11 Aug 2013

Council body positive about planning changes

3:45 pm on 11 August 2013

The organisation representing councils says it will welcome proposed changes to the Resource Management Act if they create more consistency in how local authorities grant building consents.

On Saturday, Prime Minister John Key announced amendments to the legislation would reduce bureaucracy and costs for people wanting to make alterations to their houses.

Councils will have to provide fixed fee options for certain consents, and will be able to waive the need for resource consent where there is only a technical or minor variance from plan rules. Local authorities will be required to halve the time for processing straightforward applications from 20 to 10 working days.

Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said local government has wanted direction in some of the areas covered by the Resource Management Act.

"Part of the issue has been that various governments have not given national frameworks for some of these things ... councils have been forced to adopt plans within consultation with the community but in some cases that has meant variation."

He says many councils are already trying to shorten the time for processing consents, but can only do what the law allows them to.

Mr Yule says local councils are too often used as scapegoats for resource consent problems by central government.

The Property Council says the proposed changes will give developers more confidence to pursue projects, contributing to lower house prices.

Chief executive Connal Townsend says property developers desperately need certainty about resource management rules.

Greens say changes damaging

The Green Party says other proposed changes the Resource Management Act would remove from the legislation key principles, such as a requirement for councils to consider a building's impact on the environment.

The Greens say this would result in badly-planned urban sprawl that ruins some of the country's most spectacular landscapes.

Green MP Eugenie Sage says local bodies would not be able to control where subdivisions are built, leading to developments in areas with little access to council services.

The changes would also require a greater emphasis on the economic benefits of a project, and Business New Zealand says this will allow councils to move ahead with development in areas with growing populations.

Chief executive Phil O'Reilly says many councils want to meet the needs of expanding populations with further development but are prevented by the Resource Management Act, while in some cases provisions of the act are misused to block development.

"(Councils) have been so concerned about the rights of others and or about rights around, for example, the environment, that often means they just say no. Often they'll have in place rules that are simple for them, but that actually don't work for the population, if indeed you think that property rights are important and you want people to invest in improving their properties."

But the Environmental Defence Society says rural and coastal areas would suffer if a requirement to consider the environment was replaced with a greater emphasis on economic development.

Chairman Gary Taylor says that would allow big infrastructure projects to go ahead, even where they might cause serious environmental damage, while in urban areas, developers would not have to consider things like green spaces.