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Who Shapes our Planning Rules?

By Anna Bensemann | Sep 23, 2021

With Further Submissions to the Selwyn District Plan due to open soon, it’s interesting to consider where our planning rules come from. The district plan is full of rules that determine building setback distance from neighbours, roads, reserves and waterways. It sets out the maximum height of buildings, the maximum amount of site covered with buildings and the minimum allotment area for the subdivision. All of these rules have fixed and definite limits in terms of specific meters or square meters.

Who determined that these fixed distances or areas are the most appropriate and what are they trying to achieve? Principally these urban building bulk and location rules are designed to create neighbourhoods that avoid overcrowding or overlooking each other. Essentially creating a sense of quality amenity within our neighbourhoods.

Compared to our overseas counterparts, who often live in apartment styled developments, or smaller allotment sizes, we enjoy largely sprawled out towns and cities. Therefore, we expect to see similar larger open developments when new subdivisions are created. However, there is some shift in this mentality with some people wanting less land to tend to in the weekends to accommodate busy lives, especially when both adults work.

Our district plans set out building bulk and location rules in urban zones and are publicly consulted through district plan changes. Those who have the time and understanding to participate in these processes can make submissions to seek changes to rules that are notified. These rules are already drafted by Council Planners at the time they are notified. When a previous rule appears to have been working, and any consultation undertaken with the community does not indicate a need to change, bulk and location rules are generally rolled over from previous planning documents. Given some of these provisions date back to the 1990’s when the RMA first appeared on the legislative scene they have a 25 – 30 year history. In many cases they were rolled over from before the RMA under the Town and Country Planning Act provisions.

To consider that some of our planning provisions designed to create a sense of urban amenity haven’t shifted in over 30 years raises the genuine question of to have our urban amenity value needs to be changed in this time? Are the planning provisions lagging behind our community needs and values or were they already adequately protected and planning change is occurring for the sake of change?

Typically, communities are not good at voicing their concerns over these matters. Few people take the opportunity to make submissions to new district plans when they are notified. As the outcomes of such submissions are made by district plan decision-makers changes to the bulk and location rules are unlikely to occur. The challenge for our Council planners drafting new plans, and our district plan decision-makers is ensuring the rules meet the actual community needs and values, even though our communities may not be able to articulate their needs at the exact time of decision making. When the decision-makers get this wrong it leaves a community feeling powerless and victims of their own planning rules however, when the decision-makers get it right, no one will notice. Be active in the district plan change process. Voice your opinion, you don’t need an expert, you are the expert on what you want to see in your neighbourhood.