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Minister for the Environment David Parker has approved the first use of the streamlined planning process (SPP) that came into effect last year.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council (‘BOPRC’) and Hastings District Council (‘HDC’) have been given the go-ahead to use the SPP to make changes to their regional policy statement and district plan, respectively, to enable rezoning of land.

This is the first use of the new process, which was provided for in the last suite of amendments to the Resource Management Act (‘RMA’) before the election. The change came into effect on 19 April 2017.[1]

First councils to use the process

In August 2017, the BOPRC applied to the then Minister for the Environment, Nick Smith under Section 80 C of the RMA to use the SPP for its proposed Plan Change 4 to the Bay of Plenty Regional Policy Statement to amend its Regional Policy Statement (‘RPS’) to include land currently zoned for rural use at Tauriko West within its urban limits line. This project at Tauriko aims to create a new community to accommodate around 3,000 new dwellings. Once the RPS is amended, the land can subsequently be rezoned for residential development through a change to the Tauranga City Plan.[2] Dr Smith said at the time: “It is crucial that New Zealand’s high-growth regions like the Bay of Plenty are proactive in managing this growth, by providing sufficient land to meet the demand for housing. The new streamlined planning process will support the Regional Council in achieving this.”[3]

At the same time, HDC applied to the Minister to use the SPP for a variation to its District Plan for rezoning land to create the Iona Urban Growth area (Iona Rezoning Variation). The HDC is seeking to address population and household growth in Havelock North and respond to an acute shortage of residential sites.[4]

Section 80 C (2) of the RMA sets out that a council may apply to the Minister for direction to use the SPP if the proposed planning instrument satisfies at least one of the following criteria:

a)      It implements a national direction;

b)      It is urgent as a matter of public policy;

c)      It is required to meet a significant community need;

d)      It deals with an unintended consequence of a policy statement or plan;

e)      It will combine several policy statements or plans;

f)       It requires an expeditious process for a reason comparable to those listed above.

On 28 February the Minister issued Gazette notices to direct that BOPRC and HDC could use the SPP.[5]  The notices provide similar directions as to the process each council must follow providing tight timeframes.[6] Broadly, both notices require:

  • consultation and meeting pre-notification requirements with iwi authorities
  • public notification and receipt of submissions
  • a public hearing (with at least one independent commissioner)
  • the council to provide a written report to the Minister:

    • showing how submissions have been considered
    • containing a summary of how evaluations under sections 32 and 32AA have been had regard to in the report’s recommendation
    • providing reports and documents required by clause 83 (1) of Schedule 1.

The notices also specify a number of expectations the Minister has for each council. For example, BOPRC is expected to consult with certain iwi and hapū and HDC’s variation is expected to provide “sufficient development capacity for a housing yield of at least 390–400 dwellings”.

On receipt of the report from each council, the Minister may decide to approve the plan change or variation. Alternatively, he may refer it back to the council for reconsideration, or decline to approve it. There is no right of appeal from the Minister’s decision in these instances (only the ability to judicially review the councils’ and Minister’s decisions). A limited right of appeal is only available for any SPP relating to designations or heritage orders.

SPP to fast track urban development

Both BOPRC and HDC are using the SPP to respond to the increased national emphasis on fast tracking urban development, as well as an urgent community need for safe and affordable housing. National direction on this issue comes from the National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity (‘NPS-UDC’) which was developed in 2016 by the Ministry for the Environment (‘MfE’) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, to address housing affordability challenges by requiring councils to provide an appropriate supply of residential and business land. The NPS-UDC has particular policies which target councils with medium or high growth urban areas within their district with both Tauranga and Napier-Hastings listed as high growth urban areas.

To complement the NPS-UDC, last year the Government consulted on a potential Urban Development Authorities Act to enable major urban development projects to be built more quickly.[7] The new Government will continue this approach, with the Minister for Housing, Phil Twyford, indicating his preference for establishing some type of urban development authority to fast track housing development opportunities and processes.

SPP vs standard process

The SPP is an optional process for councils in lieu of the standard plan change process under Schedule 1. It is intended to allow for comparatively speedy plan-making, proportionate to the complexity and significance of the issues faced.[8] MfE’s factsheet on the SPP states that: [9]  

Previously the RMA had only one statutory process (the standard process) and timeframe to prepare and change policy statements or plans, no matter how simple or complex the proposal. Under the standard process it can take years to develop and finalise a regional policy statement, regional or district plan. It can take two years or more to complete a plan change and resolve any appeals, depending on the issues. These timeframes are too long for plans to be able to respond to urgent issues.

The SPP is certainly faster than using the standard process: 7 months for BOPRC and 6 months for HDC from gazettal to the report due to the Minister. However, there is no timeframe within which the Minister provides his approval of the planning instrument. In addition, the Minister has the option to refer the planning instrument back to the council for reconsideration and as part of this extend timeframes.

The SPP may also be less costly depending on the process directed by the Minister (for example, a public hearing may not necessarily be directed) as well as potentially reducing the likelihood and costs of subsequent litigation.

Other uses of SPP

The SPP process is not limited to council initiated plan changes but private plan changes can also be processed in this way. However, they need to be adopted or accepted by the local authority and the application to the Minister can only be made by the local authority in consultation with the plan change requestor. 

In addition, new notices of requirement for a designation or requirements for a heritage order can also be considered with a proposed plan or plan change under the SPP. However, this can only occur if the requiring authority or heritage protection authority agrees.

We will be watching the use of the SPP with interest and to see how it works in terms of community engagement to deliver a faster decision on statutory planning processes.

If you would like further information in relation to this topic, please contact Nicky McIndoe, Christina Sheard or Marija Batistich.  

Thanks to Barbara Dean, Associate, for preparing this newsflash.




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