Using subdivision Provisions to Address Strategic Planning Issues

a) Urban growth management

Some regional and city/district councils with large urban areas, and/or in areas subject to rapid growth, promote strategies of urban growth management and consolidation. These strategies generally adopt a more restrictive management approach for subdivision outside urban boundaries and a flexible approach allowing for higher densities within urban boundaries, such as around town centres and public transport routes.

Growth strategies are normally based on district wide or region wide issues such as:

  • the relationship between land use and (public) transport
  • the protection of natural resources and important landscapes
  • the efficient utilisation of existing infrastructure
  • the reduction of energy use and pollution, and
  • the avoidance of encroachment of urban development on productive soils.

The Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act 2013 will have significant impacts on growth strategies in some areas.

If the plan review process has identified a need to target growth to a specific area or areas, it is important to consider:

  • the costs of developing or not developing in the areas where growth is planned to occur, including any financial contributions
  • whether the current engineering standards achieve the form of development planned for these areas
  • whether the council is to initiate the rezoning process or whether this is to be left to market-led private plan changes or submissions on reviews of district plans
  • any need for structure plans
  • how to keep development from encroaching into areas beyond the targeted area.

The management of subdivision in targeted growth areas may be achieved through a simple rezoning of the area to allow standard plan subdivision provisions for higher levels of development to apply, or a more detailed structure plan approach. The structure plan approach is particularly useful when the standard subdivision provisions and associated development controls are not likely to produce the outcome desired for the area. In this context, structure planning may be preferred to the 'traditional' zoning approach especially where land areas are large or land ownership is fragmented. A structure plan and any associated provisions can be inserted into a district plan well in advance of anticipated growth, either at the time a district plan is being prepared or as a plan change when it becomes apparent that there is strong pressure building for development in a given area.

Section 32 duties will require a council to take account of the costs and benefits of particular controls and their effects on the supply and affordability of land, although the primary determinant of this will be at the zoning stage. It is important that:

  • the district plan has clear and understandable links between subdivision rules intended to satisfy urban consolidation objectives and the strategic planning issues on which those provisions are based.
  • The district plan has a clear explanation of the linkages between the subdivision rules, issues and objectives, as well as to regional documents and non-statutory documents.

b) Urban growth and effects on urban form

The way subdivision is managed can affect:

  • the density of development and the ability to integrate urban design principles into the subdivision design (see the "People + Places + Spaces" and Urban Design Protocol for more information)
  • roading patterns affecting traffic safety, and subsequent effects on the amenity of the site and surrounding area (e.g. grids or cul-de-sacs)
  • road and pedestrian linkages within the subdivision, and also to surrounding land
  • how sites relate to the street and each other, and how they are accessed from the road
  • the provision of, size and location of reserves
  • the provision of core infrastructure, and whether the subdivision is to be developed in stages or not
  • public access and riparian management where subdivision is adjacent to the coast, rivers or lakes and public reserves
  • the extent to which land stability factors, landscape values, existing or proposed vegetation, earthworks, or cultural or heritage sites can be accommodated within the subdivision layout
  • accessibility to public transport, commercial centres, and community, recreational and health facilities
  • solar energy and efficiency
  • the protection of the productive capacity of soils
  • site layout and building design (particularly in areas with significant visual values)
  • the likelihood of reverse sensitivity issues occurring particularly at the urban/rural interface
  • future growth patterns and forms.

In addition to any specific requirements of a structure plan, a council may choose to apply a standard approach to all subdivision design, such as:

  • requiring minimum, maximum or average lot sizes according to the environmental results anticipated within each area/zone
  • requiring a minimum coverage area within each lot to ensure reasonable use of the site for a permitted activity
  • requiring larger section sizes adjacent to roads, or to provide a buffer to industrial or rural areas
  • requiring frontages to reserves and reserves of a minimum dimension in accessible locations
  • providing for privacy and safety and lot layout (for instance the number of front sites versus rear sites)
  • limiting the number of accessways that front directly onto arterial roads or state highways;
  • ensuring adequate pedestrian and cycle linkages and
  • establishing contiguous reserve networks to form green corridors or buffer areas.

