Unitary Plan Update – September 2015

Home Insights Unitary Plan Update – September 2015

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Contributed by: Francelle Lupis, Michael Doesburg and George Willis.

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Published on: September 30, 2015


Legislative refinements to Unitary Plan process announced

On 16 September Hon Dr Nick Smith and Mayor Len Brown announced that a Bill will be introduced to give the Unitary Plan Hearings Panel more flexibility in order to achieve its statutory deadline. 

The Bill is intended to maintain the momentum in Auckland housing supply by ensuring the Unitary Plan is in place before October 2016 when the Special Housing Areas legislation expires. It will do so in part by providing changes to allow the Hearings Panel to hear the remaining 5000+ site specific submissions in an efficient manner.

Although the Bill is yet to be introduced, it has been announced that the Bill will propose four changes:

  • reducing the Panel's quorum from three to two members;
  • clarifying that the Panel may hold concurrent sessions and appoint alternate chairs;
  • enabling the Panel to make recommendations to the Council in stages; and
  • allowing extra Panel members to be appointed. (We anticipate that the additional Panel members will focus on the large number of submissions relating to individual sites, leaving the Panel to concentrate on Auckland-wide issues.)

Mayor Len Brown commented that the refinements will maintain the integrity of the Panel's work but will enable it to meet the report back timetable of 22 July 2016. 

The press release can be viewed here.


Latest interim guidance released

On 7 September, following hearings on Topic 076 – Major Recreation Facility Zone and Precincts, the Hearings Panel released its latest Interim Guidance. During the hearing both submitters and Auckland Council indicated that it would be useful for the Panel to provide guidance on a select number of outstanding issues between the parties to facilitate post-hearing discussions. In response, the Panel has issued guidance to enable submitters and the Council to further consider the proposed provisions and advance any further changes to the provisions to give effect to the matters in the guidance before the hearing is formally closed.

The Interim Guidance indicates support for:

  • listing the primary activities provided by the facility operators unless there is good reason not to;
  • reframing complementary activities as an inclusive list of “activities compatible with“ the primary activities, to cater for non-listed activities;
  • the proposed three-tiered assessment framework for noise levels;
  • precinct-specific noise, lighting and transport management controls;
  • interface control areas as recommended by each operator, unless there is good reason to move from those recommendations; and
  • building height and height to boundary limits at a suitable level to enable primary activities on each site.

The Panel has also established a timeframe for the progress towards resolution of the outstanding matters as follows:

  • submitters to undertake direct discussions with Council by 14 October 2015;
  • Council to provide the Panel with a summary of agreements reached, a list of outstanding issues, and mediation track change versions of the precinct provisions by 16 October 2015;
  • the Panel will appoint a mediator and mediation will be held between 2 and 13 November 2015 (if required);
  • the outcome of the mediation will be reported to the Panel by the mediator;
  • closing statements are to be provided to the Panel by 20 November 2015; and
  • upon receipt of the mediation outcome and closing statements, the Panel will consider whether any further hearing time is necessary or desirable and parties will be informed accordingly.

The Interim Guidance provides strong support for outcomes that will achieve operational flexibility for Auckland's various major recreation facilities, including Auckland Zoo, MOTAT, and the sports stadia, over the life of the Unitary Plan. In particular, the Guidance indicates support for an approach that recognises the unique characteristics of the limited number of major recreation facilities (17 precincts in total across Auckland) and their significance in providing for the recreational needs of a growing population. 

The guidance in its totality suggests that major recreational facilities, like other social infrastructure including hospitals, schools and tertiary institutions, require a plan framework that responds to both their unique functional requirements and their important role in providing for Auckland's social and economic well-being. In turn those considerations justify a careful review of the level of control on potential effects sought to be imposed by the Council.

A copy of the interim guidance can be found here.

Best practice approaches to rezoning, precincts and changes to the RUB

In advance of the major rezoning, precincts and RUB hearings, the Panel has released guidance on best practice approaches to rezoning, precincts and amendments to the RUB to assist submitters.

The guidance lists a number of considerations that should be addressed as part of evidence for the upcoming hearings. 

