Medium Density Residential Standards - Update

By Iain McManus

In a previous blog, we provided an overview of the Medium Density Residential Standards (“MDRS”) proposed by the Government to apply as a minimum enablement in all urban residential zones.

The release of the MDRS prompted heated debate and culminated in a rushed select committee process followed by passing of legislation under urgency.

In the course of that process, the Government has amended the standards, altering the intensity of development enabled.

Of most note, the Government has decided to:

1.  Reduce the height in relation to boundary standard from the originally proposed 6m plus 60 degrees to 4m plus 60 degrees.    

The new standard will permit more height adjacent to boundaries than permitted under existing rules for most properties but not the flexibility or intensity of the original MDRS. The flipside of course is that the change will preserve more of the amenity that many existing homeowners enjoy. In my opinion, this is a positive and pragmatic change.

2.  Reduce the minimum front yard requirement from 2.5m to 1.5m.  This will allow buildings to be constructed closer to road boundaries. 

This matches the front yard requirement in Auckland’s Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings zone but will be a significant change for homeowners in the existing Single House and Mixed Housing Suburban zones where the current requirement is for 3m front yards and where existing front yards tend to be even deeper than that.

3.  Replace the 60% impervious area limit with a 20% minimum landscaped area requirement (which is equivalent to an 80% impervious area limit).

This is more enabling than in any of the existing Auckland residential zones and will significantly increase the amount of impervious area permitted on sites, particularly in light of the provision for landscaped area to “include the canopy of trees regardless of the ground treatment below them”. This is likely to require increased use of on-site stormwater detention tanks to avoid overloading the public stormwater infrastructure.    

4.  Increase the outdoor living space requirement (where provided at ground level) from 15m2 to 20m2 while allowing the outdoor living spaces for multi-unit developments to be grouped together into a communal outdoor living space. 

This is a broadly positive change and brings the standard broadly into line with the outdoor living space requirements in most of the Auckland residential zones, although there is no requirement in the MDRS for the outdoor living space to be on level ground which may pose challenges for councils when an applicant shows this space on a sloping bank.

5.  Increase the outlook space required from the principal living room from 3m x 3m to 4m x 4m and delete the requirement for this space to be provided from the largest area of glazing where two or more windows are provided. 

The small increase to 4m x 4m is a positive change that will improve the outlook from principal living rooms by comparison with the originally proposed standard albeit at some cost in terms of the intensity of development enabled. 

The deletion of the “largest area” requirement will give more flexibility to designers and reduce the number of consents being applied for.

6.  Add a “windows to the street” requirement (minimum 20% of a street-facing façade must be glazed).

This is a broadly positive change that will deter the construction of blank facades facing streets and ensure some “surveillance” of adjacent streets.

The Government has also decided the MDRS do not need to be applied to off-shore islands (such as Waiheke) and areas predominantly urban in character with populations of less than 5000 (2018 census).

The final MDRS (in summary form) are set out in the table below.

There is currently some uncertainty around application of some of the standards.  For example:

  1. The outdoor living space standard requires a dwelling at ground floor level to have an outdoor living space of at least 20m2 but also allows outdoor living to be provided in the form of a balcony, patio or roof terrace of at least 8m2. It is not clear whether the 8m2 balcony requirement supersedes the 20m2 outdoor living requirement or whether an 8m2 balcony just contributes to compliance with the larger 20m2 requirement. So, for example, would a development with an 8m2 balcony comply if that was the only outdoor living? If no, would that development comply with 12m2 at ground level and 8m2 in the form of a balcony? Or 4m2 at ground level and two 8m2 balconies?
  2. The landscaped area standard allows the canopy of a tree to be included in the landscaped area. Given that the canopy of a tree grows over time, does one use the anticipated canopy spread at the time of planting or the canopy spread that one expects to eventuate at some point in the future (and if so, at what point in the future)? In addition, given that there are numerous sources of information for canopy spread, and a degree of inconsistency between those sources, will applicants be allowed to choose the one that suits? Also, what happens if the tree relied on for the landscaped area calculation is subsequently replaced with a tree with a smaller canopy, or is removed and not replaced? Presumably the development becomes non-compliant at that point, necessitating resource consent.

Timing from Here

Auckland Council previously signaled an intent to consult with Aucklanders in April 2022 on the changes required under the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (“NPS-UD”). 

The subsequent addition of the MDRS has significantly expanded the amount of work Council needs to undertake to give effect to the NPS-UD and seems likely to result in that consultation being scaled back or delayed. We expect to find out more on that front in the next few weeks.

The provisions relating to the NPS-UD, including the MDRS, must be notified for submissions by 20 August 2022. 

The default position is that the MDRS will be operative from the date they are notified. Until then, existing rules apply. 

The exception is where Council proposes standards that are more lenient than the MDRS. In that case, those standards will not be operative until the Council accepts the independent hearing panel’s recommendations on those standards or (if Council does not accept the panel’s recommendations) until the Minister notifies his/her decisions on the standards. 

Any application in the system at that point the standards become operative will be considered under the new regime.

Feel free to get in touch if you would like any advice re the application of the standards to an upcoming development.

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