Council bows to pressure over development rules

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More permissive development rules are expected to be in place for the Queenstown Lakes district early next year, after the council bowed to pressure from planning experts.

But the district’s new plan will now not be finalised for years, as Queenstown’s council signals hearings on later stages will continue until late 2019.

The crucial first stage in the council’s proposed district plan is coming to a close. Eleven hearing “streams”, including key chapters such as rural, residential, business and landscapes, have already been heard.

Once in place, less onerous rules could encourage new subdivisions and infill housing that could help ease the district’s soaring house prices.

The council’s original plan was to make decisions on all stages of the proposed district plan in 2019, after all hearing commissioners’ recommendations had been received.

In April, however, planning lawyers Warwick Goldsmith and Maree Baker-Galloway lobbied the council to make decisions on the first stage earlier.

They argued the community would be adversely affected by delays and reminded the council it had initially – and unsuccessfully – applied to the Environment Court to fast-track new rules for higher-density housing to tackle the district’s housing shortage.

A report to today’s planning and strategy committee confirms the intended U-turn.

Report writer Ian Bayliss, the council’s planning policy boss, says stage one recommendations from hearing commissioners are expected to go to the council in the first quarter of next year and the council is expected to issue decisions soon after.

Stage one decisions will be made early next year so they have “legal effect”, the report says – “which means that applications for resource consent will be considered against both the PDP and the operative district plan”.

The council signals releasing decisions in tranches could unleash a “high pressure and high stakes programme” to defend them in court.

Waiting until all hearing commissioner recommendations were in to make decisions would be a “major change in approach”, the report said, leaving the council open to a legal challenge for being “unreasonable”.

While it had caved in to pressure on stage one decisions, the council appeared to be holding firm on pressure for more to be spent on consultants to speed up plan review work.

Bayliss’ report said more and more review work was being done by external consultants and the council was keen to work more quickly.

However, the review was “highly contested” and had a “complex history”, he said, which meant progress relied on the “finite capacity of the small in-house policy team”.

The council said it was open to the hearings panel making earlier recommendations on discrete areas of land, as long as large numbers of submitters were not involved and there was limited risk of triggering complex appeals.

Notification of the the review’s second stage is expected to happen in the third quarter of this year and hearings to be held in the second quarter of 2018, the report to today’s planning and strategy committee meeting says.

Hearings for stages three and four are expected to take place in 2019 and recommendations to be made to the council in late 2019 and early 2020 respectively.

Bayliss’ report says the whole proposed district plan review will not be finished until early 2020 – and that’s before any Environment Court appeals.

The proposed district plan was first notified in August 2015. The council may have to apply for an extension under the Resource Management Act to ensure decisions can be made after August of this year.

Delays to the plan have already been caused by the council having to undertake a detailed and costly study of Wakatipu Basin landscapes, after the plan hearing panel called its planning evidence “not adequate”.

Otago Daily Times