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Ten years on, a seven-year plan to standardise local government planning documents

Wednesday 6th June 2018

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Environment Minister David Parker has unveiled the all-but-final version of a template to make local governments' planning documents far easier to understand - a process that has so far taken a decade and will have seven years to go before being fully implemented, if the Draft National Planning Standards go ahead as proposed.

At a function in the office of Wellington mayor Justin Lester, Parker admitted he'd first discussed the need for such reform a decade ago when he served briefly in the environment portfolio under Prime Minister Helen Clark.

He thanked his predecessor from the previous government, Nick Smith, for developing the draft standards in the meantime. They first emerged for public discussion in May last year, to an initially hostile reaction. Many local government bureaucrats feared the impact of major changes to planning documents developed on the hoof over the 27 years since the Resource Management Act 1991 first transferred responsibility for plan-making from central to local government.

As the draft notes: "This resulted in hundreds of plans that reflect local drafting styles and local interpretation of national direction. This unnecessary plan variation impacts the planning system by making plans difficult to interpret and understand and onerous to prepare, resulting in undue time and cost pressures for both councils and plan users."

Parker said the standardised documents should help every user of local government planning documents, right down to "the person wanting to put in a fence or build a deck".

However, to prevent major cost and disruption for councils that have just completed their 10-year planning cycles or are coming up to them, the draft proposes allowing councils between five and seven years to adopt the new documents.

Standardising will also assist consistent implementation of the increasing number of central government-directed National Policy Statements being issued by governments under the RMA, and which local councils are obliged to insert into their plans.

NPSs were rarely used for the first two decades of the RMA's life, but the desire to make definitive calls on complex, nationally significant environmental issues saw the previous minister, Nick Smith, and now Parker more willing to issue NPSs and their similarly directive National Environmental Standards.

Submissions on the draft documents are due by Aug. 17 and the government intends they will come into effect from April 2019.


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