13 March 2013

Hon Dr Nick Smith

Minister for the Environment
Parliament Buildings

Dear Minister


I am writing in response to comments you made in the House yesterday regarding the effect of Council's Unitary Plan proposal on accelerating housing supply in Auckland. I am concerned that you do not fully understand our proposal to expedite the sub-division of land beyond the current MUL and inside the proposed RUB. Given the attention that this issue is attracting I believe that it is important that you have a clear understanding of our proposal.

As a starting point, it is important that we are clear that Council and Government share the view that we need to accelerate housing supply as quickly as is practicably possible. We have infact been consistently arguing this throughout the life of the Auckland Council.

In short, there are two scenarios for achieving this:

* Auckland Councils proposal
* The provision contained in the Resource Management Act Reform Bill

Scenario 1 - Council's recommendation

Council has recommended that the Unitary Plan has effect with greater legal weight at notification (in September 2013). Unfortunately, Cabinet did not accept this recommendation. Under Councils proposal, the process to secure subdivision and building consents would involve three primary steps, and be significantly quicker than Scenario 2. The process would require:

* Preparation of a structure plan, including infrastructure such as Water, stormwater and wastewater

* A plan change to rezone to residential. This would require a variation to the Unitary Plan, which would most effectively be achieved through the UP submission process. This would require the Government to make amendments to the Resource Management Reform Bill which currently prevents council from undertaking variations until the UP is operative

* Once the zoning is operative, the development can proceed -the developer can choose a permitted activity if it is a single house per section and individual building consents, or alternatively a non~notified restricted discretionary activity.

Under Councils proposal, this process could be completed by as early as 2015.

Scenario 2 Government's approach under the Resource Management Act Reform Bill

Under this proposal, Council would be required to work under the rules of the existing District Plan and Regional Policy Statement. This would require a plan change to move the Metropolitan Urban Limit (MUL). The process would be:

* Preparatìon of a structure plan

* A change to the current Regional Policy Statement to shift the MUL. Experience of the previous Auckland councils shows this can be a long process involving appeals heard by the Environment Court, potentially up to a two year process. To further complicate matters, there is a significant risk that a plan change would be declined because it would be assessed against operative MUL criteria, rather than the RUB.

* lf such a plan change was declined then the only option is to wait for the Unitary Plan to become operative in September 2016 or to apply for non-complying resource consent - which is both notified and unlikely to be approved.

* lf a plan change was approved, then development could proceed once zoning was operative -the developer can choose a permitted activity if it is a single house per section and individual building consents, or a non-notified restricted discretionary activity.

Under the Government's current proposed approach, the process is likely to take at least
until 2017.

In summary, Councils proposed approach would lead to a permitted activity or non-notified restricted discretionary activity around two years earlier than under Scenario 2. In simple terms, consents for development of subdivisions beyond the MUL and within the RUB would be two years earlier than the government's position.

Minister, I would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to further clarify exactly what we are proposing. This issue is crucial to the development of Auckland and the future for all Aucklanders. It is too important for us to run the risk of decision making being adversely affected by inaccurate information and interpretations.

Yours sincerely