Earthworks- more than just numbers

Most development requires some degree of earthworks- ranging from a minor scrape of the building site to a complete redesign of the landform. Most developers and architects know to check the areas and volumes permitted by district plans, but in most cases, you need to look at more than just the numbers. There are other parts of earthworks that can trigger the need for resource consent. We take a look at some of these other factors in this blog.

Retaining Walls

Retaining walls can trigger the need for resource consent, depending on their size and location, irrespective of the area and volume of earthworks. The primary issues of concern are typically potential stability effects, amenity impacts on neighbours and impacts on streetscape (when the wall is near the front boundary). This can include walls located near side and rear boundaries, along with walls on/ near front boundaries. Controls for walls near the front boundary are more restrictive in Auckland, to try and control potential impacts on streetscape and enable passive surveillance.

Natural features

Earthworks in or near natural features can often trigger the need for resource consent, and this could be both regional and district resource consent requirements. In Auckland for example there are controls on the area of earthworks you can undertake within a riparian yard, within 50m of a lake, river, stream or wetland (where the wetland is over 0.1ha in size) and within 100m of a foredune or the coastal marine area. Earthworks within bush areas is also often restricted.

Earthworks in a watercourse can also trigger a streamworks (resource) consent. Remember that earthworks within a natural wetland is now usually a prohibited activity under the NES for Freshwater (see our blog on this from last week) if it results, or is likely to result, in the complete or partial drainage of all or part of a natural wetland. This is a significant change in planning regulation and needs to be carefully taken into account in development design.


In some instances, urban trees are protected by district plans. This could include a specifically identified tree (typically called a “notable tree”), or a tree in the road reserve. Earthworks within the root zone of these trees can also trigger the need for resource consent.

Overland flowpaths and floodplains

Undertaking earthworks in a floodplain or overland flowpath can have impacts on other sites, up and downstream. To manage these potential effects, there will often be rules about the nature and scale of the works you can undertake, such as altering entry and exit points and capacity of overland flowpaths, and limiting works in a floodplain to ensure that changes in the floodplain’s capacity are minimal.

Archaeological features

Archaeological features can impact on the need for resource consent also, again irrespective of the area and volume of earthworks you’re undertaking. Archaeological features are also protected by non- RMA legislation, and you could require an Authority from Heritage New Zealand for the works.

Known archaeological features are usually shown in the District Plan, Council Archaeological lists and on the heritage New Zealand list. If you uncover new sites during your works, make sure you stop works and follow the protocol set out in the District Plan.

Areas for servicing

In some locations, especially rural areas, servicing occurs on the site. This means that parts of the site are essentially set aside for servicing. This could include a wastewater disposal field. Earthworks within these areas are restricted, largely because by doing earthworks you could undermine the function of the land and the servicing. Make sure you’re fully aware of any servicing areas on the site before undertaking development design.

Earthworks near power utilities

District plans will often include rules and Standards about undertaking earthworks near transmission poles. This includes how close to the poles you can undertake works, how deep and the area. In addition to what’s in the District Plan, there can also be further Standards put in place by the utility operator (such as Transpower); you need to comply with both sets of controls. If you’re unsure of the requirements, get in contact with the Council and the utility provider.

Where to from here?

As you can see, it’s important to understand how provisions of a plan work together, rather than simply looking at one rule alone. This is where your Planner can assist, and make sure that your development is designed to take all the relevant site and plan restrictions into account and make solid planning arguments where they can’t be.

As resource consent specialists, our aim is to make the process easier for you. We know it can be stressful and confusing, and we’re here to manage the process for you. If you have a development in mind, please give our friendly team a call. 09 427 9966 or


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.

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