Environment Minister releases national planning standards

The Minister for the Environment, David Parker, has released the first set of planning standards which will come into force on 3 May 2019.  The planning standards are a set of national rules aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning system.  They are designed to make regional policy statements, regional plans, district plans and combined plans under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) more consistent with each other, easier to use and faster to make.

The planning standards have been adopted following a consultation process that included presentations, workshops and hui, public submissions and collaborative work by the Ministry for the Environment with councils and key stakeholders.  Our alert commenting on the notified planning standards can be viewed here.

The planning standards have addressed many of the issues raised through the consultation process, including providing more time for them to be implemented.  The Ministry also recognises that implementation to achieve the desired consistency is crucial, and intends to provide guidance, work-shops and one-on-one council support where necessary.

It is also proposed that the planning standards be reviewed within six years.  However, depending on the number of councils that implement the standards in the next few years, it would be beneficial to undertake a review earlier to ensure that they are fit for purpose and will achieve the desired outcomes before being implemented more widely.

What are the planning standards?

The first set of planning standards address the structure and form of plans, set national definitions and require plans to be accessible through an online ePlan.  The planning standards address matters that must be standardised across all plans, while enabling the detailed content of plans to be prepared and confirmed through the RMA plan making process.  The standards include the chapters to be included, their order, zone names and descriptions, definitions, and mapping tools.

When will the planning standards be implemented?

 Timeframe changes

The implementation timeframes have changed to allow more time for implementation and for a more nuanced approach for different councils, planning documents and standards.  These include:

  • all councils must meet basic electronic accessibility and functionality requirements before 3 May 2020;
  • regional councils have three years to adopt the standards for their regional policy statements, 10 years for their regional plans;
  • unitary councils have 10 years to adopt the planning standards; and
  • city/district councils have five years to adopt the planning standards, with seven years for the definitions standard. Councils who have recently completed a plan change have seven years, and nine years for definitions;

Different timeframes also apply for online interactive plans.  These include:

  • local authorities generally have five years, though some have seven;
  • all regional councils and unitary councils, and city/district councils with under 15,000 ratepayers have 10 years to comply with the requirements.

Implementation process

Councils will be able to implement the majority of the planning standards without going through a normal RMA plan change process (for example, notification, submissions and hearings).  An exception to this is the Zone Framework Standard where a council will need to undertake a plan change as this standard allows for councils to pick and choose from a number of zones which are unlikely to completely align with existing zones.

In practice, with the new implementation times, it is likely that councils will implement the planning standards as part of their next plan review process (including Auckland Council).  If a council undertakes a full plan review within its implementation timeframe, the new plan must meet the planning standards when it is notified for submissions.  Any aspect of the plan change that comes from the planning standards cannot be changed through the submissions process.

Comment

While the planning standards are likely to make policy statements, regional plans and district plans more useable, accessible and easy to prepare, their implementation will be phased in slowly.  It will be essential for the Ministry to provide the appropriate support to councils to ensure that the implementation of the standards is consistent and that a review is undertaken at an appropriate time.

How we can help

If you have any questions regarding the national standards, the implementation timeframes or the implementation process feel free to contact a member of our team.

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