District Plan Framework for Managing Issues

Under s75 of the RMA, district plans are required to include objectives, policies to achieve the objectives, and rules (if any) to implement the policies. To achieve the objectives and policies in its District Plan, a council can rely on a mix of regulatory (e.g. rules) and non-regulatory methods.

District plan provisions

District plans can promote greater integration between land use and transport, by incorporating provisions that provide for both strategic and detailed site-specific assessment. This includes:

  • objectives and policies relating to the effects of transportation on the environment and the effects of land use on the transportation system
  • establishing a regional/district roading network or hierarchy that links to supporting rules or other methods
  • policies and rules that link to particular transport modes
  • using designations or specific zonings to cover existing and new transport routes (e.g. for upgrades to the state highway system/rail network, or for busways)
  • development, subdivision and zoning-related controls
  • structure plans to ensure that roading networks and land use are integrated.

A district plan can also include methods (including rules) to manage the specific environmental effects of activities such as:

  • the location and design of vehicle accessways
  • facilities for pedestrians and cyclists
  • facilities for public transport requirements
  • parking
  • roadside sales
  • signs
  • noise and vibration controls
  • sightline requirements at railway crossings, intersections and vehicle accessways
  • earthworks/stormwater
  • street trees and landscaping
  • associated activities on roads (e.g. public utilities, bus stops)
  • noise-sensitive land uses located close to arterial road or rail corridors.

District plans are primarily a means of regulating activities to facilitate or control land transport (but see section below on other methods that can be included in RMA plans). Territorial authorities are also able, under the LGA 2002, to:

  • identify and fund relevant programmes through the Long Term Plan process
  • undertake necessary roadworks
  • require development contributions to recover some of the capital costs that they incur when building or expanding infrastructure required to serve new development
  • close or stop roads temporarily or permanently
  • construct and remove crossings between land and an adjoining road
  • make bylaws concerning roads and cycle tracks and their use
  • make bylaws concerning road and traffic signs.

Road hierarchies

Road hierarchies classify types of roads in the region/district, and their priority in terms of function. The highest class relates to arterial roads such as motorways and state highways, while the lowest includes local roads and cul-de-sacs. Each classification assigns preferential use to either through traffic or local access.


There is an argument for moving away from a hierarchical road system to one that is:

  • interconnected
  • provides amenity, and
  • applies a multi-modal approach that limits the capacity for single occupant vehicle traffic.

Nevertheless, the current convention is to rely on road hierarchies for planning purposes.

Road hierarchies are a means of managing the district transport infrastructure (and more particularly to control access to the highest levels of the road hierarchy). They can be useful in achieving a balance between movement and place making and as an environmental management tool to assist in controlling effects (e.g. noise and amenity protection). A graduated hierarchy can usefully help establish policies and rules relating to:

  • access location, standard of formation and appropriateness
  • preferred land use, density of development and subdivision rights
  • traffic volumes and speeds     
  • road construction and geometry standard
  • traffic generation rates
  • access and parking effects of adjacent land use activities
  • design and amenity standards
  • provision for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport within the hierarchy.

Transport corridors

A designation is a planning mechanism for district plans that enables existing or future infrastructure to be efficiently managed and allows land requirements associated with future infrastructure to be signalled in plans. A designation can provide a useful means to deal with lineal transport networks such as roads or railways.

Where a designation is provided in a plan, any provisions that might normally apply - including zoning and land use controls - do not extend to works or projects undertaken by the requiring authority. This can include routine maintenance and minor upgrading.

A designation:

  • informs the community about the route and operation of existing and future transportation networks
  • allows the designating authority to do anything that is in accordance with the designation (without the need for other resource consents under the district plan)
  • protects future routes from inappropriate development and can assist in strategic planning
  • allows land to be purchased for transportation purposes
  • needs to be implemented within a specific time frame
  • may be 'rolled over' by the requiring authority into a new plan

In general, designations are an effective tool for major new transport developments such as arterial roadways. However, zoning provisions can also be used in conjunction with or instead of designations to provide for transport corridors and networks. In such cases, the district plan generally permits activities like the construction, operation, and maintenance of roads, although certain thresholds and performance standards may apply. Other non-roading activities may still require resource consent, such as the location of bus shelters and removal of protected trees.

There are several issues to consider when deciding whether to use zoning or a designation. These include:

  • Zoning may avoid the need to designate existing networks. However, a plan change would generally be required for any new routes or additions to existing routes not already included in the zone.
  • The merits of using zoning instead of a designation need to be carefully considered. For example, if transport corridors are zoned, a plan change would be required to widen the corridor (or extend the zone boundary). An alteration to a designation may create more certainty in such circumstances.
  • Land that is designated usually has an underlying zoning that applies to non-designated activities (e.g. residential) and would revert to this if the designation is removed. Usually the zoning is consistent with the zones adjoining the designation. However, if a special zone is created for the transport corridor, a plan change would be required to allow the land to be used for another purpose.
  • Any activity proposed within a designation that was not part of the designation requires the agreement of the designating authority before proceeding. Depending on the district plan provisions, such an activity would be assessed in terms of the underlying zoning or, if applicable, the 'transport' zone.

