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Can I set up a business in a rural area?

Updated: Feb 14

With the rising costs of property, many people are looking to maximise the use and return on investment of their land. In some cases this may be bringing a business “back home” and establishing it on a rural site. This is something you need to look into very carefully in advance; rural areas are primarily designed for rural production activities and typically don’t encourage business activity. Here is some information on things you need to look at from a planning point of view.

Zoning: first you need to find out what zone your site is in. You can do this by looking at the Councils district plan maps. These are usually available online. The rules related to business activities differ significantly depending on the zone your site is located within. Often there are a number of different rural zones, and the rules among these are also different. Its important that you look into this first, get advice and then examine the risk associated with any resource application.


Other preliminary investigations: you also need to be aware of other legislation and controls that may affect your business, for example storage of hazardous substances or health and safety requirements, that may affect the suitability of your site for the business. Also check any covenants and other title restrictions; you may find that a business on the site is restricted.

Home Business: if you’re operating a small scale business and you will live on the site too, you may be able to operate your business as a “home occupation”. If you meet the relevant rules, these are often permitted activities meaning you don’t require resource consent. The rules for home occupations also differ depending on the zoning of your site, but typically they provide for 3-4 people to be involved in the business with 1-2 of these people living on the site. Activity is restricted and this often includes restrictions on delivery hours, commercial vehicles, parking, storage of rubbish and what can be sold.

If you’ll be making a good investment in establishing or moving a business to your site, we would suggest obtaining a Certificate of Compliance from the Council. This is similar to a resource consent but is written confirmation from the council that the activity is permitted. This provides you with certainty, and means you won’t receive a visit from the Council Compliance Officer in the future!

Rural Services and Goods: if your business doesn’t meet the home occupation rules, you will likely require a resource consent. In some district plans, including the Auckland Unitary Plan, some activities with a clear link to rural land uses are provided for in rural zones. This could be that you provide a specific rural service, or goods required on local farms. There are specific activity types that you would need to meet, so some further investigation would be required.

A resource consent is still required, but a clear link to supporting rural land uses is central in making planning arguments to support your proposal. This is because rural zones are focused on rural activities; they are there to encourage and support rural land uses (such as pastural farming, horticulture, vineyards, forestry etc).

Rural zones are not quasi business or industrial zones; you need to carefully consider this before attempting to establish a business in a rural zone. If you are trying to establish a business which has no need to be in a rural zone and has no links to rural land uses, you are not likely to have resource consent approved. This shows the importance of undertaking thorough investigations at the start and having an in-depth knowledge of what the district plan is trying to achieve in your area.

What else should I look at?

Don’t forget about the practical issues too:

  • How will you manage the extra water needed or the wastewater generated?

  • Where will people park? Do you need a loading space?

  • Has a previous use of the land contaminated it? This is more common than you think!

  • Is your business noisy? Do you meet the noise rules?

Your answers to these questions can all trigger the need for resource consent also. It’s also likely that Council Development Contributions will be required. You can get an estimate of these from your local Council in advance.

Other issues include:

  • Do you need a building consent for changes to buildings? Is any part required to be fore rated?

  • Do you need to provide disabled access?

  • Do you need consent under other legislation?

A specific business in mind?

We can’t stress enough the importance of upfront investigations. In the case of business in rural areas this is especially important, as only certain types of activities can establish in these zones. Don’t waste your money if you’re not likely to be successful.

If you have a specific business in mind, give our friendly team a call to discuss 094279966 or email us . Look forward to hearing from you!

Hannah Thomson is Director of Planning Plus and has over 17 years of resource management experience working in both local government and the private sector. Hannah has a wide range of experience including commercial, rural, residential and coastal development and subdivision on small to large scales and appearances at both Council and Environment Court as an expert witness for mediation and hearings. Hannah has assisted Councils with policy development and has also assisted private individuals with submissions to Council.

Disclaimer As with all our blogs, the information detailed here is general in nature and meant as a preliminary guide only. This should not be substituted for your own investigations or use of your own professional’s.

© Planning Plus Ltd 2023

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