Complex projects - the planner's role

Our planners are frequently involved in large projects that require multi-disciplinary input and the resolution of complex environmental planning issues. The recent NZ King Salmon Board of Inquiry case was one such instance, as Sarah Dawson explains.

What was the nature and outcome of the NZ King Salmon application?

NZ King Salmon wished to establish nine salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds, of which eight were in locations where the current zoning prohibited marine farming. A change in zoning via a private Plan Change was requested for those eight sites and resource consent applications lodged for all nine sites. The Board allowed the Plan Change and granted four of the nine resource consents.

What was your role?

I was primarily an advisor on the project team, working with our client and the legal team to fully consider the options and alternatives and build a case that was based on best resource management practice.

I assisted NZ King Salmon to systematically and thoroughly consider its alternatives, taking into account the relevant national and regional planning contexts, and asking: ‘Given the particular physical requirements of salmon farming, are there suitable locations already appropriately zoned?’ ‘What are the various resource management pathways available and which of those could NZ King Salmon reasonably take?’

When it turned out that the only suitable areas for salmon farming coincided with the prohibited areas in the Sounds, I helped NZ King Salmon to consider the strength of the resource management grounds for seeking the Plan Change.

This required understanding the business of salmon farming, its economic importance, and the resource management issues to be addressed during site selection and environmental assessment, which involved approximately 40 specialists.

Eventually, in presenting evidence at the hearing, I analysed the extent to which the application was consistent with the relevant statutory planning requirements and presented draft Plan Change provisions and conditions of consent for the Board to consider.

What were the particular planning challenges?

It was extremely complicated. As we were seeking to change a zoning that had gone through a public process, it was essential there was a sound platform for the Plan Change. Then there was the myriad of potential operational, resource management and planning issues that had to be addressed, in detail, for every farm. Integrating the wide range of experts’ assessments into an environmental impact assessment and hearing evidence that took account of all those issues, was a huge task.

Was your role typical for planners in complex projects?

Yes, planners ideally bring a broad range of skills to the sorts of big, multi-disciplinary projects that Boffa Miskell planners specialise in. We can be most effective when, as with NZ King Salmon, we are involved in the project team right from the beginning - helping to build a consistent and thorough planning and resource management framework based on industry needs and best practice.

3 April 2013