Significant residential intensification on the horizon in our major urban centres – without the need for a resource consent

Today, the Government released a Bill which will require certain councils to change their district plans next year to permit as of right more housing of both high density (at least 6 storeys) and medium density (up to 3 storeys) in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch (tier 1 councils) and bring forward more intensification-friendly policies in other (tier 2) cities.

This approach will be through the Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Bill (Bill) which:

  1. brings forward intensification requirements in the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (NPS-UD);
  2. introduces new medium density residential standards (MDRS) that enable the development of 3 dwellings up to 3 storeys in all residential zones in “urban environments” (excluding large lot residential and settlement zones) in tier 1 cities and, possibly, other cities with acute housing need; and
  3. provides a new intensification streamlined planning process (ISPP) which requires changes to district plans to give effect to the above initiatives to be notified by August 2022, and provides for the rules to have immediate legal effect and there to be no appeals of decisions made using the ISPP process.

Intensification already anticipated under the NPS-UD will be expedited

The Bill will cause the NPS-UD to be fully implemented in 2023.  Previously it would not have been implemented until 2024 or later if there were appeals.

The Bill will require tier 1 local authorities (those in the urban areas of Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch) to give effect to specific policies of the NPS-UD: policies 3 and 4.  These include requiring minimum building heights and density of urban form to:

  • Enable as much development capacity as possible in city centre zones (e.g. Auckland CBD, Wellington CBD);
  • Reflect demand for housing and business use in those locations in metropolitan centre zones (e.g. Albany, Newmarket, Kilbirnie) but in any case to be at least 6 storeys; and
  • Be at least 6 storeys within walkable catchments of rapid transit stops and the edges of city centre and metropolitan zones.

Tier 2 local authorities (in smaller urban areas including Whangarei, Rotorua, New Plymouth, Napier/Hastings, Palmerston North, Nelson/Tasman, Queenstown and Dunedin) will be required to give effect to specific policies of the NPS-UD to enable heights and density of urban form commensurate with the accessibility of public transport or demand for housing, being policy 5.

Medium density residential development to be permitted in major urban centres without a resource consent

In addition to implementing the NPS-UD policies, the Bill will require tier 1 local authorities to introduce new MDRS into their district plans.  These standards:

  • Will enable the development of up to 3 dwellings of up to 3 storeys per site as a permitted activity without the need for resource consent (subject to compliance with standards);
  • Introduce new setbacks, outdoor living space and height in relation to boundary requirements to apply that allow taller development closer to boundaries.  There is also no reference to a minimum lot size (and minimum lot sizes for subdivisions are precluded in certain circumstances); and
  • Exclude full public notification of applications for resource consent for residential development of up to 3 dwellings that do not comply with standards.

The MDRS will apply in all residential zones in tier 1 urban environments (except large lot residential and settlement zones), including in areas that are being rezoned as residential (for example, greenfield development areas).  The exception will be where “qualifying matters” (like in the NPS-UD) make it inappropriate to apply the MDRS.

The Bill contemplates this approach being rolled out to some tier 2 urban environments.  The Ministry for the Environment and Minister of Housing can make recommendations that an Order in Council be made to require tier 2 local authorities to introduce the MDRS where there is an “acute housing need”.

The changes will have immediate legal effect and be implemented via a new streamlined planning process

The changes required under the Bill will be proposed as “intensification planning instruments” (instruments) and be implemented into district and unitary plans via a proposed new planning process – the ISPP, similar to streamlined planning processes already in the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

Generally, the MDRS will have immediate legal effect from the date the instruments are notified by each tier 1 local authority (i.e. before undergoing a public process).  All relevant territorial authorities must notify their instruments no later than 20 August 2022, meaning these changes can be capitalised on for projects seeking resource consent from then.

Once the instruments are processed through the ISPP there is no right of appeal (only judicial review claims are allowed).

Existing proposed plans and private plan changes will be disrupted

Existing plan changes and proposed plans that do not align with this new approach will need to be reviewed as there are triggers for them to be withdrawn where they do not align with these changes to the RMA.  These triggers relate to those plans and plan changes concerning residential development that haven’t had a hearing before 20 February 2022 and miss a focus on policy 3 or 4 of the NPS-UD and the MDRS.

The Bill is being expedited

The Bill is expected to pass through Parliament quickly, given its intention to immediately ameliorate the need for housing supply.  Under the Bill, resource consent applications lodged after 20 August 2022 (or sooner if the instruments are notified sooner) would be assessed against these changes.

This Bill has far-reaching consequences particularly for those involved in housing development, and are preparing resource consent applications or seeking private plan changes.  Please reach out to one our experts to discuss how any upcoming projects may benefit from the changes proposed under this Bill.

This article was co-authored by Amy Dresser, a Solicitor in our Environment team.

Who can help