Auckland’s changing planning rules - what you need to know

Publish Date : 18 Aug 2022
Auckland’s changing planning rules - what you need to know

Significant changes to Auckland’s planning rules come into effect today, enabling more higher density housing to be built across the region.

The new central government rules, the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS), require high-growth councils across New Zealand to introduce new standards that will ease planning rules for what can be built without a resource consent.

For many Auckland property owners, this means they will now be allowed to build up to three homes of up to three storeys on their site, such as townhouses and terraced housing.

Central government has introduced two big planning reforms to enable more higher density housing – the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) and the new Medium Density Residential Standards.

These changes are significant to Auckland’s planning landscape. The NPS-UD requires Auckland Council to enable buildings of six storeys or more within walking distances (walkable catchments) from the city centre, our 10 large metropolitan centres and around rapid transit stops, including Auckland’s train and busway stations.

While the new Medium Density Standards have immediate legal effect today, the process to decide exactly how the NPS-UD policies will become operative has just begun.

The proposed plan change has been publicly notified today for people to make submissions. An independent hearings panel will then review all submissions and make recommendations to council on changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan – our city’s planning rulebook – over the next 12-18 months.

Who benefits from the new Medium Density Residential Standards from today?

The density rules apply to most properties in residential zones that are not subject to a ‘qualifying matter’, or exemption to limit building heights and density in some areas.

The plan change is proposing to change some of Auckland’s residential zones. Most residential properties in Auckland's urban areas are proposed to come under one of three zones:

  1. Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings Zone (now allowing for buildings of six storeys or more)
  2. Mixed Housing Urban Zone (now allowing for three buildings of up to three storeys)
  3. Low Density Residential Zone (qualifying matters apply, limited to two storeys)

Click here to find out what zone a property is now in and whether there are any qualifying matters applied to it.

The following zones are excluded from the new Medium Density Residential Standards:

  1. Large Lot Zone
  2. Rural Coastal and Settlement Zone
  3. Offshore islands (e.g Waiheke)
  4. Single House Zone and Mixed Housing Suburban Zone in small settlements where 2018 census recorded population as less than 5,000 (e.g. Wellsford)

Limits to density – the qualifying matters

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 allow for intensification to be limited, such as protecting sites of cultural, historic, or ecological significance or avoiding development in areas with natural hazards or where there are certain infrastructure constraints. However, a qualifying matter can only apply if there is strong evidence provided to justify an exemption.

The new medium density residential standards will not apply to properties with a proposed qualifying matter until final decisions are made in 2024 at the conclusion of the decision-making process. At that point, a proposed qualifying matter could be confirmed, removed or adjusted.

What stays the same

As with any new development, there is potential impact on the environment and other people. It therefore remains a requirement that new developments comply with all other rules and standards before construction begins.

Although the new medium density standards remove the need for most property owners to seek resource consent to develop their properties for up to three dwellings, there are other resource consenting requirements that remain as part of the Auckland Unitary Plan and Resource Management Act.

It is therefore likely that any property owner who intends to utilise the new medium density standards will require resource consent approval to subdivide the site, as well as assess the earthworks needed for construction of the new dwellings.

All building plans will still be subject to a building consent process, and as part of this assessment, Auckland Council will consider if any resource consents are also required. If any are needed, the building consent will be paused until resource consent has been obtained.

Auckland Council’s resource consents team advises anyone looking to develop their property to discuss with their industry professional (planner, architect, surveyor, draftsperson, builder) what regulatory requirements they can expect.

Building four or more

For developments of four or more dwellings, the new standards do not take immediate effect. This means anyone looking to develop four or more dwellings on a site will still require resource consent approval under the current operative standards of the Auckland Unitary Plan.

Given that the new standards will enable significantly higher density development in many locations, Auckland Council has introduced new policies through the plan change to strengthen urban design outcomes. These design considerations include a greater focus on architectural form and detail. This is to ensure that we see ‘density done well’.

The new Medium Density Residential Standards:

Maximum number of residential units per site


Maximum building height

11m + 1m for pitched roof

Maximum height in relation to boundary

4m + 60° recession plane

Minimum setbacks

Front yard: 1.5m
Side yard: 1m
Rear yard: 1m (excluded on corner sites)

Maximum building coverage

50% of the net site area

Minimum outdoor living space (one per unit)

Ground floor: 20m2, 3m dimension Above ground floor: 8m2, 1.8m dimension

Minimum outlook space
(per unit)

Principal living room: 4m depth, 4m width All other habitable rooms: 1m depth, 1m width

Minimum windows to street

20% glazing of the street-facing façade

Minimum landscaped area

20% of the developed site with grass or plants


For more information, please visit the Auckland Design Manual for the Practice and Guidance Note on Plan Change 78

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