Housing Intensification

As of 21 December 2021, the Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2021 came into force amending the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) to set new medium density residential standards (MDRS) and make other amendments to the RMA that are set to change the future of housing development in New Zealand.

The amendments in conjunction with the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (NPSUD) require less restrictive planning rules in district plans for certain urban areas in New Zealand, allowing for more houses to be built and intensification to occur in close proximity to community facilities, transportation, employment opportunities and other infrastructure.

As set out in the NPSUD, and reflected again in the RMA amendments, Tauranga is a Tier 1 territorial authority, Rotorua is Tier 2, while Whakatāne, Taupō and Ōpōtiki are all Tier 3.

The amendments to the RMA mean that by 20 August 2022, Tier 1 councils are required to notify an intensification planning instrument (IPI) that gives effect to relevant policies from the NPSUD and incorporates MDRS for all relevant residential zones in their district or city. Tier 2 and 3 councils may have the opportunity to prepare and notify an IPI, if regulations are made by the government allowing them to do so. An IPI is a plan change, but it will follow a slightly different process called the Intensification Streamlined Planning Process (ISPP) which is intended to mean that the changes to district plans can come into effect more quickly.

Once IPI’s are notified by the relevant council (no later than 20 August 2022) the IPI’s will have immediate legal effect, subject to a number of limited exemptions. This will allow for significantly more permitted residential development, which will not require resource consent, where development complies with the MDRS. That will be the case by 20 August 2022, even while the IPI is still proceeding through the hearing process.

The MDRS in brief are as follows:

  • No more than 3 residential units per site (site in the context of cross-leases and unit titles means the whole site which is subject to the cross lease or unit title);
  • Buildings must not exceed 11 metres in height, however the roof can exceed this height by 1 metre depending on the slope of the roof;
  • The building coverage (including overhangs) must not exceed 50% of the net site area;
  • Buildings must not project beyond a 60° recession plane, but this standard does not apply in a number of circumstances;
  • Buildings must be set back from the relevant boundary of 1 metre from the side and rear boundaries, and 1.5 metres from the front boundary (this doesn’t apply to adjoining properties which have common walls);
  • A residential unit that faces the street must have a minimum of 20% of the street-facing façade in glazing in the form of windows or doors;
  • A residential unit must have an outdoor living space which is required to have certain dimensions depending on whether it is a ground floor or upper floor unit;
  • A residential unit must have an outlook space which has dimension and view requirements;
  • A residential unit at ground floor level must have a landscaped area of a minimum of 20% of a developed site with grass or plants, and can include the canopy of trees regardless of the ground treatment below them.

All residential zones must be included in the IPI, unless the relevant council considers that there is a ‘qualifying matter’ meaning that some of or all of the MDRS are not appropriate. Qualifying matters include matters of national importance, areas where there is a need for open space for public use, areas where there is a matter required to give effect to a national policy statement or where there is any other matter that makes higher density inappropriate in an area.

The amendments also mean that Councils are not able to include minimum lot sizes or size related requirements for residential subdivisions in residential zones, as long as the subdivision is compliant with the MDRS. Subdivisions which are compliant with the MDRS will be a controlled activity, meaning resource consent is required but cannot be refused by a council, only conditioned.

In the context of Tauranga, we will have to wait and see the approach that Tauranga City Council and Western Bay of Plenty District Council decide to take to the amendments. Tauranga City Council was about to start hearings for Plan Change 26 before this Bill was announced. Plan Change 26 proposed ‘more intense’ intensification in some parts of the Te Papa peninsular than these amendments will permit, and the Act does provide for more permissive standards than the MDRS to be incorporated within an IPI. We will know by August at the latest how both councils intend to approach the amendments.
If you have any questions regarding these RMA amendments and how they could affect your property plans, please do not hesitate to get in touch.