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National Planning Standards – Feedback from Regional Workshops

By Liz Moncrieff &  Andrew Wharton, Ministry for the Environment

National Planning Standards workshops: what we heard

The enactment of the Resource Legislation Amendment Act in April this year means that the clock is now ticking on the requirement to produce the first set of National Planning Standards by April 2019 (see box below).  The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) set its initial thinking in a series of ten discussion papers. Our aim was to encourage resource management practitioners to step back from their day-to-day work and reflect on how Planning Standards may achieve efficiencies in plan making and plan use. While the discussion papers asked specific questions about each of the possible standards, we were keen to support dialogue between professionals working in the resource management field.

We wanted to dig a little deeper and explore a range of questions in an informal forum.  Questions such as:

  • What the building blocks of plans can be standardised at the national level?
  • Will standardising these aspects of plans enable resource management practitioners to focus their efforts on specific local issues?
  • What are the implementation challenges?

National Planning Standards 101

The National Planning Standards (formerly known as the National Planning Template) were introduced into law as part of the Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017. The key driver for the Planning Standards is to improve consistency in plan and policy statement structure, format and content.  This comes from a need to make plans easier and quicker to prepare, understand, compare and comply with.

The scope of the Planning Standards is broad, but there is a requirement to produce a first set of Planning Standards by April 2019. Under section 58FA of the RMA, the first set of Planning Standards must, as a minimum, include:

  • a structure and form for plans, including references to relevant national policy statements, national environmental standards, and regulations made under the RMA
  • definitions
  • requirements for the electronic functionality and accessibility of plans.

Standards covering these matters must always be in place.

Regional workshops

To help answer these questions, MfE partnered with the Resource Management Law Association and the New Zealand Planning Institute to deliver 16 workshops in 14 locations across the country during June and early July 2017.  Almost 600 members attended in total.  In each workshop, participants formed small groups around several discussion tables where the ten Planning Standards discussion papers were discussed, debated, questioned and challenged.

The findings from these workshops represent the first broad-scale collection of preferences from professional resource management planners, lawyers and other plan users on the structure, format and common content of RMA plans. They highlight areas where broad agreement seems to have emerged and a few areas where there are still a range of views.  The summary does not take into account the feedback provided in written submissions on the discussion paper questions (which closed 31 July).  MfE staff are still working through the 58 submissions received. Accordingly, this summary does not necessarily signal the direction that the draft planning standards will follow.

The National Planning Standards workshop summary is now on Ministry for the Environment’s website:  http://www.mfe.govt.nz/sites/default/files/media/national-planning-standards-feedback-regional-workshop.pdf

Where to from here?

 MfE is now drafting the first set of National Planning Standards.  We are working with several different groups in this drafting process:

  • 28 ‘pilot’ councils, which are testing aspects of draft standards as they are prepared.
  • A Practitioners Drafting Group – a small group of five external resource management practitioners who are peer-reviewing the detail of the standards drafting.
  • Planning Standards Think Tank – a larger group of external stakeholders who have worked on an ad-hoc basis with MfE since 2015, helping to inform the direction of the planning standards project.
  • Online shared workspace – a facility for resource management practitioners to share ideas, upload proposals and participate in the discussion on the draft standards. Practitioners can join this workspace by emailing us at planningstandards@mfe.govt.nz.

 We are working towards notifying the first set of draft National Planning Standards for public submissions in April 2018.