If councils are to require particular forms of subdivision design, they need to:

  • Explain clearly the forms being sought with linkages back from rules to policies, objectives and issues; and/or
  • Provide design guidelines to address urban design principles, to promote the efficient use of existing physical resources, or to achieve a specific amenity characteristic for a particular area.

The formulation and administration of design guidelines is a more technically demanding approach but can also provide a high level of guidance and certainty about the type of subdivision sought. When developing design guidelines, care must be taken to achieve the right balance between achieving reasonable certainty for developers, while also allowing a reasonable degree of flexibility.

c) Managing rural subdivision

Many councils experience pressure to allow for subdivision in rural areas, particularly in locations close to existing urban areas or in coastal areas. The importance of protecting and managing development in coastal areas is articulated in the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 (NZCPS). As with any national policy statement, the objectives and policies in the NZCPS need to be given effect to in any regional policy statement, or regional or district plan.

In areas where the density of dwellings is an issue, then the district plan will need to state why dwelling density needs to be controlled through subdivision. This can be important in determining the nature of the urban/rural interface (e.g. a "hard" urban edge) or where special factors apply, such as airport noise. Issues that will often need to be addressed when considering rural subdivision include:

  • the availability of reticulated water and sewerage systems
  • the effects of on-site servicing on water quality and quantity
  • the necessity for roading upgrades
  • the possibility of adverse effects, including cumulative effects, on natural resources, rural character and amenity values, and heritage or cultural resources.

Consideration should also be given to wider regional or district planning concerns such as urban consolidation strategies that seek to limit development in rural areas or areas with special rural characteristics.

An indirect effect of an increasing residential density in the rural area is that of 'reverse sensitivity'. Reverse sensitivity occurs when a new land use creates pressure for a lawfully established and pre-existing land use to change, avoid or minimise adverse effects on the new land use. The issues arise from the incompatibility of uses, although both may be legally established. The Environment Court has described reverse sensitivity as "the effects of the existence of sensitive activities on other activities in their vicinity, particularly by leading to restraints in the carrying on of those activities".

While there are many examples of reverse sensitivity effects, the risk of conflict between activities in the rural environment is significantly increased where subdivision results in an increase in the number of small blocks and where subsequent intensification of rural dwellings occurs as a result. While it is unlikely that the management of subdivision alone will avoid the potential for land use incompatibilities, it is a relevant factor to consider in determining the way in which subdivision is managed in the rural area. In particular, regard should be given as to whether, or where, the creation of lifestyle blocks is appropriate in order to minimise the risk of reverse sensitivity effects occurring (see "Managing Rural Amenity Conflicts" for more information).

  • It is important to provide a clear and consistent framework for managing rural dwelling and subdivision densities, particularly with regard to reverse sensitivity issues.
  • Consideration should be given to aligning subdivision with land management and catchment management issues, such as providing for ecological corridors and managing surface and ground water.
  • Subdivision and the resulting potential development rights that may be provided should be used to promote outcomes such as environmental enhancement, natural and cultural heritage protection, catchment management and public access.

d) Subdivision within sensitive landscape areas

These subdivisions primarily occur in rural locations and are strongly sought after because of the quality of the residential environment that can be obtained. Such areas include coastal, alpine, lakeside or river margin environments. They can be differentiated from 'ordinary' rural subdivisions by the sensitivity of the receiving environment, particularly in terms of visual impacts. Other effects which are particularly significant to subdivision in sensitive landscapes are public access, cumulative effects, possible erosion/flooding issues and ecological issues, because the physical character of such environments makes the presence of these constraints more likely.

In the context of sensitive landscape areas, the application of ss6(a) and 6(b) of the Act are important.

  • Land use controls in the plan should be based on a landscape assessment to identify those areas within which any restrictions or conditions on development are justified.
  • Environmental compensation and promotion of public access may be important factors where subdivision is considered appropriate in some form.
  • Attention needs to be given to any ecological, cultural or heritage values present, and any potential for natural hazards.

See the guidance note on Landscapes for more information on landscape protection.