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Private Plan Changes

Changing a district plan is not just the prerogative of a Council. Any person may request a change to a plan. These are often referred to as “Private Plan Changes” and are provided for in Part 2 of Schedule 1 of the Resource Management Act 1991 (“the Act”).

Private Plan Changes are initiated by a request to the Council and generally will follow the same format as Council promoted changes. Indeed, the Council may decide it wishes to adopt the plan change as if it were its own.

Private Plan Changes are often used for medium to large size developments involving multi-lot subdivisions or to provide for a zone more amenable to a particular type of activity, for example industrial development within a pocket of rural land no longer suitable for rural purposes on the outskirts of an urban area.

Provided there are no significant adverse environmental effects a Private Plan Change is often a better option than trying to insert development into land which has an unsympathetic zoning, by way of resource consent applications.

A request for a plan change is made to the local authority in writing and must explain the purpose of and reasons for the change. If appropriate, it will include proposed objectives, policies and rules.

It must also contain an evaluation report prepared in accordance with Section 32 of the Act which examines the extent to which the objectives and their related policies are the most appropriate way to achieve the purpose of the Act namely the promotion of sustainable management of natural and physical resources. The level of detail required will depend upon scale and significance of the environmental, economic, social and cultural effects expected to arise as a result of the change.

A separate assessment of environmental effects is also required. Similarly the detail of this must correspond with the scale and significance of the environmental effects anticipated from the change.

The Council is not obliged to accept a request for a Private Plan Change but its options for refusing are limited. These include:

  •  The request is frivolous or vexatious; or
  • The request is the same or substantially the same as one made during the previous 2 years; or
  • The request is not in accordance with sound resource management practice; or
  • The request would make the District Plan inconsistent with Part 5 of the Act which among other things specifies the purpose, preparation and change of district plans and their content; or
  • The District Plan has been operative for less than 2 years.

Each of these with one exception can be assessed in a relatively objective manner.

Deciding whether a change is or is not in accordance with “sound resource management practice” (whatever that means) is a little more challenging. Whether this would allow a local authority to decline a request for a Plan Change on the basis that it has embarked upon a review would be an interesting argument if it arose especially if the timeframe for reviewing the relevant part of the plan was somewhat distant. Presumably, this argument would not be available in relation to those parts of an operative plan which will not be included in the review process.

Another option worth considering is whether to run a request for a Plan Change in conjunction with a complementary application for resource consent (s). It would depend on the particular circumstances but pursuing two options should not increase cost dramatically and may be a good strategy.

If you are contemplating a development or a subdivision, feel free to contact us for a no obligations chat.