Explainer: NZ’s new direction towards more high-density housing in our biggest cities

Publish Date : 14 Feb 2022
Swati And Partner With High Density Backdrop Resize

In August 2020, central government introduced the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD). This new policy sets out to:

  • ensure New Zealand’s towns and cities are well-functioning urban environments that meet the changing needs of our diverse communities
  • remove overly restrictive barriers to development for housing and business
  • allow more growth ‘up’ and ‘out’ in locations with good access to existing services, public transport networks and infrastructure.

In Auckland, the NPS-UD requires Auckland Council to enable greater housing density, with buildings of six storeys or more within walkable catchments around the city centre, in and around our ten large metropolitan centres and around train stations on Auckland’s rail network and stops on rapid busways, such as the Northern Busway.

Our metropolitan centres include Newmarket, Manukau, New Lynn, Sylvia Park, Botany, Papakura, Takapuna, Henderson, Albany, and Westgate.

Then in December 2021, the Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2021 became law. This requires the councils of rapidly growing cities - Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, and Christchurch - to apply new Medium Density Residential Standards to enable more types of medium density housing.

These new standards will allow property owners to develop housing of up to three storeys in most residential areas, without needing a resource consent. The legislation also requires the council to replace its design standards for things like the amount of a property that buildings can cover, the size of outdoor spaces and how much of property can be landscaped.

Some areas can be exempt from the six and three-storey requirements and the new design standards based on ‘qualifying matters’.

These are characteristics within some areas that may allow the building heights required by central government to be reduced, such as protecting sites of cultural, historic, or ecological significance or avoiding development in areas with natural hazards. However, a qualifying matter can only apply if there is comprehensive and robust evidence to justify an exemption.

To meet central government timeframes, the council must make changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan by the end of August 2022. The proposed plan change will then be available for Aucklanders to make submissions on it as part of the statutory decision-making process.

For more detail, head to the Ministry for the Environment website outlining the NPS-UD and the Ministry for Housing website which covers the Enabling Housing Supply Act brought into law in December 2021.

John Duguid, General Manager Plans and Places, says: “Auckland Council will shape the best possible plan in response to what government has required of us.”

“We are carefully assessing the Auckland Unitary Plan to identify areas that may justify an exemption to the directives in the National Policy Statement on Urban Development for greater height and density.  

“Aucklanders will help us understand if we are taking the right approach to these exemptions during public consultation which begins in April and by making a submission later in August 2022.”

From 18 August until 29 September 2022, people will have the opportunity to make a submission on proposed changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan - called Plan Change 78.

Making a submission is the most important way for people to be heard on Auckland’s housing future and how our city grows. It is how they can get involved in changes to our city’s planning rules by giving their views and suggestions to be considered by an Independent Hearings Panel.

See more information about Plan Change 78 and make a submission online through the Auckland Council website 

The Independent Hearings Panel will consider all submissions and hear directly from people who submitted. They will then make recommendations to the council on the changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan in early 2024. The council is required to make decisions by 31 March 2024. 

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