New regulations requiring councils to provide a discount for late processing of resource consent applications come into effect tomorrow and Environment Minister Nick Smith says delays will be reduced.

The regulations require a minimum 1 per cent discount for each day a consent is processed beyond the 20 working day statutory limit, up to a maximum 50 per cent.

Councils can deliver a more generous discount if they want to.

"There is a real cost in jobs and economic activity in having nearly a third of all resource consents delayed," Dr Smith said today.

"These financial penalties on councils for late consents will help focus officials on the wider importance of timelines."

Dr Smith said that between 1999 and 2008 there was an "appalling deterioration" in the efficiency of resource consent processing.

The number of consents that were processed late increased from 18 per cent to 31 per cent.

"Historically, less than half of consents have been processed within the 20-day statutory period," Dr Smith said.

"I know some councils are uncomfortable with these financial penalties for lateness but if it's good enough for the goose it is good enough for the gander - councils put penalties on rates if they are paid late so it is fair enough that when councils are late, they too face financial penalties."

Dr Smith said ministry officials had held meetings in all the regions to explain the regulations to councils and they were considering how to make their processes more efficient.

"I am confident these new regulations will drive a substantial improvement in timeliness, enabling businesses to get on and create the jobs and economic activity needed to help the economy recover," he said.