The RMA Quality Planning Resource

Changes to district and regional plans allow any plan provisions to be replaced and new provisions introduced. Requests for private plan changes potentially enable a wide range of changes such as the rezoning of land, amendments to design controls, and the identification of heritage structures, the key difference being their initiation by parties other than the council.

Private plan changes are typically initiated to provide for some type of private benefit (usually in financial terms) but invariably also result in public benefits such as an increased rating base, greater choice in living environments, or economic development opportunities. To date, landowners and developers have been the usual applicants for a private plan change.

The main benefit of a private plan change is that someone - other than the council - sets the agenda and the start time. In other respects, a private plan change is much like any other change to a plan.

The private plan change process can be used to change any provision (or introduce new provisions) in any district or regional plan. Some examples of how private plan changes could be used include (but are not limited to):

  • the rezoning of land to provide for residential expansion or rural residential development, the creation of a business park or a new town development
  • rural zone changes to provide for tourist activities and accommodation
  • adding an item to the council's heritage list
  • amending rules relating to building design controls
  • introducing provisions for new utility structures
  • replacing development plans that have become out of date
  • amending rules referring to standards or other documents that have become out of date
  • in conjunction with a resource consent application when aquaculture is a Prohibited activity.

The age or stage of the plan itself can affect the decision to request a private plan change. A private plan change allows an applicant to start seeking a change to outdated provisions immediately, rather than waiting to make submissions on a proposed plan or a plan review.

A private plan change request can be made to a proposed plan, although the Environment Court has held that if approved it cannot take effect until the plan is operative. An instance where this approach might be utilised is if a person missed making a submission to the proposed plan for the activity/change they wished to pursue. It could also be used to persuade council to promote its own variation to the proposed plan.

In all cases, regardless of the focus of the private plan change there is a need to provide sufficient and adequate information to support the change. This can often require quite detailed material to be supplied and can be costly.

Private plan change or resource consent

A resource consent grants permission for an activity, while a private plan change alters the plan itself. A plan change normally provides greater flexibility in terms of development options and long-term management for the developer. However, any change promoted can be amended and regulated through the submission and hearing process.

The RMA does not have specific requirements concerning whether applicants apply for resource consent or a private plan change. The applicant can choose which to apply for, and can also apply for both. However, case law shows that the courts may decide that one or the other is more appropriate. Early guidance from the council is useful.

Table: Contrasting a resource consent and a private plan change

Resource consent

Private plan change

Allows a site-specific activity

Can be either site specific or district wide

Suitable for contained, one-off activities

Suitable for a range of matters that are not provided for within the current plan provisions

Has a specific 'life' or expiry date

'Life' or expiry date is the same as the life of the plan

Attached conditions; more prescriptive

Sets up a long-term management framework

Generally, cheaper and less time consuming application process

Application process can be very costly and time consuming

Must meet the relevant s104 and s105 criteria

Must meet s32 and Part II tests