Long-awaited RMA changes ease red tape on small projects and offer iwi greater role in planning process.

Homeowners will probably be able to extend their decks or build a fence or carport without the need for a resource consent under major reforms to planning laws.

The long-awaited reforms, unveiled yesterday, would also force councils to prioritise housing developments and to involve iwi more in the planning process.

The National-led Government also dropped controversial changes to environmental protections in order to secure the support of the Maori Party and get the legislation over the first hurdle. The new bill would now focus more narrowly on reducing bureaucracy and duplication in the planning process.

Opposition parties welcomed the preservation of environmental bottom lines but questioned whether the reforms would have any impact on the crucial issue of housing supply.

Advertisement

The main change in the reforms would be the creation of a standardised, national planning template for local government.

The consenting system would be simplified, and more activities would no longer need council approval.

"Every day I'm getting letters from people who want to build a fence, who want to build a carport," Environment Minister Nick Smith said.

"And in many instances the cost of getting a resource consent is nearly as much as the cost of a builder to actually construct that."

Under the reforms, renovations near the boundary of a property, such as the extension of a deck, would not require a consent if the neighbours agreed to the plans. Councils would be given discretion to waive the requirement for a consent for minor, low-impact activities. And a 10-day time limit would be introduced for simple consent applications, such as a minor house extension.

Dr Smith said he expected millions of dollars in savings, though a specific estimate was not available.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell hailed the reforms as a "win for the country" because of the Government's back-down on diluting environmental bottom lines.

The party also secured another major concession. Councils would be required to set up plans to consult with all iwi earlier in the planning process. Iwi were already consulted on planning decisions, but in an inconsistent fashion and often late in the process, which sometimes led to disagreement and litigation.

The Labour Party would not confirm its support for the reforms yesterday but it has previously said it would back any changes which improved housing affordability.

Q&A

What do the changes mean for homeowners?

Resource consents will no longer be required for some work, as long as agreement is reached with any affected neighbours. Councils will also be able to waive consents for "low impact activities" - small renovations which have little impact on anyone. And simple consents will have to be resolved within 10 days.

What impact will this have?

The number of consents could be cut by between 2000 and 9000 a year, or 6 and 26 per cent, according to official advice.

When will the changes take place?

Possibly next year. The progress of the legislation could depend on support from political parties and the impact of the reforms on the environment.

Costs will come down, but not in a hurry

The cost of Auckland's housing will come down as a result of reforms to planning laws, but not overnight, the Government says.

Resource management changes outlined yesterday have a special focus on supporting housing development, including a specific requirement for councils to properly plan for residential growth.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said this would increase the pressure on local government to give housing "proper weight" when a matter went to the Environment Court.

The long-term council plans which allowed authorities to free up additional land would be sped up. And obstacles to subdividing land in greenfield areas would be removed. All of these measures were expected to streamline the planning process and reduce costs in the long-term.

Dr Smith cited the example of Fletcher Residential's proposed $1 billion development in Three Kings.

"The very specific provisions in this bill would enable a project such as that to be advanced a lot more quickly."

Labour's housing spokesman Phil Twyford said the changes fell a long way short of the reforms needed to fix Auckland's housing crisis.

Dr Smith admitted the reforms were part of a "long-term game" to increase supply. Changes to environmental protections would have allowed more progress, but "it's not been possible to advance those".