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National Planning Standards - What are they?

Many of you will have heard of District and Regional Plans, that set out how land and resources are managed in areas. This includes what activities you need a resource consent for. If you’ve ever looked at plans from different areas in New Zealand you’ll know they’re not the same; plans are developed independently by the local Council and there is little consistency nation - wide.

As part of the 2017 RMA Amendments, central government introduced National Planning Standards to try to streamline some aspects of the plans, save time and costs. They focus on more basic parts of plans and policy statements, with the intention that local Councils can then focus their attention on the matters that are more important in that area.

A suite of Planning Standards will be introduced over time, the first relating to the structure and form of the plans themselves, definitions and electronic accessibility of plans. The proposed Planning Standard sets out the chapters and topics for plans, zone names, mapping standards, consistent numbering and will require that all plans be available on- line (as already occurs in most cases). Standard colours and symbols are proposed nation - wide; some examples are shown below.

In the context of planning, these are quite minor changes and its unclear at this stage how helpful these changes will be in terms of reducing user time and costs. They aren’t likely to impact on your everyday applicant for a resource consent. They are however a precursor to future changes, which may see more results.

A common set of definitions are also proposed. This could prove to be problematic, as not only does peoples understanding of words differ but also definitions are changed in specific areas to address issues identified in that specific area. For example, the definition of “accessory building” may be changed to make sure people don’t use it as a minor dwelling. This has always been a major issue in Auckland, with high property prices and a limited housing supply- people are often looking for ways to get around planning rules and set up extra accommodation without getting the necessary consents (which includes making payments towards infrastructure costs). This may not be such a prevalent issue in places where housing demand and house prices are low.

The impacts of the Standards are yet to be seen and hopefully some changes will come about through the submission and consultation process. No doubt there will be teething problems as plans are updated and people adjust. In many cases interpretation of rules and plans in general has built up over time, with people learning from experience, Council and Court hearings. It will take time for everyone involved to gain the same understanding. There will also be more upfront costs as Councils update their plans to incorporate the National Planning Standards. This is unfortunate in places like Auckland which have just undergone a significant plan making process with the Auckland Unitary Plan. Is it a good use of rate payers money and Council resources to have to fundamentally change the way the new plan is set out, some content and colours on maps? Would it be better to do this when the plan is next reviewed as a whole? We are hopeful of some changes to the draft documents to address these issues.

Need information on planning?

If you have a development in mind, would like to know the development potential of your site or have a planning related question please get in contact. You can contact our experienced team. We also have a lot of development related blogs on our website that you can view for free here.

Hannah Thomson is Director of Planning Plus and has over 17 years of resource management experience working in both local government and the private sector. Hannah has a wide range of experience including commercial, rural, residential and coastal development and subdivision on small to large scales and appearances at both Council and Environment Court as an expert witness for mediation and hearings. Hannah has assisted Councils with policy development and has also assisted private individuals with submissions to Council.

Disclaimer As with all our blogs, the information detailed here is general in nature and meant as a preliminary guide only. This should not be substituted for your own investigations or use of your own professional’s. Planning Plus is not liable for any errors or omissions.

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