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District Plan Variation

A matter of major concern to a number of landowners was dealt with at today's Council meeting.

This is the paper - it proposes the temporary withdrawal of Natural Character provisions of the Draft District Plan to enable rule changes to take place to give effect to an alighnment between the PRPS (Proposed Regional Policy Statement and the NBZCPS (New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement)., including the separation of the 'outatsnding natural character areas,' 'high natural character areas' and 'other areas of natural character."

This is the document provided to Council this morning by Special Committee Chair - Mark Farnsworth:

1.      I have  been  in discussion with the  other  Panel members - Independent  Commissioner  Ian Munro & Cr Tony Fox. I have also communicated with Deputy Mayor Peter French in his role as 'Friend of the Special Committee' (my term).

 We  (the  panel) are of the viewpoint that it totally  appropriate for  the  Chair of the  Special Committee to be able to  provide advice, and be available to give advice, to the appointing authority on PDP hearing matters.

2       There should be no surprise that the issue of the council's approach to Natural Character Rules is now before Council. Our attention was first drawn a potential issue with the Natural Character Rules in the Special Committee's Order Paper dated 16 -18 September 2014 at page 218. It is noted:-

 "However staff do not have confidence that the natural character overlay in the Proposed Plan accurately defines high and outstanding natural character for Plan purpo ses, and this is currently under  review".

 At the time I emailed commissioners to draw their attention to the item1

 3       At our meeting of 24 February 2015 we have received advice from staff that they now consider that PDP Natural Character Rules need to be divided into two distinct categories - outstanding natural character and high (?) natural character. As a direct result of that advice we provided Deputy Mayor Peter French with a letter setting out our viewpoint.

4         What  the staff are  proposing is not something  exceptional,  nor is it underhanded,  there isalways the potential for superior planning documents to be altered which will in turn impact on  district  councils  as  they  will  have  to  change  their  district  plans  to  give  effect  to  the alteration.   We  are  fortunate  to  be  presented  with  the  opportunity  to  get  the  Natural Character Rule right.  Had theNatural Character Rule not been addressed  by staff there was a very high probability that the Special Committee when hearing submissions on the matter would have asked for a variation.

5         From our perspective a variation of this nature does not undermine the integrity of  the whole Proposed Plan rather it should be seen as an opportunity to enhance the PDP.

6         The PDP hearings have been going well,there is a high level of support for the PDP (a matter we drew council's attention too in our December Council update) and we are going through a robust process. What you have before is an item which is just part of a robust process.

 1 I noted in the margin of page 218 the word- 'variation'

Council decided to accept the recommendation of Chair Farnsworth which differed somewhat from the staff recommendation, and decided to withdraw the rules, hold off hearing the submissions on Policy and hear variation and policy together. This option involes a likely extension of time for the the hearings and deliberations and consequential delay to the Plan - something that Council was prepared to accept. 

Considerable effort was taken to provide re-assurance regarding the intentions of staff in achieving this outcome. All staff, and indeed Mark Farnsworth himself were subjected to searching, and repetitive questioning  in this regard, but appeared to accept the outcome. A certain amount of grandstanding from Cr Goudie in particular (it was nice to actually have her in attendance!) was evident, but that should please her many land-owner supporters. She kept rabbiting on about "earthworks" being restricted beyond reason - clearly some of her supporters have 'grand designs,' in mind! 

Finalisation will take place later this afternoon. I will finish this post later.

Later PM - In the afternoon, staff recommended and Council accepted the following - a more drastic solution involving the withdrawal OF ALL THE NATURAL CHARACTER PROVISIONS - and that seemed to tick the boxes:

That the Thames-Coromandel  District Council:

     1.   Receives the 'Proposed District Plan - withdrawal of Natural Character provisions report,' dated 25 February

     2.   Withdraws   the   Natural   Character   provisions   from   the   Proposed   District Plan (objectives, policies, rules and overlay maps)

     3.   Initiates a variation to the Proposed District Plan to revise the Natural Character provisions to give  effect to the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement and Proposed Regional Policy

     4.   Notifies natral character variation to the Proposed DistricPlan prior to the Council decisions on the Proposed Plan being publicly notified.

Despite all the suspicion and concern being expressed in the 'backwoods,' it appears that the need for change resulted from an earlier error, or rather the May 2014 Environment Court consent order that should have been picked up on earlier. There seems no reason for anyone to get their knickers in a knot over it, but I am sure that there are plenty who will have a contrary opinion. 

One matter that Cr Brljevich raised in Public Forum was the suggestion that advantage be taken with the possible withdrawal of the provisions to re-draft thm in such a way to allow allow for landowners to have their land assessed "against a set of objective criteria in a rational way prior to any consent application than than an overlay that swallows land into a chasm of regulatiuon." Tony's concern arose from a heap of phone calls from concerned landowners - it seems that he and Goudie are the 'go-to' councillors in this regard.

These concerns arise from the suspicion that they are all being put upon to contribute to the amenity of District through the Landscape provisions with no recompense, and they are worried that the various definitions encompase nearly the entire District. District Planner Leigh Robcke pointed out that recent changes have resulted in the a huge reduction in the overalys that will go to the Hearings Panel in April (much later now with the total withdrawal) - down to 30% of the District, and that appeared to alleviate some of the concerns around the table.




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