By: Kirstie Wyss, Michelle Mehlhopt
Published: 11/08/2014
The review of the Christchurch City Plan and Banks Peninsula District Plan will be streamlined by an Order in Council made under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 ("CER Act").
 
The Canterbury Earthquake (Christchurch Replacement District Plan) Order 2014 (the "Order"), which came into force on 8 July 2014, requires the Christchurch City Council ("the Council") to review the existing district plans and develop a replacement district plan.  The Order modifies the provisions and application of the Resource Management Act 1991, and remains in force until 19 April 2016.

The Council is to prepare and notify proposals for incorporation into the replacement district plan.  The Council is taking a two stage approach, prioritising certain chapters associated with the rebuilding and recovery of Christchurch, with decisions on the first stage expected in early 2015.  

When preparing proposals, the Council must have particular regard to the statement of expectations set out in the Order.  The statement of expectations sets out the expectations of the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery (the "Ministers") for the replacement district plan.  The expectations include that the replacement district plan articulates how decisions about resource use and values will be made.  This must be consistent with an intention to significantly reduce reliance on resource consent processes, development controls and design standards, and requirements for written approval and notification. 

Any proposals must first be provided in draft to the Ministers for their comments.  The Council must have particular regard to the Ministers' comments, and may modify the draft proposal in response to those comments or to correct minor errors, prior to publicly notifying the draft proposal.    

The Council is expected to publicly notify the first stage of proposals on 27 August 2014.  Any person may make a submission on the notified proposal within 30 working days (compared to 40 working days for a proposed plan under the RMA).  Submissions will be publicly notified (although not summarised) and there will be 10 working days to make further submissions. 

The process for private plan changes is also modified during the life of the Order.  If a request is made, the Council must provide the request to the hearings panel appointed to hear the proposals on the replacement district plan, to decide whether to accept or reject the request.  If accepted, the Council must notify the request as a proposal. 

The Ministers, in consultation with the Council, will appoint a hearings panel to conduct a hearing into submissions and decide whether to make any changes to a proposal.  Sir John Hansen, a former High Court judge, has been appointed as chairperson of the hearings panel.  The Ministers will appoint at least three others to the hearings panel.  The hearing of submissions on the first stage of proposals is expected to be in December 2014/January 2015.

In making decisions on proposals, the hearings panel must have regard to information and reports set out in Clause 14 of the Order and take account of outcomes of alternative dispute resolution.  The hearings panel must also undertake, and have particular regard to, a further evaluation of the proposal prepared in accordance with section 32AA of the RMA, apply sections 74 to 77D and 85B of the RMA as if it were the Council, and comply with section 23 of the CER Act which provides that a decision must not be inconsistent with a recovery plan.  Of note, the hearings panel must have particular regard to the statement of expectations set out in the Order.

The hearings panel may make any changes to a proposal that it considers appropriate, including changes outside of the scope of submissions made on the proposal.  Where changes are considered that are outside the scope of the proposal as notified, the hearing panel must direct the Council to prepare and notify a new proposal and invite submissions on it.   

The Council must give public notice of the hearing panel's decisions and the proposal is deemed to have been approved by the Council on and from the date on which the appeal period expires (if no appeals relating to the proposal are made) or the date on which all appeals are determined.  The hearing panel's decisions can only be appealed to the High Court, and only on points of law.  Once a proposal is deemed to be approved, the Council must make the proposal operative as part of the replacement district plan by giving public notice.  Once operative, the proposal replaces any parts of the existing district plans. 

This streamlined process for the Christchurch district plan review is another example of an alternative Schedule 1 RMA process being adopted to speed up plan making processes.  We have already seen similar processes taking place in relation to the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan under the Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Act 2010, and for regional plans in Canterbury under the Environment Canterbury (Improved Water Management and Temporary Commissioners) Act 2010.  The hearings panel has until
9 March 2016 to complete their obligations under the Order, being less than two years from the expected notification of the first stage of the proposals, in contrast to the first generation City Plan, which took 10 years from public notification to becoming fully operative.

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