The process of submitting an application for a Resource Consent can be a daunting one, but if you submit a good application you’ll not only comply with your legal obligations under the Resource Management Act (RMA) you will also ensure your application gets processed quickly, saving time and money.
If there’s not enough information, Council may not understand what has been proposed or the potential environmental effects, leading to longer processing times and higher costs as Council planners try to clarify what’s proposed. Because Councils charge for actual time spent, the less time staff spend processing your application the lower the charges are.
One way to ensure that your application gets processed quickly is to reduce the number of reasons council might ask for further information (called “Requests for Further Information” or “RFI”). We always recommend putting in the effort upfront, to make the process easier, straightforward and cheaper in the long run.
What is a request for further information (RFI?)
A request for further information (often also called a section 92 RMA request) allows further information to be requested in relation to an application for resource consent so that they have a better understanding of:
the nature of the proposed activity;
the effect(s) of the proposed activity on the environment;
the ways any adverse effects may be avoided, remedied or mitigated
Council will usually state in a letter or email the information that they want and the reason why they need the information. You’ll often receive this within 10 days of making the resource consent application. The Council will also provide a timeframe for you to respond, this is usually additional 15 working days. It can sometimes be hard to source the information you need within these time frames (you may for example need to engage a new specialist, update some plans or provide more assessment; this all takes time) so it’s best to do it up front. If you don’t provide the information, Council can notify the application. You should keep the Council updated on your likely response times.
So how can I avoid a Section 92 or RFI?
Here are some sure-fire ways of reducing RFIs:
Get the right team together: using a Planner is a good way to make sure you are aware of all relevant legal and planning requirements. A Planner can undertake a check on the site and identify things like hazards or heritage items on your property. This will help you identify which other professionals you need to write technical reports to accompany your application, e.g. a civil engineer, surveyor, arborist, noise specialist, etc. We have a strong network of professionals we can refer you to, to help form your "team".
Carry out full and proper investigations: you should focus on getting all the necessary information at the beginning of the development and provide this to Council when lodging your consent. This includes all technical reports, assessments and plans that are prepared by your "team". A resource consent application should provide an assessment against the relevant planning framework in accordance RMA requirements and should be of a scale that matches the scale of the application. Refer to our blog "How do I get my application accepted?" for a checklist of the items you need to include to ensure your application is accepted for processing. A resource consent application is much more than just ticking boxes and filling in forms; it needs to include specific assessment that are relevant to the specific proposal. A Planner would usually manage the resource consent process for the owner; this is their specialty and their inputs can be tailored to the complexity of each individual project.
We always recommend getting professional advice.
Know the scope of the application: the activity status affects what further information can be requested in terms of scope and assessment. For Controlled and Restricted Discretionary Activities, information can only be sought that is within the scope of the matters for control/discretion; and assessment criteria. For Discretionary and Non-Complying Activities, the information sought is not limited in this way. Submit an application and reports that already address all of the relevant matters that Council can assess; this will then provide Council staff with a full picture of what’s proposed and how it relates to the relevant planning documents.
It’s really important for you or your Planner also thoroughly check the District and Regional Plans and identify specific information requirements. Auckland’s Unitary Plan also has Special Information Requirements listed at the end of each Chapter. For example, if you are applying for an activity in the Rodney Landscape Precinct, you must submit a landscape report by a suitably qualified and experienced person with all applications.
Provide the right level of detail: the level of detail should be enough that the Council can understand the application and has enough information about it to make a decision. The information does not need to be at the level of detail that is required for a building consent or Engineering Plan Approval and it might time wasted if you end up needing to change your proposal for planning reasons after doing detailed design. Getting the right team behind you can help you to achieve the right balance here; it’s important to know what work to do and when.
It is important to provide a detailed description of the existing environment so that the people assessing the application know what they are comparing the proposal to. You also need to think of all the things unique to your activity. For example, if you are proposing a commercial activity, you will need to know details of your hours of operation and any signage you want to put up well before the business opens. You might want to check that your property actually has legal access over any shared driveway. Make sure you are clear about the materials and colour schemes you are using and consider landscaping.
Check, check and check again: check that each page of your plans and Assessment of Effects on the Environment match to avoid Council needing to clarify matters. Are all the technical reports referred to in the text? Have you remembered to upload all the relevant documents?
If you need advice about preparing a comprehensive resource consent application, get in contact with our team. You can see that getting a resource consent application right can be complicated, and this is where a Planner can help you. At Planning Plus, we deal with this process every day and know it inside out. We can manage the application process for you, taking away the stress from what can become a difficult process.
One of our core values is providing excellent technical service to our clients. That means we do all the upfront planning investigations, ask the right questions, manage specialist inputs and provide a detailed Assessment of Environmental Effects report. The aim of this is to provide as much information to the Council planning team upfront; this reduces the amount of information they need to ask for and the time Council staff spend processing your application. We’ve had very pleased clients receive Council refunds of part of their resource consent deposit fee. We’re thrilled that clients are seeing the financial benefits in providing a robust application and keeping more money in their pockets.
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.
Jo Michalakis is a Senior Planner at Planning Plus™ and has over 14 years of resource management experience. Jo has a wide range of experience, including public and private sectors and has worked at both Auckland Council and Gisborne District Council.
Her planning work experience includes residential, commercial, infrastructure, natural environment, heritage and community projects throughout the North Island of New Zealand. She has experience in policy development, preparation of assessments of environmental effects and processing resource consents.