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District and Regional plan reviews and variations

District Plan Review

Queenstown Lakes District Council (“QLDC”) officially commenced the District Plan Review at its April meeting, by confirming its approach and philosophy and the basic shape of the Plan, determining priorities and setting a programme for delivery.

The first step has been to draft a “Strategic Direction” chapter based on community feedback, which will establish the framework for the balance of the Plan.

QLDC has identified six goals:

  • To develop a prosperous, resilient and sustainable economy
  • The strategic and integrated management of urban growth
  • A quality built environment taking into account the character of individual communities
  • The protection of the natural environment and ecosystems
  • The protection of distinctive landscapes from inappropriate development
  • To enable a safe and healthy community that is strong, diverse and inclusive for all people

These “goals” are not listed in order of importance and therefore are unlikely to be controversial in themselves however striking an appropriate balance between them undoubtedly will be.

QLDC considers the present plan to be overly complex and has promised that the new one will be more compact and much easier to understand. The intention is to move away from an effects based plan to an activity based plan. What this means is that rather than assessing the suitability of a proposed activity in a particular location by attempting to predict its effects each time an application is made, a predetermined list of suitable activities for each zone is included.

In theory, this should enable applicants to work out in advance the locations in which their developments are most likely to be allowed.

For those of us who can remember the planning process under the Town & Country Planning Act prior to 1991, this approach will seem familiar. What remains to be seen is how well this type of plan fits within the existing framework of the Resource Management Act 1991. It will not be a simple exercise by any means.

Because the Review will be a two stage process and some of the existing special zones (Frankton Flats, Remarkables Park and Three Parks being examples) will not be reviewed, it will be necessary to continue to have regard to the existing Operative Plan even though parts of it will be replaced once the review process has been completed.

The target date QLDC has set for publicly notifying Stage 1 of the Review is May 2015 and Stage 2 early 2016. Stage 1 will include the rural, commercial and residential areas. This is by any measure an exceedingly tight timeframe given the amount of work required. One hopes that QLDC will not become fixated on these dates at the expense of producing a quality document.

It is also important that a balanced plan is produced rather than one favouring particular interest groups. We have direct experience of numerous plans tilted either too far in favour of the “environmental” lobby or conversely “the pro-development lobby.” These have either been withdrawn following notification, or have required substantial re-writing through the objection and appeal process.

With a district as sensitive as Queenstown Lakes, one can expect that the Review will be scrutinised not just by the locals but also by outside agencies and other interested parties including the various farming and environmental groups.

A cynic might suggest that the best plan will be the one that most can live with rather than be pleased or unhappy with.

Given the timeframes set by QLDC we would not expect there to be great deal of opportunity for further public consultation prior to notification. The people tasked with producing the document will simply have to get on with the job of writing and coordinating the various chapters. QLDC has also signalled that it intends to “fix” on the maps the boundaries between various landscapes in the rural areas. That is an aspect which is likely to be of considerable interest to the farming community.

Marc Bretherton and his planning team at QLDC, have a huge task ahead of them. It is in the interests of all of us to wish them well with it.