Slow planning processes concern Minister

  • Nick Smith

The need for reform of the Resource Management Act (RMA) is highlighted by today’s release of the National Monitoring System data, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“This monitoring report highlights how slow our planning system is, with the average time for a council plan taking more than eight years and for a council plan change four years. This cumbersome process means councils cannot respond to changing society needs such as the sharp shift in housing demand from the lull of 2010 to the boom of 2015. It is crucial to resolving issues like housing that we have a far more responsive planning system. The Government’s second phase of RMA reform, currently before Parliament, provides the option for councils to adopt a streamlined planning process which will enable councils to achieve plan changes in six months.

“I am encouraged by the impacts on resource consent processing that are the result of the changes made in the Government’s first phase of RMA reforms. We’ve seen the number of late consents drop from 16,017 in 2007/08 to 1260 in 2014/15. We still have some issues with the efficiency of consent processing, with 19 per cent requiring time extensions and 32 per cent further information requests. More than 360 consents received a discount on their consent costs of $457,321 where councils did not meet statutory timeframes for processing.

“I am also encouraged by the increased levels of compliance with resource consent conditions, with 88 per cent of those monitored being compliant. We still have more work to do in ensuring the RMA delivers good outcomes for the environment while minimising the restrictions and costs on businesses and homeowners.

“There is also work to do to reduce processing costs of $76 million for the 40,000-plus annual resource consents. There are significant savings to be made from reducing the number of notified consents, which cost five times those of non-notified. Even the average $1929 bill for a non-notified consent can be excessive when it involves a minor change in boundary or height rules. The proposal to enable councils to waive the requirement for some consents over many minor issues would be a relief to homeowners where the consent cost can exceed the building cost. There are also significant benefits for the environment and costs of the RMA with greater use of national standards.

“The 2015 National Monitoring System data released today, together with a new online tool, opens up access to RMA statistics for the first time. The data will help the Ministry for the Environment see which parts of RMA processes are causing delays, where inconsistency in council practices is a problem, and identify best practice. For the first time, the ministry has detailed information on more than 42,000 resource consent applications and 359 plan-making processes.

“This new, open reporting on the RMA, alongside the Government’s legislative reforms, also helps improve performance. Councils and communities need to compare their performance around environmental compliance and costs of processing this for plans and consents and help drive better practice.”