Unitary Plan Update – February 2016

Home Insights Unitary Plan Update – February 2016

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Contributed by: Francelle Lupis and George Willis

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Published on: February 04, 2016


New Panel members appointed

The Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Conservation have appointed three new members to the panel to hear submissions on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (Unitary Plan).

The new members, Alan Watson, David Hill and Les Simmons, are all familiar with the Unitary Plan process through earlier involvement as mediators. 

While the new members will not be involved in hearing or deliberating on matters where they were earlier involved as mediators, they will sit on the revolving two-Panel team that will oversee Topics 080 and 081 – Rezoning and Precincts. This new Panel structure is a key part of a strategy that is intended to ensure that the Panel will complete the hearings and present its recommendations to Auckland Council (Council) by its statutory deadline of 22 July 2016.

The new Panel members’ relevant experience can be found here.

Council rezoning and precinct evidence

On 17 December 2015, Council released its preliminary zoning maps for the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, available for viewing by submitters in advance of Council filing its evidence on Topic 081 (Rezoning and Precincts – Geographical Areas). The Council’s preliminary position generated some debate particularly in respect of the large number of proposed out of scope changes, which are discussed below.

Council’s evidence was filed on 26 January and has been divided into the geographical areas of Rodney (081b), North Shore (081c), West (081d), Central (081e) and South (081f). (Evidence that is relevant to more than one geographical area is categorised as 080a.) In order to navigate the large volume of material that has been released, the Council has also produced an index of evidence.   

The Council’s evidence, along with the index and final zoning maps, may be accessed here. The most significant changes include an increase in the percentage of residential area zoned Mixed Housing Urban (which allows for three storey development) from 10.91% to 16.89%, while the percentage zoned Single House (which allows one to two storey buildings) has decreased from 31.13% to 25.62%. While this suggests a preference for more intensive urban development, the Council emphasises in evidence that over 75% of Auckland’s residential zoned land would continue to be of one to two storeys (Large Lot, Single House and Mixed Housing Suburban zones).

In deciding the most appropriate zone for each area, the Council has identified a number of key principles that underpin its approach to zoning, including:

  1. Achieving a quality compact city where urban growth is primarily focussed within the existing metropolitan area and concentrated within moderate walking distances from the city, town or local centres, rapid and frequent service network or within close proximity to urban facilities.
  2. A focus on enabling a greater variety of housing choices creating more affordable housing in areas where people want to live.
  3. Allowing for growth while striking a balance by protecting the things that make Auckland a great place to live, including historic heritage and character and natural heritage areas, such as views to and between Auckland’s iconic maunga.
  4. Providing for quality living environments through the application of good urban design principles to ensure areas are attractive, safe and healthy.
  5. A number of overlay rules will apply that impact the zoning, such as historic character and historic heritage areas, height sensitive areas, flood plain and significant ecological areas.
  6. Building and resource consent requirements will also continue to apply.

Submitters’ evidence is due on 10 February 2016, and should follow the Panel’s guidance regarding best practice approaches to rezoning, precincts and amendments to the RUB, our previous summary of which may be found here.

The hearing agenda for Topic 081 – Rezoning and Precincts (Geographical Areas) has also been released, and is similarly organised according to geographical area. The agenda may be accessed here, however is likely to be subject to change and will be updated on an ongoing basis by the Panel staff.

Chairperson’s directions regarding scope and late submissions on rezoning

The Panel issued a direction regarding questions of scope and waivers for late submissions on 14 January 2016, in response to the Council’s preliminary position on residential zonings, released on 17 December 2015. This followed concerns raised by submitters in a series of memoranda as to the extent to which the Council’s rezoning proposals are within the scope of submissions made on the Unitary Plan, and the potential effects on persons who have not already made submissions on the Plan.

In considering waivers for late submissions, the direction sets out the relevant factors as being:

  1. the interests of any person who or that, in his opinion, may be directly affected by the waiver;
  2. the need to ensure that there is an adequate assessment of the effects of the proposed plan; and
  3. the stage of the hearing at which the Panel is provided with the submissions.

The directions observe that directly affected persons would include every person with an interest in land where the zoning as proposed in the notified Unitary Plan would change if the Council's position were accepted, and acknowledged that some of these people will already be involved in the hearings process, while others will not.

The directions also emphasised that the Council’s position with respect to rezoning does not amount to a variation to the Unitary Plan and so does not alter the starting point for the Panel’s consideration of submissions and its recommendation on the most appropriate zoning provisions in the Plan. The Panel is not obliged to accept and recommend in favour of the Council ahead of other submitters, and will base its recommendations on what it considers to be the most appropriate provisions.

If a general waiver to allow late primary submissions to be lodged in relation to the Council’s current preliminary position was granted, the Panel considers that it would compromise its ability to make its recommendations to the Council by its statutory deadline of 22 July 2016.

Regarding the extent to which the Council’s rezoning proposals are within the scope of submissions made on the Unitary Plan, the Panel has a general power to consider out-of-scope submissions under section 144(5) of the Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Act 2010 (LGATPA), but it must also adhere to a hearing procedure that is appropriate and fair in the circumstances under section 136(4)(a) LGATPA. Acknowledging that the Council may advance out-of-scope amendments in presenting its case in support of its submission, the Panel has indicated that it must be satisfied it would be appropriate for that matter to be the subject to an out-of-scope recommendation.

Overall, the directions conclude that the above considerations weigh in favour of the refusal to grant waivers for late submissions, either generally or as sought by individual submitters.  

A copy of the directions may be accessed here.

Consolidated Network Utility provisions progressed

On 3 November the Auckland Utility Operators Group (AUOG) filed a memorandum with the Panel in relation to its proposal to restructure the network utility rules and assessment criteria of the Unitary Plan into a combined section, Chapter H1.1 (Network Utility Chapter). Relevant links and our update on that memorandum can be found here.  

The Panel served notice on submitters on 13 November, confirming that it considers the Network Utility Chapter to have merit, and invited submissions in response. Of those submissions 13 were in support, and five opposed. Eight submitters also observed that the Network Utility Chapter would benefit from mediation and/or continued dialogue between stakeholders.

In light of those submissions, AUOG, Transpower, Housing New Zealand, the NZTA and the Council (including Auckland Transport, Watercare Services Limited and Auckland Stormwater) are continuing to advance the Network Utility Chapter. Both the Council and Auckland Transport have engaged external consultants to undertake an initial review of overlay and Auckland-wide provisions relocated to the Network Utility Chapter, and to undertake a review of road provisions across the Unitary Plan with a view to including these within the Network Utility Chapter, respectively.

In order to complete its review and provide final comments on the Network Utility Chapter, the Council has requested an extension of time from the Panel's deadline of 21 December 2015, to 10 February 2016. We will monitor for the Panel’s response, and any further developments.

Upcoming deadlines

The key dates for Topic 079 are:

  1. Hearing 2-4, 9-11 February 2016.

The key dates for Topic 080 are:

  1. Hearing 15-19, 22-25 February 2016.

The key dates for Topic 081 are:

  1. Other submitters evidence due on 10 February 2016.
  2. Rebuttal evidence due on 24 February 2016.
  3. Hearing 3 March – 29 April 2016.



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The publication is intended only to provide a brief summary of the subjects covered. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such without first obtaining specific professional advice based on your unique circumstances.

Russell McVeagh has New Zealand’s longest established and most experienced environmental and resource management practice.

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