What do planners do anyway?


Planning is one of those professions that none of your friends ever really understand. Even when you say “town planner” you still get lots of blank stares. Let us try to demystify it for you today.

In New Zealand, Planning is generally split into two areas: policy planning and resource consent planning. Policy planning relates to writing the plan provisions (rules, objectives and policies) that control development. Resource consent planners work in the context of those rules, but in relation to actual development proposals. It’s basically the practical side of Planning. At Planning Plus, our specialty is in resource consents, so we’ll focus on that aspect.

So, what would a planner specialising in resource consents do?

Upfront Advice

Development can be an expensive exercise; it’s important that you do your homework and get the best outcomes for you. Are you creating a development that will maximise your return, be a functioning family home, provide the commercial space that tenants will want? What if you want to subdivide in a few years; how will your site layout now affect that?

Everyone’s goals are different, and Planners will work with you to make sure you get the results you want. Planners also provide important context; there’s no point in designing a wonderful apartment complex if you’re unlikely to get resource consent for it. You need to understand the district and regional plan provisions that affect development of your land. You can then design your development to be consistent with these; this doesn’t mean that you have to meet all the rules but you need to meet the intent of the zone and what the planning documents are trying to achieve. Sometimes even seemingly small changes can make a big difference. A Planner will help you navigate all the relevant rules and regulations.

Planners will often also manage inputs from other specialists, such as engineers and architects, on your behalf. This is because a Planner knows what information the Council will require; they can guide your specialists on the scope of their assessments to make sure relevant issues are addressed. Simply said, using a planner gives you more certainty and reduces your risk. You can make informed decisions at the early stages, before you’ve spent a lot of money.

Getting your resource consent application together

Do you know what’s required to be in your resource consent application documentation? If the Council gave you a list would you know what everything meant? It can all be very confusing when it’s not something you’re used to dealing with.

Planners are your specialists for the resource consent process; Planners deal with the process every day. This includes not only managing inputs from your other specialists, but also writing the Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE). This is the formal application report, that assesses your proposal against all the relevant regional and district plan provisions and the Resource Management Act. It assesses environmental effects, objectives, policies and what the various plans are trying to achieve. This is the report where you really do need a Planner to write for you; getting this wrong could result in your application being rejected as incomplete before the assessment has even started! Submitting a poor AEE will also mean that the Council will ask more questions and/or do the assessment themselves, increasing your costs and pushing out timeframes. We often hear in the media about Council processing timeframes. Yes, that does occur but also timeframes are often longer due to poor quality resource consent applications being submitted. You need to get the application right first time to save yourself time, money and stress!

Managing the process

Let’s not kid ourselves by saying any consent process is fun- it’s not! However, the goals of the RMA are good ones and the resource consent process is something a lot of people have to go through. Using a specialist is a central part of making a process such as this easier for you.

At Planning Plus we manage the resource consent process for you. You never have to lodge a report, plan or speak to Council as part of the application process, we do all that on your behalf. This makes the process less stressful for you, and you know someone else is managing things so you can focus on other aspects of the development. As specialists, Planners can also answer the Council’s questions in the way that they need it answered; we know what they’re really asking and what they really want! This means Planners can speed up the actual processing of the application, by answering questions quickly.

It may seem odd, but you have to spend money to save money! Most Councils don’t work on the basis of a set fee for resource consent applications and charge on an hourly rate basis. This means that the longer it takes to process your application, the more expensive it will be. If you put in an application that is missing assessment or other information, it will take longer for the Council to process and be more expensive. The more time, effort and money you put into planning and designing a development and the resource consent application assessments, the less time and money it will take to process. More planning upfront also means more certainty and less risk.

Choosing a Planner

Unfortunately, Planning is an unregulated industry, meaning anyone can say that they’re a Planner irrespective of their qualifications or experience. It’s important to do your homework and find the right person for you. Remember too that just because someone is cheap doesn’t mean they’re good! Some things to look out for:

  • Does the person have relevant qualifications?

  • What’s their experience in resource consents? How many years have they been doing this for, where and on what type of projects? You could find this out easily from the business website, which often contains basic information on a person’s experience and project examples.

  • Do they belong to the New Zealand Planning Institute? This is a good one to check for, as all members have to sign up to a code of ethics, and also continuing professional development.

  • Do they work to formal terms and conditions? This gives all parties surety on what will happen, including in the event of a dispute.

  • Do they have professional indemnity insurances? This is another important one to check.

  • And very importantly, what do their past clients say? Check feedback on their website and on social media.

Want more information?

We are a friendly team of highly experienced professionals specialising in resource consents and are here to take the stress out of the process for you! Contact us on hello@planningplus.co.nz or 09 427 9966. Or book a 20 minutes free online consultation.

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.

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. This includes five years at Rodney District Council in roles including Senior Planner and Team Leader. 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.

email Hannah

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