Can I be sent to prison if I don’t get resource consent?

Sometimes getting resource consents can seem like another layer of red tape and cost - more forms, more money and more meddling. You do need to remember though that the planning rules are there for a purpose, and even if you can’t see it with your development there is a wider goal that the Council is trying to achieve. The rules are there to protect you, the community and the environment.

An example of a person blatantly ignoring planning rules has been in the media recently. Businessman Augustine Lau owns several properties in Auckland and had been developing six them. The works included:

  • Converting buildings and relocating buildings onto a site in Flat Bush to create eight dwellings while the Auckland Unitary Plan rules allowed for one,

  • Converting a building and garage into dwellings and relocating another building onto a site in Paremoremo and establishing nine dwellings whereas the Auckland Unitary Plan rules allowed one,

  • Undertaking 900m3 of earthworks, including importing rubbish and debris (including asbestos), onto a site in Otahuhu.

The rules related to the above infringements are seeking to achieve a number of outcomes, including amenity of areas (reducing over intensification in inappropriate locations), managing access, servicing, natural hazards and public safety.

As a result of the unconsented works, Mr Lau faced 17 charges under the RMA and 10 charges under the Building Act, as well as further charges under the Companies Act. In the Court decision, Judge Thompson commented that Mr Lau's offending was the worst he had seen in terms of non-compliance with warnings by the regulator. Its important to note in this case that the Council had been seeking compliance from Mr Lau for some time; we understand Court action was a last resort.

"The offences he has committed in these instances were committed for financial gain," Judge Thompson said. "They were premeditated, he knew exactly what he was setting out to do and he knew that what he was doing was unlawful. He continued to do it nevertheless." Mr Lau pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to two years jail. This is the largest sentence ever under the RMA.

While the Council rarely takes people to Court, this does act as a warning that you can’t develop your site without getting the proper approvals. You need to be aware of what’s required at the outset, act in good faith, and if you inadvertently breach rules, act quickly to rectify the situation.

If you need some advice about resource consents, investigating if you need a resource consent and even how to obtain retrospective resource consent, get in contact with our helpful team.

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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