News

New National Policy Statement on Urban Development

By Iain McManus

The Government has approved a new National Policy Statement (“NPS”) on Urban Development to replace the current NPS on Urban Development Capacity approved in 2016.

The new NPS takes the current NPS a few steps further, with new provisions that will force councils to allow more intensive development in certain urban areas and remove some of the current constraints to that development. 

The intent is to bring about more substantial (and faster) change to regional policy statements and district plans than achieved under the current NPS to allow more intensive and (it is hoped) more cost-effective development. 

There is a lot in the NPS to cover – the headings below touch only on the provisions that I think will be of most interest to our clients.

Councils to ensure they provide sufficient development capacity

The NPS requires councils to prepare “housing and business capacity assessments”, “future development strategies” and changes to their RMA planning documents to ensure that there is sufficient development capacity in their region or district to meet expected demand for housing and business land over the short, medium and long term.

These are not new requirements, but the detail around those requirements is now more rigorous, which should result in more capacity being created in some regions. This seems likely to drive down the price of greenfields land (although it may increase the price of some brownfields land if that land is significantly up-zoned).

Housing capacity assessments must be completed by 31 July 2021. Business capacity assessments and future development strategies must be completed in time to inform the council’s 2024 long-term plan. 

Councils to be responsive to private sector proposals to up-zone land

The NPS requires councils to be “responsive” to plan changes that would add significantly to development capacity and contribute to well-functioning urban environments even if the development capacity is not anticipated by the council’s RMA planning documents or is out-of-sequence with planned land release (e.g. under the council’s Future Development Strategy).

It has been very easy to date for councils to frustrate the rezoning of greenfield land proposed to be urbanized by the private sector, either on the basis that it doesn’t fit what council is proposing in its current RMA planning documents, or is being proposed sooner than the council thought it should be when it prepared its Future Development Strategy. In theory, the NPS will require councils to take a more positive approach to such proposals. It will be interesting to see how that pans out in practice.

This requirement takes effect on 20 August 2020.

Councils to provide for increased development potential in certain locations

The NPS requires councils in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch to amend their regional policy statements and district plans to:

  1. Provide for “as much development capacity as possible” in their City Centre zones;
  2. Provide for sufficient intensity of development in their Metropolitan Centre zones to reflect the demand for housing and business use in those zones and, in all cases, building heights of at least 6 storeys;
  3. Provide for building heights of at least 6 storeys within a walkable catchment of existing and planned rapid transit stops and within a walkable catchment of their City Centre and Metropolitan Centre zones.
  4. Provide for intensity of development in all other locations commensurate with the level of accessibility by existing or planned active or public transport or the relative demand for housing and business use in that location.

The NPS permits councils to depart from the requirements above only to the extent necessary to accommodate certain specified “qualifying matters” e.g. matters of national importance. 

This has the potential to bring about significant up-zoning in some urban areas, even in Auckland which has recently experienced significant up-zoning in many areas under the Auckland Unitary Plan.

It will be interesting to see how councils apply these provisions to “special character areas”. There are numerous such areas in some cities and their numbers seem to increase with every iteration of district plan in Auckland (in particular).  Moreover, many of them are of dubious merit. These special character areas do not appear to be covered by any of the “qualifying matters”.

It will also be interesting to see if councils go beyond changing height limits to also change building in relation to boundary standards (and other similar standards) which on smaller sites often have the effect of preventing achievement of the specified height limit for the location. This is a very common outcome in the current THAB and MHU zones in Auckland.

These changes must be implemented as soon as practicable and by 20 August 2022 at the latest. 

Removal of minimum parking standards 

The NPS requires councils to remove minimum parking requirements from their district plan, other than minimum requirements for accessible car parks.

This will allow developers to undertake developments without providing any parking, other than accessible parking. Developers may, however, still choose to provide parking.

The theory is that the market will determine the supply of parking, which is an interesting approach for a Labour / Green government that has sought to intervene in the market in so many other areas. It is going to be interesting to see how this works in practice. It may become increasingly difficult to get on-street parking in some locations.

The NPS requires councils to remove minimum parking requirements without using a process under Schedule 1 of the RMA. In other words, it requires them to “just do it”. There is no need for councils to prepare a plan change or go through a submissions and hearing process, and there will be no right of appeal for anyone.

Minimum parking requirements must be removed by 20 February 2022.

Emphasis on “planned” urban built form

The NPS requires councils making decisions on resource consent applications to have “particular regard” to the “planned urban built form” anticipated by RMA documents that have given effect to the NPS. 

The intent is to give emphasis to the planned form rather than the existing form. The Auckland Unitary Plan has a similar emphasis in its more intensive zones. 

This should help to reduce the disadvantage often experienced by applicants who are first to propose more intensive development within areas that allow intensive development but have not yet experienced the level of development provided for. 

This requirement has effect from 20 August 2020.

Emphasis on benefits of urban development

The NPS also requires councils to have “particular regard” to the benefits of urban development including the provision of increased housing densities and more varied housing types.

It also makes it clear that change resulting from intensification is not of itself an adverse effect. You would think that was pretty obvious but it never ceases to amaze me how often council officers take the view that change is adverse, or at least is adverse until proven otherwise, or alternatively, that “others” such as neighbours might perceive change to be adverse, therefore Council needs to be cautious. 

These changes may help to reduce the risk of notification for applications to intensify within urban areas and give those developments a smoother path through the consent process. 

These changes have effect from 20 August 2020.

Conclusion

The NPS on Urban Development 2020 promises some significant changes to the current planning framework in our main urban areas. These changes should allow more intensive and cost-effective development. 

Please feel free to contact me on 021360866 if you would like to assess opportunities to take advantage of these changes.


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