Changes to plan making process

Changes to the plan making process to improve efficiency and provideclarity

Problem

1. Under the current plan making process (under Schedule 1 of the RMA) all proposed plans and plan changes are processed in the same manner. The plan making process is therefore not necessarily proportionate to the size or significance of the proposed plan or plan change and not responsive enough to quickly address changing situations, minor or site specific issues. A full plan takes on average 6 years to develop, and an individual plan changes takes around 1.8 years fromnotification.

2. The Streamlined Planning Process (P 2.2) is the main reform tool proposed to address this problem but there are also some additional changes to the Schedule 1 process that can also assist in addressing thisissue.

3. The requirement for all proposed plan changes to be publicly notified can be a disproportionate and inefficient mechanism in certain circumstances, such as a site-specific rezoning or where there is a clearly identifiable group of directly affectedparties.

4. The plan making process is also slow. While the time taken for councils to make decisions on plans has reduced (following the introduction of a 2 year time limit from introduction to decisions in 2005), 23% of plans still take longer than two years between public notification and the making of the decision. For plan changes, 8% have taken longer than 2years.

5. Finally, there is uncertainty about the legal weighting and incorporation of a proposed Regional Policy Statement (RPS) during the preparation of a combined plan that includes a proposed RPS. This leads to an increased risk of future challenges andmisinterpretation.

Proposal

6. The proposalwill:

· introduce limited notification as an available option for plan changes where directly affected parties can be easily identified. This would limit public participation to only those people directly affected. Using the limited notification plan change process would reduce hearing times and the likelihood ofappeals;

· require councils to request approval from the Minister for the Environment to extend the two year time limit for making decisions on a proposed plan or plan change;and

· clarify that councils may give effect to a proposed RPS when preparing a combined plan that includes a proposedRPS

7. The proposed amendments to Schedule 1 will provide for a more efficient, flexible and proportionate plan change process. Enabling councils to undertake limited notification could reduce the time, costs and uncertainty for plan changes in circumstances where there is an identifiable group of directly affectedparties.

8. It is likely that the majority of plan changes will still be publicly notified because any significant plan change will affect large parts of acommunity.

9. The changes around the two year timeframe will encourage greater compliance with this existing requirement and seeks to improve compliance with plan making timeframes.

10. The changes around the weighting required to be given to an operative RPS seek to clarify that it can be appropriate to give effect to a proposed RPS when a proposed RPS is being developed as part of a combined plan. The changes will eliminate the theoretical/legal debate that occurred with the development of the Auckland UnitaryPlan.

Alternativeoptions

Limited Notification mandatory under Schedule 1 when certain criteriamet

11. This is similar to the option described above except that, if certain criteria are met, councils will be obliged to notify the plan on a limited basis. This will mean that councils will not be able to choose to be precautionary and continue to publically notify all plan changes. Furthermore,itwillreducetheabilityofthecounciltochoosewhattheyregardasthe

appropriate plan making process for a given proposal and will significantly increase the negative public perception of limiting publicinvolvement.

12. Due to variability across the country both in terms of Council plans and local environmental issues it is considered prudent to leave the notification decision to be made at the local level and based on the evaluation report (under section 32 of the RMA). Local decision making is an integral part of the RMA and the use of any general criteria could mean that specific or unique local matters could not be considered. This option could also result in a greater risk of judicial review because following a complaint about the limited notification of a plan, the council would not be able to revert to the power to publicly notify theplan.

Plan Changes and Plans not valid if the two year time frame is exceeded and the Minister’s approval to extend the timeframe is notobtained.

13. It would be possible to make have plan or plan change automatically withdrawn if the two year time limit from notification is not complied with. The issue with this option is that it could lead to perverse outcomes. The time frame could be missed by a simple administrative error (and be only, for example, a week late). Also, if the council or commissioner considers that a plan or plan change is more controversial than expected they could just delay the release of the decision so that the whole plan or plan change iswithdrawn.

14. Submitters invest considerable effort and resources into participating in the plan change process and they could be severely disadvantaged by a plan or plan change automatically beingwithdrawn.

Conclusions

15. The proposal outlined is the preferredoption.

16. Allowing councils to choose a limited notification track is preferred to making limited notification mandatory when certain criteria are met, as it provides for greater efficiency while retaining flexibility and gives councils the option to continue to fully notify if they consider it appropriate. Combined with the option of requesting a Streamlined Planning Process (P 2.2) and collaborative planning matters (P 2.3), these changes will help improve the overall timeliness and responsiveness of plan making processes and provide greater flexibility for planning options to match the scale or nature of the plan in questionby:

· rationalising and refocusing public participation opportunities, in relation to notification, hearings and appeal processes, to where they add mostvalue

· providing for greater system flexibility so there are plan making options available to match the scale and nature of the plan or planchange

· shortening the timeframes and reducing the costs of the plan making process by providing options for limited appeals where a robust decision making process has taken place

· improve compliance with existing timeframes for making plandecisions.

17. Requiring councils to obtain the approval of the Minister for the Environment for an extension of the two year time limit for making decisions on a proposed plan or plan change will encourage greater compliance with the existing two year timelimit.

18. Clarifying the status of a proposed RPS in the development of a combined plan will reduce the uncertainty regarding its legal weighting and incorporation and reduce the risk of challenge.

19. We consider that this proposal will go some way in achieving the outcome of increased flexibility and adaptability for plan makingprocesses.