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Neighbourhood Disputes about Plants Amendment Bill 2019

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Tags: Planning, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, the Greens will be supporting the amendments to the Neighbourhood Disputes About Plants Bill that was debated and subsequently passed in 2017. That was the fruition of work at the time that Dr Vanessa Goodwin had done and put in train. That was a substantial bill. It is good to see that some of the details of implementation subsequent to that bill passing and obviously subsequent to the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal applications and the compliance or non-compliance of those applications. This gives us an opportunity to sort out those things once it has been in action for about 18 months.

It is good to see that some of those things are getting fixed up because those loopholes are very expensive for people. For a person who is the aggrieved party where a party to a tribunal ruling has been ordered to take an action, if they do not comply with the order and they fail to take the action then the aggrieved party, the person who sought to take the case in the first place, has no recourse other than to initiate legal proceedings themselves. This is expensive, time consuming and unnecessary.

It actually would be difficult to have to go through the administration involved anyway, I would expect, in order for the tribunal to take action on a defaulting party for failing to comply with an order of the tribunal. Part of that would involve the neighbour of the person who has been given an order, presumably making a connection with the tribunal. They would have to take an action and be active in that space.

Neighbourhood disputes are stressful and can lead to amazing acts of anger, even aggression and sometimes violence. In my life I have been amazed to see the impact of living in close quarters with a neighbour - not myself - but I have seen the experiences of other people who seemingly get absurdly affected by dogs barking, by cars being washed in driveways and water running onto their garden; just by the actions of living in close proximity to other people. It can become very tedious and trying, depending on what is happening in your life. If parties have gone through a process with the planning tribunal and a decision has been made, an order has been made to remove plants, then clearly it is just better if those things get sorted out sooner rather than later.

It seems that this will make it very clear that an order must be complied with in a particular time period. That is good. It has an end in sight. It is also welcome to hear that there is an opportunity for the tribunal to waive, reduce or refund the application fee for a person who is in financial hardship who makes a case against a neighbour and so that they are not unduly financially straitened by having to go through that process.

We also support the requirement, the ability, of the tribunal to exact a penalty if a person fails to comply with the order of the tribunal. That is obviously part of the story. The amendment which clarifies that branch removal can be undertaken, that a neighbour must give 24-hours' notice instead of seven days notice when they are removing a branch, is an important clarification. One week is a long time in advance to have to give notice and 24 hours seems quite reasonable in all the circumstances you can imagine especially if it is an order that has been made.

I can see that the amendment that provides that the tribunal can take into account any other matters that the tribunal considers relevant when determining whether the parties have made reasonable attempts to resolve disputes, gives more latitude to the wisdom of the tribunal members and the circumstances of the case in terms of the members of the tribunal making a decision about whether parties have made reasonable attempts to resolve the disputes or not.

There is clearly a vast range of reasons why people fall into disputes. The reasons that plants may need to be removed are many and varied because they involve not only amenity but safety and the safe functioning of properties and the effective functioning of properties. It is clearly going to be the case that individual circumstances will be quite different and it is appropriate that the tribunal can make reasonable attempts.

On behalf of the Greens, I am happy to say that we support these amendments and the enabling of the compliance with the tribunal's rulings and an opportunity for people to have fines reduced if they are in hardship situations. We sincerely hope that this does not have to get used very often.