Preparations for the mammoth task of drafting the Unitary Plan for Auckland are well underway. The Unitary Plan will be the key document for delivering the new strategic direction confirmed by the Council in the Auckland Plan. It will be the comprehensive resource management plan containing the objectives, policies and controls to manage all activities and development in Auckland. It is also clear the Government has not foreseen the planning complexity from preparing one combined plan when amalgamating the region, as well as complying with the existing specific requirements under the Resource Management Act.
It is proposed that the Unitary Plan will incorporate the Regional Policy Statement, District Plan and Regional Plan provisions. Merging the current nine District Plans into the Unitary Plan will be the most difficult exercise, but also the one likely to reap the greatest benefits by having consistent rules across the region. The inclusion of the Regional Plans: Air, Land and Water, Coastal, Sediment Control and Farm Dairy Discharges will assist with regional functions that are closely linked to district land use functions. To avoid re-litigation, the almost operative Hauraki Gulf Islands Plan will be excluded from the Unitary Plan, and incorporated at a later date.
The format of the Unitary Plan is to be an innovative "e-plan" which is intended to be available solely online (with hard copies of limited availability). This new e-plan approach will clearly bring planning in New Zealand into the technological age, where a person will be able to simply click on their site to see the activities which are allowed, or click on a specific "activity" to see where that activity is permitted in a region. This user friendly approach would be clearly ground breaking for New Zealand planning practice. However, currently as the RMA specifies the requirement for a hard copy District Plan, both the legislation and new technology will need to be aligned.
It is understood that the Council is making good progress in preparation of the Unitary Plan. It is currently working on the text of an earlier draft and moving to working on the maps later this year, with a view to notifying the draft Plan in March 2013. This timeframe and task are ambitious and Auckland Council's position is not one that would be envied by any of the other territorial authorities around the country. This process is likely to be watched carefully by other regions where amalgamation has been mooted such as in Wellington and Nelson.
Auckland Council has confirmed its desire that the Unitary Plan be made operative within a reasonable timeframe. This would require a controversial amendment to the RMA by limiting appeal rights on the Proposed Unitary Plan following the Council's decisions on submissions. This potential scenario makes it even more important that stakeholders and interested parties be involved in the process at an early stage.
The challenge will be whether the Unitary Plan appropriately articulates the aspirations and framework for development in the new Supercity, and how it does this will depend on the extent to which Central Government is willing to amend the existing legislation. Bell Gully will be watching this space carefully and taking an active role throughout the process.
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This publication is necessarily brief and general in nature. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.