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Taming The RMA Monster

Originally Published in Nelson Marlborough Farming April 2011
People sometimes talk about Treaty of Waitangi grievance Industry, my response is that it has nothing on the industry that has sprung up around the Resource Management act.
If someone were to ask me what is the one problem with the act, I would say that there is little or no incentive for many involved in the process to keep it simple and expedite consents with the minimum of cost and drama.
Councils' planing departments have exploded in size since the RMA became law in 1991.  The heads of these departments are now in charge of many more staff, presumably with larger pay packets to match. Why would they want to simplify things?  Similarly the size of the District Plans have exploded . The other day while doing a clean out I discovered a district plan from the 1970s. It was a medium sized booklet.  Nowadays that same Local Authority's plan is three volumes of large ring binders.
The justification for this bloat that is usually given is that the Resource Management Act requires it.  But this isn't exactly true.  Some local authorities seem to be able to mange on common sense.  A case in point was an inquiry I made to a West Coast council about a farmer wanting to chop off a smaller block of his land.  I discussed this with a very helpful council officer. One of the issues with rural subdivisions is effluent disposal, so I asked him what information they would require. The answer was "I wouldn't worry about that too much mate I know that area pretty well", he then paused and thought about it for a while and said "I suppose you could dig a hole and take a photograph".
Now even though it was in an area without effluent disposal issues, many councils would still insist on a report by an engineer or an effluent disposal consultant as part of the consent process at the cost of a thousand dollars plus. Their justification for this is the resource management act requires it.  The real reason is that they have a "don't leave any stone unturned" policy out of fear of future liability.
And it is not only Local Authorities councils who are to blame, there are those on the other side of the fence who are part of the problem.
An example of this is a survey that I was working on a few years ago when the client changed his mind and wanted to make some changes to his rural residential subdivision. Unbeknown to me he had gone to a lawyer who had engaged a planner who in turn engaged a landscape architect. When I found out what was going on I explained to the client that these folk were making a meal of it, then I contacted council and found out that they would happily approve the change with a simple amended plan and a half page covering letter.
There are times when you need to bring in the big guns, and flotilla of expert witnesses but, but there are still many resource consents that are straightforward.
There are some things you can do to keep it simple.
  • Get a professional advisor who is familiar with your type of application.
  • Talk to the right person at council, preferably the person who is going to process the application. Don't get fobbed offto a duty planner.
  • Ask the right questions. If you are not 100% familiar with the process then take your advisor with you to council, my firm generally doesn't charge for these preliminary discussions, presumably others have similar policies.
  • Often getting consent is not the issue, but the show stopper is the conditions that are attached to it.  Try and find outwhat the likely conditions of consent would be.
  • Ask about all likely costs to complete your project.
  • Then once you have an idea of the cost of the application, total cost of the project, timeframes and the likelihood of getting consent then make an informed decision to proceed or not.
This article was prepared by John Cotton specialized in rural surveys.

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