a diluted version of previously proposed amendments, with a focus on the time frames for resource consenting and reducing the excessive time and money spent on the development of district plans. It seems more far reaching reforms will have to wait at least until the Productivity Commission completes its review of Urban Planning.
What has changed?
The most significant difference, when compared to earlier proposed amendments, is the removal of controversial changes to sections 6 and 7 (Part 2) of the RMA that did not gain cross party support. The only change to Part 2 that is now proposed should not be contentious – inclusion of the “management of significant risks from national hazards” as a matter of national importance (section 6).
The introduction of national planning templates will require councils to follow standardised provisions. This will provide consistency throughout the country and improve the usability of planning instruments. This change should assist in streamlining the process by requiring less time and resources for submitters. While the template will deal with matters of detail, it is unlikely to make much difference for high impact or contentious planning matters. It is, however, an important opportunity for those with interests across the country to seek consistent provision for matters such as corridor protection, noise limits or setbacks.
Alternative processes for plan making
The “Collaborative Planning Process”
The Bill introduces alternative processes for plan making. The first of these, referred to as the “Collaborative Planning Process” involves the formation of a collaborative group including members of the community and affected parties to report to the local authority on issues and recommendations before a plan is prepared. After proceeding through the usual notification and submission process, a review panel will hear submissions and provide a recommendation to the local authority. The local authority will then decide whether to accept or reject the recommendations of the panel.
The “Streamlined Planning Process”
The second option is a new “Streamlined Planning Process” where the plan will implement a national direction, if preparation or change of the plan is urgent or if the plan is required to meet a significant community need. A local authority must apply to the Minister – supplying both the proposed plan and reasons for using the streamlined process. If approved, alternative timeframes may be set to expedite the process. There is provision for consultation with affected parties, public notification and an opportunity to make written submissions. The local authority will then prepare a modified plan and resubmit it back to the Minister who can either approve it or recommend further changes.
In the consenting context, a fast-track application process is proposed for simple activities (other than the subdivision of land). These amendments halve some of the existing timeframes including the time for the council to decide whether to publicly notify the application, and the time frame for a decision if the application is not notified. In addition, activities which are approved by neighbours on affected boundaries are considered to be permitted activities and marginal non-compliances can be waived to avoid the need to go through the consenting process.
Other key changes
The other key changes introduced by the Bill are improved alignment between RMA and Conservation Act processes, removing management of hazardous substances from the RMA (these are also regulated by the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act) and amendment to the land acquisition process in the Public Works Act 1981 (PWA). PWA changes include an increase in the additional compensation available for landowners whose home is acquired under the PWA (from NZ$2,000 to NZ$50,000). A new ground of additional compensation (of up to NZ$25,000) will be added for landowners whose land, but not home, is acquired. These changes aim to provide an incentive for landowners to enter into agreements more readily and provide easier and fairer compensation for affected landowners.
What does it mean?
These changes will smooth the way for small scale projects. The red tape and delays associated with these can be frustrating and attract criticism, but in reality these projects are already more likely than not to proceed through the process without notification or undue delay. The changes will have little or no beneficial effect for larger proposals, the processes for which can be time consuming, expensive and introduce significant uncertainty.
Submissions on the Bill can be made during the select committee process.