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PC78- The ever-changing confusion?

The confusion around Plan Change 78 (PC78) timing, related plan changes and what’s now required continues. As we enter the second quarter of 2024 and two years since the notification of PC78, there is still a lot of unknowns. If you’re waiting on the outcome of PC78 for your subdivision or land development in Auckland, read on! We’ll provide you with a useful summary of where things are now up to and what’s next.


What is Plan Change 78?

Plan Change 78 is Auckland Council’s intensification plan change- including changes required by the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS- UD) and incorporating the Medium Density Residential Standards (3 houses, 3 stories high etc), also called the MDRS. You can find out more about the background here.



What’s the holdup?

There are three main issues affecting the progression of PC78. In summary these are:


  • A plan change related to what was to be the Auckland Light Rail Corridor. This land had purposely been left out of PC78 as it was to be the subject of a future plan change when the location of the corridor, stations and surrounding land uses were better known.   The 2023 change in central government resulted in the new coalition confirming the light rail project was cancelled. This meant that Auckland Council had to go back to the drawing board about how this land should be developed.

  • A plan change related to natural hazards. Following the flooding events in 2023 it became clearer that some areas were not suitable for development, and that more controls on development potentially affected by natural hazards was required. Auckland Council indicted that a plan change was proposed to address these natural hazards issues, and that it would potentially have immediate legal effect on notification[1].

  • The new coalition government has confirmed that the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS) are to become optional, whereas they are now mandatory.

 

These mandatory MDRS provisions account for a large part of PC78. Once central government makes the required legislation changes to make the MDRS optional, it’s likely Auckland Council will alter Plan Change 78 (or withdraw it entirely) and remove or downzone some areas that were required by the MDRS to be upzoned.


Central government has committed to making these legislative changes by the end of 2024.


You can find out more about the background in our previous blogs here and here.


Another extension?

Legislation set out specific timeframes for completing the PC78 process. In Auckland this had been extended by 12 months previously due to the investigations needed following the 2023 flooding.


In February 2024, Auckland Council sought another 12-month extension (until 31 March 2026). This was in part to allow time for central government to change legislation making the MDRS optional, for the Council to assess the impact of those changes, and for legislation changes to allow Auckland Council to withdraw Plan Change 78 in whole or in part and allow the Council to make development in natural hazard areas more restrictive.


The Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and RMA Reform has now granted this further 1- year extension. However, the Ministers approval is unclear because it also notes an expectation by the Minister that Auckland Council continue progressing the NPS- UD aspects of Plan Change 78 where practicable. Because of the confusion around what this actually means in practise, the PC78 Independent Hearings Panel have paused its program on PC78 for 2 months.


The Hearings Panel felt they were unable to pause the process for longer than 2 months, as the PC78 timeframes set out in legislation still apply (even though there are clearly changes to be made to what PC78 must include- the legislation hasn’t actually been changed yet creating a situation whereby everyone knows things will change but the formal legislation changes needed are lagging behind). It’s a frustrating situation for all involved!


 

What’s happening now?

Work is underway now on clarifying exactly what Auckland Council and the Hearings Panel need to do and by when. This includes:


  • Seeking clarification from the Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and RMA Reform on whether intensification in the Light Rail Corridor is to be enabled by 30 April 2025 (as opposed to a plan change related to this just being notified by this date which is what Auckland council is currently suggesting).


  • Clarifying what aspects of Plan Change 78 are NPS- UD related and can progress now. The Council indicated on 18 April 2024 that this should include the City Centre zone and related Precincts. The Hearings Panel are seeking input from the Council and submitters on this, including why other hearing topics related to the NPS- UD can’t proceed now, with a Case Management Conference scheduled for 29 April 2024.


  • Work is progressing on the natural hazard plan change, and this is now required to be notified by 30 April 2025. Noting again that some or all of this may have immediate legal effect, this is a date to be aware of if your land development project is affected by natural hazards. We recommend discussing this with your planning consultant or housing and urban development firms.

          

Central government have committed to making the legislative changes required to make the MDRS optional, with some qualifications, by the end of 2024.


What does this mean for you?

If your development is relying on PC78, there is still a lot of uncertainty about timing and what will be in the altered version of the plan change. This is particularly the case if you’re relying on upzoning enabled by the MDRS, as its highly likely the extent and nature of the development enabled will change. Auckland Council have been very vocal from the start of this process that they felt the Auckland Unitary Plan already provided for sufficient growth, and the adhoc development enabled by the MDRS would create issues, in particular in relation to infrastructure.



If you’re relying on changes related to the NPS- UD, there is less risk. Discuss this with your planning consultant Auckland.


Existing Auckland Unitary Plan

In many locations the Auckland Unitary Plan already enables more development, including multiple houses, terraced houses, apartments and minor dwellings. A resource consent application can still in many cases be successful under the existing zone provisions. Early advice from an experienced planner will ensure you fully understand  the opportunities for your site, and how to increase your chances of a successful resource consent process.

 

Need planning advice you can trust?

 

With over 35 years of combined experience processing resource consent applications, including being a current planning consultant to Auckland Council, we have significant experience on both sides of the fence. We draw on this experience to help you navigate the Auckland Council resource consent process and provide a development feasibility study to get the best outcome.

 

Contact us on (09) 427 9966 or hello@planningplus.co.nz to discuss your development goals.  

 


Hannah Thomson is Director of Planning Plus™ and has over 23 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.

 

 ​Hannah holds the qualifications of BSc (Environmental Science) and Masters of Applied Science (Environmental Management), is a Member (Int) of the New Zealand Planning Institute and Secretary of the New Zealand Planning Institute Auckland Branch Committee. Hannah is also a member of the Resource Management Law Association.

 

 

Disclaimer

Please remember that the advice in this blog is general in nature and based on information and advice available at the time of writing. We recommend you get your own planning advice. As with all our blogs this information is preliminary in nature only and we have used our best endeavours to ensure it is correct at the time of writing. It is not intended to substitute for your own investigations or obtaining specific advice from professionals. Planning Plus LtdTM is not liable in any way for any errors or omissions.


© Planning Plus Ltd 2024


[1] Auckland Council Memorandum of counsel dated 18/4/2024.

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