Managing Subdivision in the District Plan

Subdivision is primarily concerned with the changing ownership of land and defining and redefining property rights. Many subdivision activities have only a minor impact on land use. However, the creation of new parcels of land is generally always accompanied by expectations of associated land use (e.g. a dwelling on a new residential or rural lot). For major subdivisions such as greenfield subdivisions, or rural-residential developments, the subdivision process provides a vital framework for managing land development.

Subdivision provisions in plans are one tool that can be used to control the use, development and protection of land and associated natural and physical resources in a district. Subdivision provisions can be implemented through one or combination of the following approaches:

  • District plan objectives, policies and rules (provisions are usually generalised and district wide); and
  • Structure or concept plans (often area specific and more detailed).

There needs to be clear linkages to related district plan rules dealing with land use to ensure a consistency in approach. Subdivision rules may also be a method (usually in conjunction with land-use controls) to achieve other land use objectives, such as managing growth, through defining minimum site areas required on subdivision.

The first important step in deciding when and how to use subdivision controls in your plan is determining what land use issues need to be managed.

1) Identifying subdivision issues

The first step is to identify what land use issues are relevant to the district, and whether subdivision controls can be used as a method to help address these. This should also form the first part of any s32 analysis.

The issues for the district are identified through research and monitoring, carried out in association with the plan or policy development. When researching land use issues and determining where subdivision controls may be appropriate to manage these, particular consideration should be given to the following:

  • growth trends
  • opportunities for economic growth and employment
  • rural land use patterns and any scope for further development
  • urban land use and the potential for expansion by infill and/or greenfields development
  • existing subdivision patterns and types (unit titles, cross-leases, etc);
  • infrastructural constraints (e.g. roading, sewerage, stormwater, water supply)
  • hazards and geotechnical constraints
  • the need to protect important natural areas or features
  • problems in the use and implementation of current subdivision provisions (e.g. adverse cumulative effects arising from intensified land use, lack of available infrastructure or an increase in reverse sensitivity effects).

Research may also assist in determining whether a district-wide or an area-specific approach may be most appropriate. In some cases, if the issues are site or area specific, such as infrastructural constraints, a structure plan approach may be more appropriate than generic subdivision provisions. In other cases, such as general urban or rural infill and subdivision, the issues may be generic to the whole district or "zone" related. In these circumstances, it is more appropriate to have relevant objectives and policies contained in the general subdivision provision section(s) of the district plan. It is important to remember that such subdivisions may generate cumulative effects over time which need to be monitored and managed accordingly.

New or amended subdivision provisions may be investigated as a result of operational (existing plan implementation) issues, or in response to a strategic issue. The following are the main strategic planning issues where plan provisions on subdivision are particularly important:

  1. Urban growth management;
  2. Urban growth and effects on urban form;
  3. Managing rural subdivision, particularly rural-residential development; and
  4. Subdivision within sensitive landscape areas.

How subdivision can be used as a method for addressing these issues is addressed under using subdivision provisions to address strategic planning issues.

2) Identifying effects associated with managing subdivision

Effects associated with subdivision and the development that may follow it can be both direct and indirect. The effects will vary depending on the characteristics of the receiving environment and the nature and purpose of the development proposed. As such, it is necessary that the district plan provides clear linkages between those parts of the plan containing the technical subdivision requirements (e.g. provision of services or financial contributions) and the sections of the plan addressing land use activities (e.g. density standards, disturbance of culturally significant sites, location of natural hazards, provision of car parking or road safety).

The planning maps should play an important role in identifying site-specific characteristics that should be considered at the time of subdivision. For example, natural hazards, sites of historic or archaeological significances, amongst others. Set out below is a summary of subdivision effects that a district plan might seek to manage, and the possible linkages to other parts of the plan.

a) Potential direct effects arising from subdivision:

