Alarm bells sound over subdivision rules


Nerves are jangling over Queenstown council’s proposal to fuel development by freeing up subdivisions.

To veteran greenie Philip Blakely, it’s “a retrograde step”.

Ex-councillor John Mann worries “it could get very expensive”.

Even supportive sitting councillor Alexa Forbes concedes there will be “less input from the public”.

The liberation of subdivision consents was voted in at last week’s council meeting.

The proposal is arguably City Hall’s most pro-development move since the mid-1990s, when then-mayor Warren Cooper’s council rewrote the district plan to boost growth.

The initiative comes hard on the heels of the council calling for applications for special housing areas to fast-track residential subdivisions.

Last week’s move, endorsed by councillors, might mean that most subdivisions will be granted non-notified consent providing they conform with “design guidelines”.

Put simply, subdivision decisions will be completely in the hands of  planners.

People who oppose a land carve-up may not find out about it until consent has been issued.

Even if they learn about it beforehand, they’ll still be denied a voice in the decision.

Officials behind the change say “subdivisions will generally be processed on a non-notified basis”.

They also speak of “significant benefit and certainty to the subdivider avoiding [the] notified subdivision process” and how “council would strive to reach agreement with [subdividers] on the conditions, avoiding the potential for objections to be lodged”.

The plan change allows council to refuse subdivision applications which don’t fit the new design guidelines, yet officials also state they’d “normally work with the applicant to reach an amicable outcome rather than decline to issue consent”.

There’s also a “high risk” of jeopardising “environmental protection”, officials warn.

Philip Blakely is one Queenstowner concerned about environmental protection - for 20 years he was a committee member of the now defunct Wakatipu Environmental Society.

Blakely’s dark on the council initiative: “It seems like a freeing up of subdivisions and it’s exactly what we don’t need.

“The whole thing raises alarm bells - it sounds very concerning.

“We’ve got to keep the ruralness of the Wakatipu.”

However, he likes the sound of new subdivision design guidelines, which he says might raise the standard of urban subdivisions.

But fuelling subdivision growth? No, Blakeley says: “This seems like a retrograde step.”

Guided by local Environment Court judgments, Queenstown’s council has “led the way in landscape protection”, he says.

Abandoning local case law also concerns ex-councillor John Mann and sitting councillor Alexa Forbes.

“At first blush, my reaction is this [idea] could get very expensive,” Mann says, referring to potential legal challenges.

“So much of this, I think, requires a decision on subjective matters and that cost will be borne by the community[whereas] in the past it lay with the developer.”

Forbes hopes good practices will be kept and bad ones discarded but she concedes “there’s a risk” valuable precedents could go.

“There’ll be less input from the public,” she also confesses - providing developers meet new subdivision standards, “they won’t require notification”.

Yet the first-term councillor is “happy” and “comfortable” with the controversial move because the council gets more control over subdivisions.

“What we used to be not allowed to turn down - we now can.

“It’s a less permissive regime in that way and a more flexible regime.

“It means a poor subdivision can be turned down.”

Forbes stresses “the public will have a very good say” on the proposal via the formal submission process in August.

However, there’s already been “pre-consultation” - as the council puts it - with developers and planners.