Councils, Ministers of the Crown (e.g. government departments), and approved network utility operators (e.g. NZTA) are requiring authorities and can lodge a Notice of Requirement to designate their transportation networks in district plans. NZTA uses designations to manage the State highway network. The national rail network is also designated.

Future lineal transport infrastructure routes such as road, rail, pedestrian, cycle and rapid transit corridors may also be identified in district plans (particularly for future growth). Commonly these would be provided for by either designation or by indicative routes where insufficient detail is available on the exact location or configuration of the route. There are, however, location and timing issues associated with this latter approach. Potential noise, visual and air quality effects would also need to be recognised.

As a way of reconciling strategic land use and private development goals, local authorities sometimes use indicative roads as a means to negotiate the location of transport routes at the time that a subdivision is proposed. Structure plans are another way of achieving such outcomes, but have the long-term roading pattern often embedded into a district plan to direct future development.

Managing development

Unplanned or uncoordinated land use decisions can affect the safety or level of service of the transport system. Consequently, the impacts of land use on transport interests should be considered prior to land being identified for growth, subdivided or developed.

When preparing a plan, consideration should be given to including objectives, policies and possibly rules that cover such matters as:

  • restricting the maximum or minimum number of lots that can be created in specific areas (Note: medium-high density development is more efficient than low density in terms of land use and public transport provision). Access restrictions and the maintenance of a lower density of development are sometimes required to maintain the efficiency of important routes in specific areas
  • encouraging development within close proximity to transport corridors and nodes
  • reverse sensitivity (i.e. where new transport sensitive activities are introduced/encroach on transport networks leading to conflict between activities)
  • promoting higher public transport use near transport nodes (e.g. allow medium-high density within 400-800 m of a railway station or along a bus corridor; reduce carparking requirements near public transport nodes). The same should also be applied near shopping areas to encourage people to walk, cycle and to use public transport
  • minimum access requirements for properties (Note: there are some innovative subdivisions that want to restrict vehicle access; rules should not be so restrictive as to prevent this from occurring)
  • minimum roading and access standards (Note:note that some standards (particularly mandatory parking standards) can act as disincentives to achieving other planning objectives, such as increased diversity of housing stock, redevelopment of existing buildings, and urban intensification)
  • the status of the access connection in respect of the road hierarchy
  • the impact that development may have on the existing transport infrastructure and how these will be managed, including a statement that NZTA be considered an affected party in relation to state highways and that NZTA approval is required before any consent can be granted along any limited access road that it administers
  • creating transport hubs at strategic locations in the rail and passenger transport network to act as major receivers and distributors and to provide important linkages. This can assist in promoting high-quality and intensive urban environments that support public transport modes. There is also potential for a scaled-down hub to serve rural communities.
  • support community resilience by ensuring subdivision patterns and transport layouts that enable a range of transport options and transport modes

Methods for specific effects (standards and controls)

Generally all existing district plans contain transport-related standards or controls (e.g. access, parking). When carrying out a review, careful consideration should be given to these provisions as some may no longer be effective or desirable. Council officers (e.g. roading engineers, consent planners) who regularly work with these standards should be consulted about the effectiveness of existing provisions. It may also be helpful to survey the views of the plan from external users (e.g. roading consultants, the NZTA, consultant planners).

Long Term Plans under the LGA can also play an influential role in transport-related decisions as they outline the levels of service to be provided by a territorial authority (e.g. travel speeds and times on roads).

Vehicle accessways

Use vehicle accessway specifications to state the number, location, and design of vehicle accessways along a road.

Vehicle accessway specifications should be tailored to the particular situation, but in general they should:

  • ensure that visibility is good enough to allow vehicles to move into the accessway safely
  • consider pedestrian and cyclist movements
  • ensure that vehicles are not forced to queue, to reverse into the road, or to swing into the path of vehicles in opposing lanes
  • ensure that vehicle crossings are designed to operate safely, have good visibility and achieve efficient traffic flow
  • ensure that on-site loading facilities do not adversely affect road or pedestrian safety
  • ensure that where access is to, from or in close proximity to a state highway, that district plan provisions are not inconsistent with the NZTA's Planning Policy Manual.

Parking standards and controls

Parking controls can be used to:

  • establish the maximum and minimum number or parking spaces required
  • manage the design, and capacity of carparks
  • set standards for things like access, aisle width, manoeuvring room, carparks for disabled persons, stacked parking, traffic screens, loading areas and landscaping
  • manage transport demand. For instance, many councils want to reduce the number of vehicles entering their city centres. This outcome is often associated with policies to minimise the amount of space given over to parking and to improve efficiency (by reducing congestion). It may also coincide with policies to promote intensification of residential development and to encourage public transport use.