  • Effects on landform and vegetation: arising from works proposed as part of subdivision consent, such as vegetation clearance; earthworks associated with the construction of building platforms; provision of infrastructure, including roads, footpaths, driveways and site works; loss of productive potential from versatile soils and modification of natural landscape character. Given the range of potential effects, linkages are needed to plan provisions on protected landscape areas, ecological areas, protected trees or vegetation, controls over earthworks (generally and adjacent to waterways) and any structure plans.
  • Effects on water quality: arising from stormwater run-off from land development, loss of vegetation and potential silt and contaminant loadings entering water bodies. On-site effluent treatment and disposal systems may also affect ground water quality. However, subdivision may also provide opportunities to improve or protect water quality through riparian management along waterway margins, public acquisition of land in the coastal marine area, and the provision of esplanade reserves or strips. Linkages are needed to plan provisions on surface water management, dwelling densities, waterway setbacks, and relevant regional planning requirements.
  • Effects on infrastructure: arising from increased demands on stormwater, sewerage, roading, energy, and water supply depending on the type and intensity of development. In rural areas, developments may rely on on-site septic tanks, wells, rainwater and ground soakage, and there may be cumulative impacts on the provision of reticulated services. Linkages are needed to any structure plans, urban growth policies, rural land use provisions financial contributions in the plan, the Long Term Plan and relevant regional planning requirements.
  • Effects associated with hazards: arising from the creation of additional allotments within an area that may be susceptible to natural hazards, thereby increasing the risks of falling debris or subsidence (which may be relevant to seismic hazards), flooding, inundation and/or erosion (also note the subsequent liability issues associated with this). Linkages are required to planning maps and provisions identifying natural hazards and relevant regional planning requirements.
  • Effects on public access: arising from a need to maintain and enhance public access to public reserves, the coast, a river or lake. Linkages are required to plan contents relating to important natural features and identification of waterways subject to esplanade requirements or setbacks. The promotion of walkways and cycleways may also be important considerations, particularly where councils already have such strategies in place.
  • Effects on cultural and heritage sites: arising from earthworks or development associated with subdivision which has the potential to modify or damage historic, archaeological or cultural sites and landscapes. Linkages are required to plan provisions identifying and protecting heritage or archaeological sites, or sites of cultural significance to Tangata Whenua.
  • Effects associated with the creation and positioning of new boundaries: arising from provision of private open space, height of buildings in relation to boundaries, vehicular access, parking spaces, and provision of public and private infrastructure; and the physical changes associated with an increased dwelling density. Linkages are required to plan provisions dealing with density controls, height bulk and location requirements.
  • Provision of legal access: arising from effects on future landowners and any changes to the network utilities located in the adjoining roading network, including roading designations or upgrades (e.g. widening, seal extension etc) or meeting the requirements of the New Zealand Transport Agency where access is to be provided off a state highway (e.g. 'Limited Access Roads'). Linkages are required to plan provisions on designations, utilities and roading hierarchies/classifications.

The plan should clearly identify which issues are to be managed through land use controls, which are to be controlled through subdivision controls, or which will be managed through a combination of these (including where issues are intended to be managed in conjunction with regional council controls).

b) Indirect effects arising from subdivision

There is a need to be aware of the indirect effects that can result from the subdivision of land. These may include:

  • Social, economic and land use effects arising from creation of different parcels of land resulting in land being developed, managed for different purposes, or occupied by additional people. This may result in demand for additional infrastructure, community facilities, public and private transport, and a change in amenity values or social coherence (e.g. if low residential densities are replaced with high residential densities).
  • Restrictions on land use development rights arising from subdivision, depending on any land use controls in the district plan, or consent notices, covenants and encumbrances on the new allotments that may dictate the type or nature of any future development. Restrictive covenants are becoming common in large residential developments, and act as supplementary land use controls outside the district plan.
  • Land use development expectations arising from subdivision, due to the strong presumption by purchasers that subsequent occupation and development will be permitted and the market therefore values the new allotments accordingly.
  • Reverse sensitivity effects arising from subdivision. For example, creation of smaller rural lots leading to closer settlement and lifestyle development sensitive to rural activities, resulting in reverse sensitivity effects on existing rural activities.

Little or no change to the existing environment may arise from certain types of subdivision applications. Examples include where the land has already been developed and the subdivision is merely altering the legal configuration of property boundaries (e.g. transferring from a cross-lease to a freehold title); or where the purpose of the subdivision is for asset management that does not necessarily result in new development (e.g. for family estates); or for creation of minor utility sites or for minor boundary adjustments.

