The Campbell Brown Blog

Red Auckland

Welcome to 2013!

With strong demand for housing and commercial development and a number of significant policy and plan developments, 2013 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Auckland.

Notable developments include the Resource Management Reform Bill and the development of the new Auckland Unitary Plan. Both documents will have significant implications for property developers and investors. We discuss these documents below:

Resource Management Reform Bill

In terms of the Resource Management Reform Bill, the government has signalled a number of improvements to the RMA to assist with streamlining the resource consenting process.

These improvements are designed to precede a larger-scale resource management reform that will deliver more substantive improvements to the planning and consenting system.

The main features of the proposed Bill are to:

  • establish a 6-month consent time frame for medium-sized projects, with additional related improvements to resource consent processes. This seeks to address the remaining inefficiencies following the previous 2009 amendments for small and large projects (this includes controls on “stopping the clock”):
  • require a consent authority to agree to a request for direct referral if regulations are made that establish an investment threshold and if the proposal meets that threshold, unless there are exceptional circumstances:
  • improve the direct referral provisions:
  • establish a streamlined process to assist with developing the first Unitary Plan for Auckland.
  • introduce the ability for regulations to be made that require local authorities to monitor the environment according to specified priorities and methodologies.
  • clarify the requirements on local authorities for the analysis that underpins plans and policy statements (such as the forthcoming Unitary Plan), including placing greater emphasis on the need for quantitative assessment of costs and benefits and the need to consider regional economic impact and opportunity costs:
  • improve decision-making by local authorities to ensure it is based on adequate, relevant, and robust evidence and analysis, and to increase the level of transparency of decision-making:
  • clarify and improve the workability of the RMA through a number of technical changes, including—

– extending access to the emergency provisions under the RMA to all lifeline utilities to enable action to save life and prevent injury or damage to property or the environment without first obtaining a resource consent:
– improving the processing of proposals of national significance:
– clarifying that a tree protection rule can only apply to a tree or group of trees that is specifically identified in a schedule to a plan by street address or legal description of the land.

The final deadline for submissions on the Bill is Thursday, 28 February 2013.

A copy of the bill is available at:

http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2012/0093/latest/versions.aspx

The Auckland Unitary Plan

We have previously reported on the significance of the Auckland Unitary Plan. The Unitary Plan is a key regulatory tool to implement the Auckland Spatial Plan. The Auckland Spatial Plan was adopted last year.

The development of the Unitary Plan will take centre stage this year.

Anyone with an interest in land investment or development needs to monitor and be involved in the Unitary Plan, as this can have a significant bearing on the value and opportunities of a property portfolio.

The Auckland Unitary Plan will establish a consolidated rulebook setting out what you can (and can’t) do with your land and buildings. It will replace the 12 existing district and regional plans. Once adopted the Unitary Plan will have a life of 10 years.

The new Unitary Plan presents an opportunity to streamline a range of planning rules. It will create a combined Regional and District level rule book. This will involve a rationalisation of the existing zones that presently apply across the greater Auckland region. At the same time, the standardisation of zoning has the potential for greater “up zoning” opportunities or conversely potentially further restrictions. Some of the rules will be similar to those of the old district plans, and some may be completely new. In order to achieve the objectives of the Auckland Plan, it is likely that the rules applying to most properties will change to some extent to achieve the greater intensification aims. We certainly see the likelihood of greater controls in and around achieving good urban design outcomes.

It is important that landowners understand the implications of the Unitary Plan, and the impacts of the new rules/zones on their property portfolio. The submission process can be utilised to protect existing interests, or enable further opportunities. This can be a relatively inexpensive process to ensure that the rules and policies are correct from the outset.

Even if a land owner is happy with the direction of the Unitary Plan, it is important that you lodge submissions in support, because the process of considering and approving these new rules and policies can result in changes to the final version of the Unitary Plan. It is important to be involved in the entire process of the Unitary Plan, in case these rules and policies change and impact on a property portfolio. For example, if you are happy with the proposed parking standards, it is important to support that rule, because if another party lodges a submission that seeks to change the parking standard, that my impact on your desired outcome(s).

Likewise, it is critical to ensure that the rules and policies do not impose unnecessary compliance costs and obligations for the future development or tenanting of sites (e.g. greater parking requirements, restrictions on potential land uses, restrictions on building heights or gross floor areas).

One simple approach will be for all land owners to conduct a gap analysis between the current uses, the existing District Plan rules and the new Unitary Plan rules and policies to identify any changes and/or opportunities for each site. This is essentially about aligning the Unitary Plan rules and policies with the strategic direction of the property portfolio. Getting the rules right now can save a lot of time and angst when it comes to the future development or sale of sites.

The Council is aiming to have a draft of the Unitary Plan prepared by March 2013, with public notification to follow in the latter half of 2013. A submission period will follow, where landowners will be able to lodge submissions in support of or opposition to the Unitary Plan. There will also be hearings to consider these submissions. It is vital that land owners are involved in this process in order to preserve or, where possible, enhance the value of their landholdings. In the meantime, existing district and regional statutory plans will continue to apply. Some parts of the Unitary Plan will have immediate legal effect e.g. heritage and natural resources.

As noted above, a one-off process has been announced by the Government. Council hearings will be replaced with a comprehensive independent hearing panel process for the plan as notified. After considering the plan, the panel will deliver its recommendations to the Council. Where the Council accepts the panel’s decision, these provisions will be immediately operative, subject only to appeals on points of law. Where the Council does not accept the recommendation(s), full appeal rights to the Environment Court will be available. It is estimated that most, if not all, of the plan provisions will be operative in three years.