Changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) on 18 October 2017 have affected how some basic resource consents applications are processed. The intent is to speed up processing, reduce time and expense to applicants, and to free up councils to focus on more complex applications.

One such change is the introduction of "permitted boundary activities". A permitted boundary activity is one that:

  1. would normally require a resource consent because it triggers a district rule relating to the distance of a structure from the boundary or the dimensions of a structure in relation to its distance from the boundary;
  2. relates to a boundary that is not a public boundary, such as a road, river, lake, coastline or reserve;
  3. does not breach any other district plan rules; and
  4. has the approval of any affected neighbour.

Activities which meet these criteria may be considered permitted activities.

Examples include:

  • a building with an insufficient setback from a neighbouring boundary; or
  • a building that will penetrate a recession plane.

Neighbours consent must be shown by having the neighbour sign an approval form and any plans that will be lodged with the application.

When a council receives an application for a boundary activity it has 10 days to either accept it as permitted or reject it. If rejected, the applicant informed of the decision and the application returned. If accepted, the council will issue a notice that the activity is a permitted activity. That notice lapses 5 years after the date of issue unless given effect to sooner.

Councils themselves determine how they will manage these applications, and the approaches across Canterbury differ in one key respect: fees. Depending on which district the activity occurs in you may be charged nothing or up to $500 when you make the application. This is hardly ideal but will hopefully change as councils gain a better understanding of what is required. If not, another recent change to the RMA enables the Minister for the Environment to regulate aspects of how councils operate, including how much they charge for processing applications.

If any resource consent application meets the requirements of a permitted boundary activity application, the changes to the RMA require councils to cease processing the application and return it to the applicant. Again, how this will occur in practice is for councils to decide. Some have indicated they may charge for the initial processing and require a further payment for processing the permitted boundary activity application. One council indicated it would simply process the application as a permitted boundary activity application, refunding any balance. However, this approach may not, as a matter of law, be allowed under the changes to the RMA.

So will having "permitted boundary activities" make much difference? As is often the case, it depends. The class of activity is reasonably narrow due to the requirement that no other part of the overall activity requires consent. This means that councils will require all details of the development before assessing whether there is a permitted boundary activity (this means no notices based on generic "building envelopes"). And the approval of the affected neighbour(s) is required regardless. If an affected neighbour opposes the activity, then the usual consenting procedures apply.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.