Big efficiency gains in consent processing

  • Nick Smith

A 2011 report released today on the performance of councils in administering the Resource Management Act shows consents are being processed more efficiently since the Government reformed the Act, Environment Minister Nick Smith says.

“It is good news for jobs and investment that there have been huge efficiency gains in processing of resource consents.  Councils have taken on board the Government’s concerns over too many consents being late, too many time extensions being granted and too many further information requests,” Dr Smith said.

“The report shows 95% of consents were processed on time in the year to June 2011 as compared to 69% in the year to June 2008. This reverses the trend of declining compliance with timeframes from 82% in 2002, 77% in 2004, and 73% in 2006, and is the best result since the RMA came into force in 1991. This improvement means only 1807 homeowners and businesses had problems with late consents in 2011 compared with 16,107 in 2008.

“This turnaround has been dramatic and consistent across the country.  Only 25 of 84 councils had a 90% or better compliance rate in 2008, now 73 out of 78 do.  The requirement in the Government’s amendments to the RMA for councils to provide fee discounts to applicants when consents are late is clearly working to ensure legal timeframes are met.

“Councils have also responded positively to the legislative changes requiring justification for granting time extensions.  The report shows 5423 extensions were granted in 2010/11, as compared to 14,548 in 2008.

“A further frustration for homeowners and businesses has been repeated requests by councils for additional information on resource consents.  The Government's amendments in 2009 put restrictions on such requests.  It is pleasing that further information requests dropped from 22,343 to 12,654.

“The total number of resource consents required also reduced.  This is partly due to legislative changes that removed the requirement for consents for minor activities like tree trimming.  The greater use of national environment standards also means some activities don't require consents.  There has also been a recessionary impact on the total number of consents, dropping from 51,960 to 36,154.

“The report also shows more effective enforcement of the RMA.  The number of infringement notices increased by 18% to 1800 and the number of prosecutions to 139.  The Government's decision to double the maximum fine for resource consent breaches has been heeded by the courts with the average fine for a dairy farm effluent breach increasing from $12,000 in 2008 to $30,000 in 2011.

“This report shows the Government's changes to streamline and simplify the RMA are working.  We have reduced by thousands the number of homeowners and businesses frustrated by months of delays in processing resource consents.  We view the RMA as improved but not fixed.  We are planning a second phase of reforms to further improve the way the Act functions to support our bluegreen agenda of less bureaucracy and better environmental outcomes.”

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