First set of Draft National Planning Standards formally notified by MfE

On Wednesday 6 June 2018, the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) formally notified its first set of draft template planning documents (now known as National Planning Standards) (Standards) (see summary consultation document here). This set of 18 draft Standards will standardise Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) requirements for the structure, format and content of planning documents and policy statements across New Zealand’s 67 territorial authorities and 11 regional councils.

The aim is to both increase the consistency, and improve the quality, of those planning and policy documents. In an article from June last year, we discussed some of the problems that have been arising from differences in planning documents across New Zealand, and how these Standards may help to address these problems. The Standards aim to make plans and policy statements easier to prepare, understand, compare and comply with. The draft Standards are open for submissions until 5pm on Friday 17 August 2018. While anyone has the right to make written submissions on the Standards, there will be no public hearings following the close of the submission period. The Standards take legal effect once they are incorporated into local authority planning documents.

The Minister for the Environment has prioritised plan and policy statement components that will benefit the most from standardisation

For the first set of draft Standards, the Minister for the Environment (Minister) has prioritised plan and policy statement components that have been identified as benefitting the most from standardisation, summarised in the table below:

Structure standardsForm standardsContent and Metric standards
  • Regional Policy Statement Structure
  • Regional Plan Structure
  • District Plan Structure
  • Combined Plan Structure
  • Introduction and general provisions
  • Tangata Whenua
  • Strategic Directions
  • District wide matters
  • Area and zone specific matters
  • Schedules, appendices, maps
  • Electronic Functionality & Accessibility
  • Mapping
  • Spatial Planning Tools (Region)
  • Spatial Planning Tools (District)
  • Chapter Form
  • Status of Rule and other Text and Numbering Format
  • Definitions
  • Noise and Vibration Metrics

These changes will make it easier to pick up a plan or policy statement prepared anywhere in the country and easily navigate it. Hopefully it will also avoid the need for litigation to determine issues such as how the provisions of zones and overlays relate to each other and whether or not a neighbours’ proposed structure does nor does not breach permitted activity standards.

The draft Standards propose extending the implementation timeframe from one year to five years from gazettal, with some exceptions

The RMA specifies default timeframes for the implementation of mandatory and discretionary content of Standards (with relevant steps required to be taken within 1 year of the final version of the relevant Standards being formally notified in the New Zealand Gazette). However, alternative timeframes can be set in the Standards and the Government has given local authorities longer than those default timeframes to implement the first set of Standards

For plan changes that require a formal RMA plan change (Schedule 1) process, local authorities must notify the proposed plan change within their selected zones within five years.

The draft Standard requires local authorities to make changes to improve the electronic accessibility and functionality of their planning documents within 12 months. Further changes to move all PDF planning documents into an ePlan system will take more time for local authorities to implement and must be in place within the standard five years.

The draft Standards propose a two-year extension to implement the first set of Standards for local authorities that have recently undertaken major plan reviews. This will apply where the local authority has, or is due to notify, the decisions version of an RMA plan, or a partial decision that encompasses the majority of the plan, between April 2016 and April 2019. The draft Standards identify the local authorities that will be able to rely on this extension.

The draft Standards include mandatory directions, discretionary directions and will require amendments to plans and regional policy statements

The draft Standards contain mandatory directions which cover the majority of the structure, form and content of regional plans, regional policy statements, district plans and combined plans. Regional policy statements and plans must be amended to carry out these directions without using the RMA Schedule 1 plan making processes, and the amendments must be made within the timeframes outlined above.

Discretionary directions contained in the draft Standards require a local authority to choose from a number of specific provisions. These discretionary directions are intended to provide limited choices for local authorities to adopt provisions that better reflect local circumstances. For example, the draft area specific standard includes discretionary directions as to what overlays and zones local authorities can implement, as not all zones (such as port and airport zones) will be appropriate in the local context. They can be applied to the local circumstances, but the content of the provisions cannot be altered. Planning documents must be amended to carry out these directions using the Schedule 1 plan making processes, with notification of plan changes occurring within the timeframes outlined above.

The process to develop the Standards does not include a public hearing of submissions

Following the close of the submission period on 17 August 2018, MfE is required to report on and give recommendations to the Minister on the written submissions. The Minister will then carry out a further evaluation of whether the draft Standards are the most appropriate way to achieve the purpose of the RMA and the purpose of the Standards and the efficiency and effectiveness of the content of the Standards.

The Minister may then approve the Standards (with or without changes), or withdraw all or part of the draft Standards.

The RMA specifies that the first set of national planning standards must be approved by 18 April 2019 at the latest.

As these Standards will be rolled out across the country, any significant problems with them or material opportunities that are not being addressed by them will have effects nationwide. This means it is likely to be well worth the effort to make a written submission if you have any concerns.

We regularly assist clients to prepare submissions on plan reviews and changes, and would be happy to answer any specific questions on how the Standards may impact on your business or organisation.

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