29 October, 2012
Further RMA changes to help project planning
Environment Minister Amy Adams today announced the Government will introduce a six-month time limit on the council processing of medium-sized consents to avoid unnecessary costs and long, drawn-out processes for all parties.
“The costs, uncertainty and delays of the current system are affecting New Zealand jobs, infrastructure and productivity,” Ms Adams says.
“I often hear from applicants that the issue is not so much what they can and can’t do, but rather the time and cost to get an answer.
“It is causing economic frustrations for those wanting to progress important developments, including housing subdivisions, supermarkets, industrial developments or infrastructure projects that collectively are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and leaving communities with uncertainty for far too long.”
There are about 1600 medium sized projects processed each year.
“The proposed changes I am announcing today will help give certainty to communities and developers by reducing the time limit for consents by about one third – from the current average of nine months to six months.
“This is not about changing the basis on which the final decision is reached, but getting the decision more quickly to give certainty.”
A 2012 analysis of notified resource consent applications processed by 14 local authorities showed decisions took between 45 and more than 1000 days to reach, with the average being nine months.
Two significant reasons why the consent process can be lengthy are that there is no absolute time limit for decisions to be made, and the processing of consent applications can stop and re-start.
Stoppages are usually related to the need for further information the applicant has not provided at the start of the process.
The proposed changes will speed up the process in a number of ways, including strengthening the requirements for resource consent applicants to include all relevant information in an application when it is lodged with a council.
This includes details of the development and assessments against national, regional and local planning documents and an assessment of any effects. This will then be supplemented with strict time limits on council processes at stages of the consent.
It is also proposed that consent applications for large regional projects can be directly referred to the Environment Court more easily.
These projects would be smaller than nationally significant projects but still involve major investment. Council would be required to permit the direct referral if the application met certain criteria, unless there was good reason not to.
The proposal also includes measures to improve the quality of cost-benefit analysis undertaken by councils to support important planning decisions.
“Resource management decisions being made at a local level can have far-reaching effects on economic growth. Elected councillors need to have the right information to give them that context to ensure there is tangible evidence sitting behind analysis of the benefits, costs and risks of decisions and that these are made public.”
The proposed changes will be part of the Government’s Resource Management Reform Bill, to be introduced later this year.
The Government will also soon be consulting on wider reforms to the resource management system planned for next year.
These could include options such as having one resource management plan per local authority to deliver more co-ordination between land-use planning, infrastructure and transport investment, plus supporting councils with consistent approaches to planning future areas for development and more efficient planning processes.
“I will be announcing the process of achieving those wider resource management objectives later this year,” Ms Adams says.
“Resource management reform is a key part of this Government’s Business Growth Agenda. We need a resource management system that enables growth, provides good environmental outcomes and can adapt to changing values, pressures and technology.”
Questions and Answers:
What is the purpose of the six-month time frame?
To give businesses and communities greater certainty about how long it will take for decisions to be made on medium-sized resource consent applications. Under the current process, the date by which decisions will be made on consent applications are uncertain and delays that can occur during the process are difficult to forecast. Uncertainty and delays cause problems for businesses when the wider project involves complex project planning and significant financial investment. Long delays before decisions can also have negative impacts on communities.
What type of resource consent applications will the six-month time frame relate to?
The Government is proposing a 130-working day (six-month) time frame for notified applications and a 100-working day time limit for limited notified applications. This will affect developments like large housing subdivisions, retirement villages, infrastructure projects, milk and manufacturing processing plants, surface and ground water extraction and gravel extraction, and new retail or industrial developments.
What difference would the six-month limit make to the time to decide consent applications?
The average time to reach a decision on a medium sized consent is currently about nine months.
If the council requests further information from an applicant, does the clock stop on the six-month time frame until this information is provided?
The first time the council requests information, the consent processing clock will stop, but only after the third working day following the council’s request. This means that applications will not be delayed if the applicant can provide the information quickly. The council can request additional information but they will only be able to stop the processing clock on the first occasion.
A new provision is also proposed which will allow applicants to place their applications on hold for up to 130 working days (six months). If an application is on hold for a total of more than six months, then the council can cancel the application. This gives all the parties certainty over the timeframe for the decision to be made.
Will the six-month time limit affect public submissions and hearings?
The six month time limit provides a 20-day submission period, the same as the current system. The six-month limit includes time for hearings, as well as deliberations and time taken for commissioners to write decisions. The added certainty around the time period for the whole process means that hearings can be planned well in advance, helping applicants, submitters and councils plan their time to prepare their evidence and attend the hearing.
Is there a risk that decisions will be made that preclude the full range of evidence being considered?
The requirements for lodging a complete application with the council will be clarified and strengthened for all application types. This means that applicants will have a clearer idea of what information and assessments the council will need to see with the application and the required information for decision-making is provided at the start of the consent. It also means that councils will be able to get on with processing applications as soon as they are lodged. All together this will provide a quicker and more certain process for all participants without reducing the information needed. Councils will still have the opportunity to ask for further information from applicants.
Will the council retain the power to extend time limits?
Yes. Timeframes can still be extended under the current tests in the RMA – i.e. if special circumstances apply or if the applicant agrees (section 37).
Will the Resource Management (Discount on Administrative Charges) Regulations apply to the six-month timeframe requirements?
Yes. The Regulations will be amended to apply to the new timeframes for both limited notified and notified applications. The Regulations require Councils to refund a proportion of the application fee if they don’t meet time limits. The discount is 1 per cent for each working day over the 100/130 working day limit, up to a maximum of 50 per cent.