The Planning Environment in NZ
A brief introduction to the minefield?!
The unduly restrictive conditions placed on communities by councils in the past have tended to marginalise, and hamper much innovative development. Often communities had tended to live largely outside of the law because they didn't fit into councils' rules and bylaws.
Thus, council approval has been one of the major stumbling blocks to ecological and co-operative housing and living arrangements. Fortunately things are improving a little.
Town planning law and council policy has undergone somewhat of a transformation over the last decade. The passage of the Resource Management Act 1991 sought to create a more integrated approach to environmental and planning management, than the often arbitrary and fragmented rules and structures that existed prior.
The theoretical emphasis now is on sustainable management and on environmental effects and outcomes as opposed to activities themselves. This is not to say that zoning and rules don't exist anymore, because inertia being what it is old habits die hard both at the legislative level and at the civil servant level. Nonetheless a great measure more discretion is afforded by councils toward proposed developments if such proposals can show that they are environmentally benign.
Each council has its own district plan and administers the consent process for its area. To restate, resource consent must only be sought if the plan does not specifically allow the proposed activity. District plans describe the following broad types of activity for each 'zone' within its area:
The middle zone is where councils planning staff and councillors can exercise their considerable discretion, for better or worse. Depending on the nature of the development, the sensitivity of the environment and which of the three discretionary types it is, you may be required to obtain written permission from all neighbours and affected parties and/or have your application 'publicly notified'. This has two consequences. It gives anybody the chance to object on all manner of grounds, relevant or otherwise, and it costs more in both money and time.
In must also be said that the political climate and who you know are also factors influencing the fate of your RC.
To make matters a little more complex, any one local authority will, likely as not, have two plans in effect, one old and one new. The RMA required councils to make new plans to replace old scheme plans made under the old Town and Country Planning Act. In the meantime the old plans were empowered as the 'transitional' plan. As councils create new district plans, they first become 'proposed' district plans until they are finalised by successive rounds of consultation with the public and other stakeholders. The proposed plan is in effect but does not fully replace the old transitional plan until the proposed plan becomes 'operative'.
Where there is conflict between provisions in the two
plans as is often the case, the decision is made on two premises. The first
is that generally the stricter rule applies. The second is about how far
the new plan is down the road to becoming operative, what the nature of
submissions on those provisions are etc.
Basic approval process
There is a bright side, and that is that many councils
are faced by ageing and overloaded infrastructure and are beginning to
be open to many alternative solutions such as the eco-types amongst us
may advocate. Such examples are rainwater collection, on site wastewater
treatment and the like. To summarise, gaining RC is the major part of council
approval, and you should do what you can to make it as smooth as possible.
If the design has been done and it stacks up, then you're away.
Tips to remember
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