NPS-UD and MDRS in Disarray

By Iain McManus

On 6 April 2023, the Minister for the Environment granted Auckland Council a 12 month extension to his deadline for notifying decisions on submissions on Plan Change 78 (which is the Council’s response to the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 and the RMA Amendment Act 2021).  That means Council has until 31 March 2025 to notify its decisions on submissions. 

The extension was granted to give Council time to gather and analyse flood and landslide data following the January and February storms and work out whether any changes need to be made to the Unitary Plan to reduce risk associated with future storm events.  Any such changes are likely to require a variation to Plan Change 78 or a new plan change.

In a decision which proceeded to lecture the Council on all the things that he wished he had thought of when he drafted the Amendment Act, the Minister encouraged Council to use stronger controls to limit impervious areas despite the Medium Density Residential Standards (“MDRS”) embedded in that Act requiring councils to do the exact opposite.

As a consequence of the time extension, the Independent Hearing Panel has paused most of the hearings and alternative dispute resolution processes on the plan change.  In addition, two of the independent commissioners, including the chairperson, have resigned.  As of the date of this article, no replacements have been appointed.

Around the same time as the Minister’s decision, and under pressure from submitters, Auckland Council has confirmed that it will notify a variation to Plan Change 78 to include the land within the Auckland Light Rail Corridor, which was originally excluded from the plan change through an exercise in creative and wishful thinking.

Meanwhile the National Party has withdrawn its support for the MDRS.  It is not clear at this stage what, if any, impact that will have on the plan change processes underway around the country (given that any change to the MDRS would likely require new legislation), however, with discussions currently underway between National and Labour, we may find out soon.  In the meantime, with decisions on plan changes not due until after the election in October it will be tempting for those councils who have not already incorporated the MDRS to sit on their hands until then.

Feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss the implications of the above for your upcoming projects.

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