The Value of Early Planning Advice
By Penny Anson
Many of our clients lament the escalating levels of information required to accompany resource consent applications and the increasing cost this is imposing on them.
There are numerous reasons for the increasing levels of information being required including:
- Changes to the RMA putting more emphasis on “front-loading” the consenting process;
- In some parts of the country, the need to address both the operative plans and a proposed plan, like the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan;
- An increasingly cautious approach by Council officers when processing applications, to minimise risk to Council; and
- In some cases, just a simple lack of pragmatism by the individual who happens to be allocated to the project by the Council.
However, compounding the issue, in our opinion, is an increasing tendency to seek planning input at a late stage in the process, once a proposal is all but finalised and specialist consultants have been briefed. In our experience, this can result in:
- Delays in identifying and/or covering off key issues;
- Iterative and/or abortive work by members of the project team;
- A reluctance to provide the information that we know from experience is required to support an application due to the prospect of delay to lodgement of the application and/or because the need for the information was not identified when the specialist consultants were briefed and therefore not budgeted for within their fee proposals; and
- Provision of a sub-par application which runs a greater risk of rejection by Council at lodgement and/or a greater risk of further information requests.
Another issue that has become more prevalent is the “drip-feeding” of the information required to prepare an application.
In our experience, this is arising from a combination of a lack of coordination within the project team, failure to seek planning input at an early stage and the briefing of specialist consultants without the benefit of an overall planning strategy.
This is resulting in re-work and iterative work delays as consultants are required to update their reports to address design changes, achieve consistency with each other, and address matters that Council will expect to be addressed (matters that were not identified when the specialist consultants were briefed), which then either delays lodgement or squeezes the time available to prepare the planning assessment.
There is not much we can do about changes to the RMA, the presence of multiple (operative and proposed) plans or the inherent cautiousness and variability of Council officers – each and all of which give rise to increased information requirements.
However, the risk of rework, delay and further information requests can be reduced by obtaining good planning input early.
To this end, we encourage clients to take advantage of our “initial planning strategy” service through which we identify:
- The matters requiring consent;
- The key issues / risks / pitfalls that need to be addressed and might require a re-think or redesign;
- The opportunities that could be further explored to benefit the project and its prospects for success;
- The information required to support the application. As part of this, we provide a clear brief for each of the specialist consultants we consider should be engaged, to ensure that their deliverables are useful to the planning process;
- The likely process and timeframes so that realistic programmes can be prepared before commitments are made by clients to their internal stakeholders.
This approach ensures that the team engaged by the client is capable of undertaking the work required for the resource consent application (i.e. the right consultants are selected), and each consultant knows exactly what they need to include in their plans and reports in order to achieve consent with a minimum of rework and requests for further information.
What we Achieve
Seeking early planning input and adopting an agreed planning strategy at the outset can achieve the following key benefits:
- Clients and their consultant teams are aware of the key planning issues and can work collaboratively in an efficient timeframe to resolve them prior to lodgement;
- Specialist consultants are given a clear scope of work that adequately addresses the information required to support the application and minimises the need for variations following engagement; and
- Clients have realistic expectations for the likely progress of the application and can manage the expectations of their internal stakeholders accordingly.
Ultimately, our initial planning strategy service can deliver the preparation of high-quality, tailored application packages that achieve consent in a timely manner.