Environment Minister Amy Adams has announced that the Government intends to introduce a six-month time limit on the processing of "medium-sized" consents by councils to avoid unnecessary costs and lengthy consenting timeframes.  The Minister's press release states that approximately 1600 such projects are processed by councils each year but no further detail is provided as to what size or kind of project would fall into this new "medium-sized" category. 

The proposal to introduce this tighter consenting timeframe is not new and formed part of the National Party Manifesto in 2011.   It also forms part of Government's wider response to the Productivity Commission's recent housing affordability inquiry which was announced this week by Finance Minister Bill English. The (real or perceived) housing crisis now seems to be the main justification for the Government's push for shorter processing time limits with the intention being to speed up housing developments.  

The Finance Minister also signalled the Government's intention to ensure that more land was opened up for development both within city limits and on city outskirts.  He indicated that there would be greater direction given to local authorities to increase land supply and if local councils ignored the Government's direction "we would be looking to exert a bit more control over their planning processes".  The detail of exactly how this would be achieved has not been provided.

The Government's announcement also includes a proposal to encourage more direct referral of projects to the Environment Court (particularly large regional projects which contribute to the regional economy).  Again, there is little detail of exactly what is proposed at this stage.

Other key components of the proposal include:

  • In a bid to reduce further information requests, the requirements for lodging a complete application will be clarified and strengthened.
  • The six-month limit will include time for hearings, deliberations and the time taken for commissioners to write and issue decisions.
  • The 20 day submission period will remain unchanged.
  • Councils will only be able to stop the clock for the first further information request and it will only stop after the third working day following the council's request.
  • Applicants may place their applications on hold for up to 130 working days (six months).  If an application is on hold for more than six months, then the council can cancel the application. 
  • Councils will still be able to extend the timeframes under section 37 of the RMA.
  • The Discount Regulations will apply to the new timeframes (the Regulations require Councils to refund a proportion of the application fee if they do not meet the specified time limits).

Mr English said that the Government has also asked for more work to be done on whether Building Consent Authorities can be consolidated in a regional or national hub, and the possible establishment of a competitor agency for resource consents/plan changes.  Both these options would be controversial and we will watch these developments with interest.  In the meantime, the six-month time limit and new rules relating to direct referral will be included in the next round of RMA amendments due out before the end of the year.

A copy of the Minister’s press release can be found here.