Christchurch City Plan Review

In post-earthquake Canterbury, the multitude of different planning documents that now exist can be overwhelming. In this period of unprecedented change, the need to rewrite the rule book has resulted in several new recovery plans and strategies that sit alongside the usual district and regional planning documents.

The consequence of this is that there have been numerous documents notified for public consultation over the past two years. The latest development is Christchurch City Council’s announcement that it will be undertaking a full review of the existing Christchurch City Plan (the Review).

Although consultation fatigue may well be setting in for some, the Review is a process that should not be ignored. The City Plan remains the key document that contains rules controlling what activities can occur on all land within the Christchurch City boundary.

This article provides an overview of the reasons for the Review, the changes that may be made, the likely process that will be followed, and the potential implications.

Why is the plan being reviewed? 

There are two primary drivers for the Review. The first is that the current City Plan is no longer fit for purpose given the new challenges and opportunities that face Christchurch after the earthquakes. This is reflected in the draft Land Use Recovery Plan (the LURP - discussed in our earlier article), which recommends approximately 26 areas of amendment to the City Plan.

The second key driver is simplification. Anyone who has used the City Plan can attest to its complexity. For someone picking up the plan for the first time, it is very difficult to conclusively determine whether or not an activity requires resource consent.

The Review seeks to create a modern plan that is easily used, easily understood, and which minimises reliance on consent processes for the majority of activities. Not an easy goal, but one that has potentially wide reaching implications.  

What is the likely content of the Review?

The Review is proposed to take place in two stages. The first stage will relate to “recovery issues”, with the second stage involving a review of the remainder of the City Plan.

Stage 1 will focus on recovery activities within the next three years and address those provisions that may stymie the community being able to achieve its development goals. This may include review of retail and commercial zones, suburban centre master plans, outline development plans for future urban areas, a ‘floating’ intensive residential zone for comprehensive development, heritage provisions, transportation rules, and natural hazard areas. Many of these changes are already signalled in the LURP.  

The content of Stage 2 is yet to be confirmed. However, it is likely to involve a review of all other provisions not directly related to recovery.  To date, three specific areas have been identified including review of Living 1 zones, review of industrial land supply, and possible inclusion of provisions for the residential red zones.

How and when will the Review occur?

The Review process has already commenced, with the Council unanimously resolving to push ahead with the Review at its meeting on 24 April. It is proposed that the Review will follow a rapid fire process and be completed within tight timeframes.

Stage 1 is proposed to take place between now and May 2014. To meet this deadline, the Council has proposed a streamlined process relying on the powers available under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act (the CER Act). This would likely include a period of public consultation and submissions, with the provisions to be heard by a mixed panel of council and technical experts in a condensed hearing process.  The revised provisions would then be provided to the Minister for Earthquake Recovery for his approval under section 27 of the  CER Act. If approved, this provisions would have immediate effect with no rights of appeal.

Stage 2 is proposed to occur during the 18 months following the completion of Stage 1. As this part of the Review will not be directly related to “recovery” the special powers under the CER Act will not be available. However, the Council is already  promoting a streamlined process similar to what is being used for the Auckland Council Unitary Plan, including strict deadlines and reduced rights of appeal.  This would likely require an amendment to the RMA before such a process could be followed.

Who will the Review affect?

The effects of the Review will not be known until further detail emerges about the changes. However, given the scope of the Review, the effects could be widespread.

As noted above, the City Plan is the key document controlling land use activities within Christchurch. This includes buildings, subdivisions, commercial activities, residential activities and more. Any person that owns or occupies land within Christchurch and is seeking to establish a new activity or change an existing activity could therefore be affected by the outcome of the Review.

As has become the norm in Christchurch in recent times, the usual RMA process is unlikely to apply. In the interests of recovery, anyone wanting to participate in the process will need to do so within a significantly constrained process.

It is also important to note that if the ‘recovery’ changes in Stage 1 are included and approved within the LURP, they may be beyond challenge by the time the Review occurs. This means that it is important to keep an eye on both processes to ensure that the opportunity to influence outcomes is not lost.  The draft LURP will be provided to the Minister by 5 July and will then be notified for further public submissions.


The Review is the latest in a plethora of planning processes that have been initiated since the earthquakes. However, it is an important process to keep an eye on as it will determine the structure and content of the Christchurch City Plan. The process is currently at an early stage, but is likely to move quickly with limited opportunities for input.

We will be providing further updates as the process unfolds so that you can understand the likely implications of the Review and the risks and opportunities it presents. 



Disclaimer: This is a brief summary for information purposes only and is not legal advice.

Posted on Thursday 6th June, 2013 at 10:13 am