3) Framework for managing subdivision in the district plan

In developing district plan provisions, it is important to keep in mind that subdivision can occur in stages and for different reasons. Therefore the plan needs to anticipate these different circumstances. The majority of subdivision applications can be grouped into the following broad categories:

(a) Major residential and/or business development

This category includes Greenfield subdivisions, peri-urban development, new settlements or resort developments.

Subdivisions of this nature generally have a major impact and raise a range of issues that will need to be addressed through various provisions throughout the plan. A subdivision of this nature generally invokes an assessment of the relevant objectives and policies to ascertain the merits of the type and density of development proposed. The council should ensure that the subdivision layout is in accordance with any structure or concept plan that may have been approved at the time of a zone change. Council should also consider wider strategic issues, such as roading linkages, provision of reserves, protection of natural areas, housing supply, economic growth, and employment. Consideration should also include how the subdivision is to be staged in order to promote the coordinated and efficient provision of infrastructure.

(b) Infill development

This category includes subdividing existing residential sections or the redevelopment of former commercial sites.

A subdivision for this purpose will generally have minor effects in isolation, but may contribute to significant cumulative effects that need to be addressed through plan provisions. The district plan should provide a clear policy framework for addressing the cumulative effects of infill development on the character and amenity of the surrounding area, and subsequent pressure on infrastructure, including roading networks, sewerage and stormwater and the provision of reserves. Design guidance may be a useful supplementary method.

(c) Rural subdivision

This category includes the creation of lifestyle blocks or to provide for higher intensity land use.

Like residential infill development, a subdivision for this purpose will generally have minor effects in isolation, but may contribute significant cumulative effects that need to be addressed through plan provisions. The district plan should provide a clear policy framework for addressing the cumulative effects of rural subdivision on the character and amenity of the surrounding area, and subsequent pressure to upgrade roading and other services (e.g. water supply, effluent disposal, rubbish collection). The creation of lifestyle-type allotments can also create reverse sensitivity effects on existing land use activities that are commonly located in the rural environment (e.g. viticulture, dairy farming, intensive pig and poultry farming operations).

(d) Subdivision within sensitive landscapes

This category includes subdivision within an area identified as an outstanding natural landscape or feature, or within coastal/riparian margins.

A subdivision within a sensitive landscape area has the potential to create significant visual and amenity effects due to a change, or establishment of new, boundary plantings, buildings, and accessways or through the associated intensification in land use which follows. Such effects are likely to be greater than for rural subdivisions generally.

The creation of new allotments within sensitive areas may require the consideration of issues associated with the maintenance and enhancement of public access to and along the coastal marine area, lakes and rivers. It may also require consideration as to whether 'environmental compensation' (e.g. protection of indigenous vegetation) may offset any adverse effects associated with the development. Particular consideration must be given to the matters in s6 of the Act, preferably supported by specific policies in the plan.

(e) Specialised subdivision activities

This category includes changes in types of tenure, or allotments for utility or reserve purposes.

A subdivision for this purpose will generally (although not in every case) have minor effects and tend to primarily relate to a change in land tenure, such as within an established commercial or industrial development. It may also relate to accommodating specific infrastructural or community based facilities, including utility structures and reserves. In these instances, it may be appropriate for the district plan to provide an exemption to any minimum allotment size or servicing requirements that would otherwise apply to a 'standard' subdivision. Exemptions to promote the protection of historic heritage or natural values may also be appropriate.

(f) Boundary adjustments

This category includes rationalising of property boundaries, and asset management.

A boundary adjustment is a form of subdivision involving the reconfiguration of lot boundaries, rather than the creation of additional allotments. A subdivision for this purpose will generally have minor effects. However, it may facilitate a change in land use (e.g. by realigning the parcel boundaries into a more useable area and shape, or by providing a wider road reserve) or represent the first stage in a larger development proposal. As no additional allotments are being created it is often difficult to assume a change in land use. In order to avoid potential adverse effects associated with a more intensive land use, the district plan may require that no new allotment is smaller than that which existed prior to the boundary adjustment or is not less than the minimum allotment size for that zone.