A disgruntled Upper Moutere couple who are $21,000 out of pocket after a fruitless attempt at subdividing their property have lashed out against the Tasman District Council's subdivision application process.
Their plight has led to an upcoming council forum between planning staff and resource consent consultants.
Trish and Charlie Goulter bought 3.6 hectares on Stagecoach Rd in 2008 and decided to apply to subdivide 1.3ha about a year ago, with plans to sell the land for about $200,000.
The couple, who own a landscaping business, hired Newton Survey to help them with their application.
They said the council told them to get signatures of approval from their neighbours because objections could lead to a notified consent process and possibly a hearing, which they could not afford.
"We were under the impression that if we had all our neighbours signed off and the New Zealand Transport Authority, we were pretty much in the clear," said Mr Goulter.
They got approval from their neighbours as well as NZTA, as their property is visible from the Ruby Bay Bypass.
They submitted their application to the council and by this stage had spent about $14,000 on the process.
The majority went towards plans prepared by Newton Survey for negotiation purposes, to satisfy their neighbours that a property on the subdivided site would not dramatically affect their views.
The council responded to the Goulters' application, saying it required a landscape report, which the couple paid for.
That cost about $2000 and to their surprise the council then said it wanted to peer-review the report, which cost an extra $3128.
The Goulters appealed the cost of the second report and were told they would only have to pay 66 per cent of it due to "a degree of overlap" in the information.
Mrs Goulter said the peer review came back "negative" and the council then told them the subdivision would be notified and go to a hearing after all.
"We were shocked. We followed every single process, we jumped through every single hoop and we ticked every single box. For us it's dead and buried. Charlie and I have run out of money," she said.
Paul Newton, a registered professional surveyor of Newton Survey, said that based on the application submitted and the fact that all affected neighbours including NZTA had provided written approval, the council should have made it clearer that the application was likely to be pushed into a hearing.
"The council should have been able to make that call much, much earlier on. That's the real problem with this. They were teased along and spent a lot of money on a process that is becoming more and more difficult. There needs to be a process where a much lower cost assessment can be made on a proposal," he said.
Mr Newton said the Goulters may not have pursued their application if they had known there was still the potential to go to a hearing, despite getting approval from their neighbours.
"They have done absolutely everything that they have been asked to do. They haven't cut any corners. They have bent over backwards and still they are being forced into the hearing process that could double the money they have spent to date," he said.
Mr Newton said he was concerned that the power to make decisions had been taken away from first-line decisionmakers in councils, so it was increasingly difficult and expensive to get decisions out of them.
Tasman District Council Mayor Richard Kempthorne said applying for a subdivision was a convoluted process for lay people who did not understand it.
"I really feel for the Goulters. It has been a hard process for them. It's not a straight-forward consent in the area that they're in," he said.
Mr Kempthorne said the council's consent team would call a meeting with planning professionals such as consultants, surveyors and lawyers to discuss how the process could be improved.
"This is simply in response to the Goulters. That's what they asked us to do. I think it would be fair to say that right from the start I don't think they understood the process," he said.
There were 137 subdivision applications lodged in the year 2010-11. 105 of the 2010-11 applications were non-notified and 13 were notified; the discrepancy is due to withdrawn or cancelled applications. TDC spokesman Chris Choat said a large majority of applications, if not all, were eventually approved. The number of applications is down on 200 in 2007-08, 167 in 2008-09 and 188 in 2009-10
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