The Ministry for the Environment has released the first set of Draft National Planning Standards for public consultation. It is expected that further standards will be developed over time. The stated intention is that national planning standards will make plans easier to use and prepare under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

A copy of the Draft National Planning Standards can be found here:

Submissions on the Draft National Planning Standards are due by 5pm on 17 August 2018. The Ministry advises that the first Draft National Planning Standards will be approved by April 2019.

The Draft National Planning Standards set prescriptive requirements for the structure, format, e-delivery, and some content of RMA planning documents, including regional policy statements, regional plans, and district plans. In relation to format requirements, this includes the structure and naming requirements for chapters and provisions.

Particular planning content dictated by the Draft National Planning Standards includes defined terms, noise and vibration metrics, and some of the content required to be included in the introductory chapters of planning documents.

Directions in national planning standards can be mandatory, and must be incorporated into planning documents without using the full Schedule 1 hearing process under the RMA. Other directions are termed "discretionary" and provide a set of options for a council, from which a council must use a Schedule 1 consultation process to select one of the options to apply in their plans.

The only planning standard in the Draft National Planning Standards that contains discretionary directions is the Zone Chapter Structure. All other planning standards will be mandatory for councils.

For the first set of national planning standards, the RMA's default timeframe for implementing mandatory planning standards is one year from gazettal of the standards, and five years for discretionary standards. However, these timeframes can be amended by a national planning standard.

Under the Draft National Planning Standards, most councils will have five years from the gazettal of the approval of the Standards (i.e., by April 2024 if they are in fact gazetted in April 2019), to amend their plan to meet mandatory directions (except for the draft electronic functionality and accessibility standard which must be implemented within one year). District councils must also notify a plan change within five years to implement the discretionary zoning standards.

However, some councils have an extended seven-year timeframe in which to implement the Draft National Planning Standards. This extension applies to councils that have been explicitly specified in the Draft National Planning Standards. The basis of the extension is where "the council has notified, or is due to notify, the decisions version of an RMA plan, or a partial decision that encompasses the majority of the plan, between April 2016 and April 2019".

Councils that meet this requirement, but have not been listed as being subject to the seven-year extended timeframe, should lodge a submission demonstrating that the criterion is met.

Given the significant implementation implications for councils (and other stakeholders) it will be very important for councils to carefully consider the Draft National Planning Standards and lodge submissions, as appropriate.

As the title to this article suggests, although one of the intentions of national planning standards is to make planning more straightforward, given the highly prescriptive nature of the standards and the way in which plans have developed to date, it remains to be seen whether the national planning standards will instead be more of a hindrance than a help.

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