For rezoning, relevant considerations include:

  • consistency with zone objectives and policies;
  • consistency with the Regional Policy Statement;
  • economic costs and benefits;
  • outcomes from recent plan changes;
  • consistency with overlays or constraints;
  • the features of the site being rezoned (where it is, what the land is like, what is the current use and what is already built there);
  • the availability of major infrastructure (eg water, wastewater, stormwater and roads);
  • adequacy of separation between incompatible land uses;
  • whether boundaries are defensible (eg follow roads or other boundaries);
  • spot zoning should be avoided;
  • existing resource consents and existing use rights will not determine zoning, but will be taken into account; and
  • roads are not zoned.

For precincts, relevant considerations include:

  • whether the purpose of the precinct is justified in terms of the purpose of the RMA;
  • outcomes from recent plan changes;
  • precincts should not override overlays;
  • precincts should not be used if the outcome could be achieved through the use of the underlying zone, Auckland-wide provisions or a resource consent;
  • if a precinct changes most of an underlying zone, a new zone should be created instead;
  • existing resource consents and existing use rights will not determine whether a precinct is created, but will be taken into account;
  • the structure should be simple – ideally no more than one layer;
  • precinct boundaries should follow property boundaries; and
  • precincts must use the definitions in the Unitary Plan.

In respect of changes to the RUB, the evidence should demonstrate the change will:

  • enable efficient provision of development capacity and land supply;
  • promote the achievement of a quality compact urban form;
  • occur in areas where the provision of infrastructure is feasible;
  • avoid certain sensitive or high value areas, including scheduled areas with environmental, heritage, Maori, natural character or landscape values, the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Protection Area, mineral resources and elite soils;
  • avoid areas subject to natural hazards and reverse sensitivity effects; and
  • aim to follow property boundaries.

Given this clear guidance from the Hearings Panel, submitters should take care to ensure that all relevant points are addressed in evidence. Clear evidence will be required in order to justify a departure from the principles provided by the Panel. 

The guidance also identifies the supporting information that is required in each case. A copy of the guidance can be found here.

Evidence for Topic 080 - Rezoning and Precincts (General) is due to be exchanged in December and January, with hearings in February. Evidence is due for Topic 081- Rezoning and Precincts (Geographical Areas) in January and February, with hearings occurring during March and April.


Council approach to rezoning and precincts

The Auckland Council has confirmed its proposed programme for mediation on the upcoming site specific rezoning and precinct Topics 080 and 081. 

For the RUB changes, three days have been set aside for direct discussions between submitters and the Council in lieu of mediation. 

With hearings on the RUB, rezoning and precincts beginning in January 2016, the Council has advised that it does not have the resources to prepare for, attend and follow up at any mediation or open days on re-zoning or precincts. Instead, the Council will establish a rostered planning helpdesk that will allow submitters to phone a Council planner for assistance as they prepare their evidence. The pre-hearing meeting for rezoning and precincts is set down for 1 October and there are currently a number of days scheduled for mediation. Those mediation days may similarly be reassigned for direct discussions, however, there are likely to be a number of inter-submitter issues that direct discussion will not address. 

In our experience, the Unitary Plan's mediation process has been instrumental in facilitating agreement and narrowing issues through all of the hearing topics to date. While we appreciate that the Council has a significant workload, a lack of engagement on the various rezoning and precinct submissions will ultimately result in significantly more extensive evidence and lengthy hearings.

A copy of the Council's email can be viewed here. The next edition of this update will report on the outcome of the pre-hearing meeting.


Upcoming deadlines

The following mediation and workshop dates are currently scheduled for the rest of the year:

  • Topic 074 - Designations – 5-6 October (if required)
  • Topics 016 and 017 - RUB North / West and RUB South – 20-22 October (submitter meetings with Auckland Council)
  • Topic 080 - Rezoning and Precincts (General) – 9-13 November
  • Topic 081 - Rezoning and Precincts (Geographical areas) – 7-11 December

The following hearing dates are currently scheduled for the rest of the year: 

  • Topics 059, 060, 062 and 063 – Residential objectives and policies, Residential activities, Residential development and Residential controls and assessment – 14-16, 19-20, 22-23 and 27-28 October
  • Topic 078 - Addition height controls – 29 and 30 October
  • Topic 064 - Subdivision – 2-3 November
  • Topic 075 - Waitakere ranges – 5-6 November
  • Topic 065 - Definitions – 9-11 November
  • Topic 074 - Designations – 30 November and 2-3 December

Please refer to the latest provisional Hearings Schedule for further details. 

If you have any questions about the items in this newsletter, please contact any of the partners or authors of the articles as listed above.

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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