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Game changers for housing under the RMA

By Mike Vincent, Associate, Baseline Group | Feb 04, 2022

Game changers do not come along often, however the Government recently released a Bill that will change how land development occurs across New Zealand. The Bill will require certain councils to change their district plans to allow, as of right now, more housing at greater densities in Tier 1 cities; Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, and Christchurch (including Selwyn and Waimakariri). Whilst not exclusive to major urban centres, the Bill also directs Tier 2 cities (Rotorua, New Plymouth, Nelson, Queenstown, Dunedin and others) to bring forward more intensification friendly policies to grow their centres.

But what does this mean for the average person and when will the change happen?

First of all, it speeds up the intensification requirements signalled to occur in the residential planning framework from 2024 to August 2022, meaning that projects can push forward with more certainty.

These changes will require Tier 1 councils to enable as much development capacity as possible in city centre zones (e.g. Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch CBD). Councils also must allow development to reach heights of at least 6 storeys within walkable catchments of rapid transit stops and the edges of city centre. Within Tier 2 centres, council will be required to enable heights and densities or urban form commensurate with the access to public transport or demand for housing.

Secondly, it will introduce a rule that will enable the development of 3 dwellings up to 3 storeys in all residential zones in urban environments (Tier 1 cities). These will be called medium density residential standards (MDRS). This will introduce new setbacks, outdoor living spaces and height in relation to boundary requirements to allow taller buildings closer to boundaries. Whilst focused on Tier 1 centres, special provisions can be introduced for Tier 2 cities where there are acute housing needs.

Thirdly, it introduces a new Intensification Streamlined Planning Process (ISPP) directing Council to give effect to the above amendments by August 2022. The amendment will have immediate legal effect and there are no appeals on decisions. This means the new rules will be effective from the date they are notified, August 2022 and resource consents will be processed on these terms from then on.

The only exemptions to these rules appear to be where there are certain qualifying matters such as natural hazards, open space providing for public use, historic heritage and iwi managed areas. It is anticipated there will be other defining factors, that will be determined before implementation.

In simple terms, the changes set out in the Bill will create a permanent shift in the flexibility of supply side of housing and have an impact on housing affordability. From an environmental perspective it will reduce the loss of productive land, reduce the cost of expensive infrastructure expansion and demonstrate efficiencies for existing services.

The proposed changes will lead to more affordable and equitable urban living. The effects will be small at first, noticeable within a decade and enormous for the next generation

This initiative appears to have cross bench support and whether you’re for or against “game changing”, the urban face of New Zealand is set to change.

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