Parking controls can be difficult to determine and administer as parking needs vary greatly for different activities. As provisions may need to be adjusted in response to land use changes, it is important to ensure that any changes are closely monitored (e.g. rules may need to address supplementary provision where 'vehicle generating' activities are proposed).

For instance, it may be more efficient for a council to provide bulk parking in one location instead of multiple small parking lots through a centre. Consideration could also be given to allowing 'shared' parking between activities where possible (e.g. multi-unit shopping centres). Such policies should be developed through an integrated planning exercise. Other policy issues to take into account include management of potential adverse effects.

To address adverse effects, parking controls need to:

  • consider whether parking supply is appropriate, based on such factors as: land use goals, travel patterns, whether alternative modes are available, the catchment for the land use and specific needs to deliver goods or services by vehicle
  • ensure each activity provides adequate numbers to accommodate staff, customers, residents, and delivery people
  • avoid creating an oversupply of parking as this is a waste of resources and induces additional traffic
  • avoid traffic congestion
  • avoid impacts of parking on visual amenity (e.g. use of landscaping)
  • accommodate parking requirements for different activities on the same site, and varying parking demands during the day
  • ensure there is sufficient access and safety in each parking area.

Road and traffic signs

Road and traffic signs are critical to road safety and should be considered as a permitted activity in district plans. Alternatively, councils can consider the use of bylaws to provide for road and traffic signage.

The NZTA is responsible for traffic control signs within state highway road reserves. The industry-recognised Manual of Traffic Signs and Markings (MOTSAM) is a useful source for definitions of road and traffic signs. Note this manual is being progressively updated with the Traffic Control Devices Manual.

Noise and vibration controls

District plans commonly establish noise standards for land use activities. With existing transportation networks, it is also relevant to consider how 'reverse sensitivity' might be addressed (e.g. where a noise-sensitive activity such as housing establishes near an existing noisy environment like a motorway). Refer to the Land Transport Noise QP Guidance Note for more detailed information on options to manage land transport noise.

Air quality

Air quality is a particular issue for communities affected by transport networks experiencing congestion and in areas where existing air quality is poor. Generally free-flowing traffic produces fewer emissions than congested traffic. Although transport emissions are usually assessed on a national basis, location-specific effects have been considered in certain circumstances.

Sightline requirements for railway level crossings

Consideration should be given to applying controls such as separation and sight distances near railway level crossings to ensure road users have a safe line of sight.

The document Traffic Control Devices manual (TCD Manual) produced by the NZTA provides useful guidance for those involved in drafting sightline standards for district plans.

Earthworks and stormwater controls

Although earthworks and stormwater discharges are generally managed through regional plans, they are also addressed in some district plans. As these activities have the potential to adversely affect the development of the transportation system, unnecessary duplication of controls in regional and district plans should be avoided.

Financial contributions

Where specified in a plan, financial contributions can be imposed to avoid, remedy or mitigate adverse effects on, or the effects of, land transport modes. Contributions can be in the form of cash, land or a combination of cash and land. They can be used to recover the costs of providing upgraded or additional public transport infrastructure associated with new development.

The NZTA may also seek to enter into cost sharing arrangements for state highway improvements directly related to development (refer NZTA Cost Sharing Policy). These may include contributions of land, works or money from developers, councils and other relevant parties (if appropriate) to mitigate the adverse effects of new development on the state highway network.

Other activities on roads

Other activities on roads include car races, cycle races or parades. Although these activities are generally temporary in nature, they can occur on a reasonably regular basis and can affect both the transportation system and activities on nearby sites. They are often regulated through by-laws or are treated as temporary activities (with allied controls) in plans. Transport Agency approval also needs to be sought if access to a state highway is required.

Provision for associated roading-related structures such as bus shelters and utility infrastructure should also be considered.

Other methods (associated with the district plan)

Consideration should be given to the use of other regulatory or non-regulatory methods to implement district plan transport policies, provided they align with and support transport provisions in the plan.

Other methods include:

  • design guides
  • strategic documents that provide for cycleways and pedestrian routes (e.g. cycle strategies, reserve management plans)
  • structure plans
  • transportation standards
  • advocacy and education programmes promoted by councils.

 Other methods (non-RMA)

Other methods to achieve councils' objectives outside the district plan include:

  • Long Term Plans - these are important planning documents that help inform council activities and decision-making. For example, Long Term Plan can set out planned works and services that a council wants to undertake to provide bus transfer stations, bus lanes and cycle lanes, and how it proposes to acquire, develop and manage car-parking areas. bylaws - these can be developed under the LGA 2002 to address matters like the transportation of hazardous substances, parking, advertising and traffic signs and roadside selling
  • NZ Standards - for example, 'NZS 6803:1999 New Zealand Standard Acoustics - Construction Noise ' is a useful standard to apply during road construction and maintenance (Note: rules that refer to NZ Standards should include a specific reference to the standard and the date).