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Heritage- how does it mix with development?

Updated: Feb 20

Heritage protection is a matter of national importance under the RMA. However, people also live in these buildings and want to refurbish them for today’s living arrangements.

So, it’s really important that people proposing partial demolition or designing additions and alterations to heritage buildings or even modern buildings in heritage areas, are aware of the value these buildings bring to our communities and what Council expects when changes are made.


The design of additions and alterations should take into account the existing form, proportion, joinery, materials and detailing of a dwelling. Rear additions should be subservient to the main dwelling and the total depth of the building from the street should be a consideration. Sometimes it is best not to copy heritage features exactly. We often recommend a pre-application meeting with Council, especially if you are intending to step outside of these parameters.

Chimneys are an important heritage feature. Keeping them is preferred, but if removed due to structural or other reasons, Council often promote replacement with a lightweight replica or brick slip chimney. Fences and walls are also important heritage features and should be less than 1.2m in height and reflect the historic character and streetscape e.g. white picket fences and stone masonry walls are typical design responses.

When looking to place new garages, these should be to the side or rear and not to the front of buildings where possible. This is because garages placed in front of dwellings can obscure important heritage features. Please seek advice from a planner prior to this kind of design. Remember that parking is not a requirement in Special Character Areas in Auckland, so you don’t have to create a parking space (although they are often desirable). If you are creating a new vehicle access because there isn’t one available, also remember that works within the root zone of street trees may trigger the need for resource consent (especially large, well established trees).

It is useful to state the paint colours and landscaping for the front yard if known, especially where there are changes in these areas.

Design Statements

Each special character area referred to in Chapter D18 of the Auckland Unitary Plan (e.g. Isthmus A, Balmoral Tram Suburb etc), other than Howick, is supported by a Special character Area Statement identifying the key special character values of the area. Assessment of proposals for development and modifications to buildings within special character areas (as part of a resource consent application) will be considered against the relevant policies and the special character area statements and the special character values that are identified in those statements. These values set out and identify the overall notable or distinctive aesthetic, physical and visual qualities of the area and community associations.

When we write Assessment of Effects (AEE) reports for resource consent applications, we need to assess how architectural features fit within Special Character requirements. Your planner may ask you about how your design choice came about when making alterations to the front façade or demolition. If there’s more than 30% demolition of an elevation (or close to it), make sure you show the percentage on the plans.

Special Character Areas and Historic Heritage Overlays

The way that the Auckland Unitary Plan is set up is that Zones, Overlays and Precincts may all be applicable to individual properties and this applies include Special Character Areas (SCAO) and Historic Heritage Overlays. The Environment Court has declared that both sets of rules – the Special Character Areas Overlay and the underlying zoning rules – should apply when considering resource consent applications. As a result, we currently need to show both zone and SCAR development standards on applications. Currently these rules do not sit well together, and we need to look at the total building envelope as a whole when undertaking our assessment for resource consents. The solution? Plan Change 26.

Plan Change 26

Plan Change 26 to the Unitary Plan is called “Clarifying the relationship between the Special Character Areas Overlay and the underlying zone provisions.” The proposed plan change seeks changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan to make it clear that certain planning provisions of the Special Character Areas Overlay would prevail over the corresponding provisions of the underlying residential zones. You can read it here. It’s currently at the hearings stage so isn’t operative yet. For the moment we need to use the current development standards in the Auckland Unitary Plan.

Development Standards

At the moment, there’s a unique way of determining yard setbacks in heritage areas which is the average of existing setbacks of dwellings on adjacent sites, being the three sites on either side of the subject site or six sites on one side of the subject site. Note that there’s also a difference between how impervious area is shown. The Special Character Areas Overlay is concerned with the amount of paved area only compared to the regular zones, which includes buildings and hard surfaces in the impervious area calculation. Remember at the moment that there are two sets of height in relation to boundary (HIRB) rules, one for the regular zone and one for the SCAO. Council like to see the height of infringement and length along the building shown on the resource consent plans.

Heritage Impact Assessments

Heritage impact assessments are required when a building is scheduled under D17 Historic Heritage (see “Special Information Requirements” at the end of the Chapter) or by Heritage New Zealand (HNZ) Pouhere Taonga (versus D18). You can check the HNZ list to see if a building is on it. You may need to engage a heritage specialist in addition to an architect. We can assist with this process and have heritage contacts whom we work with.

Engineering Matters

You may also be asked whether the existing stormwater disposal is lawful. Many properties divert stormwater to a combined sewer network in the older areas of Auckland and stormwater tanks may need to be installed so that there is no increase in the amount of stormwater sent to the combined sewer network; otherwise permission may be needed from Watercare Services. Where tanks are required, check the definition of the Unitary Plan to see if they are classified as a “building” and whether they are subject to yard, building coverage and impervious surface development standards.

Make sure you show earthworks in Area (m2) and volume (m3) and if appropriate, the maximum depth of any large cuts or retaining walls.


Typical conditions you can expect are to provision of archival photos/documentation for any parts of the building that may be demolished, to provide final design details at the building consent stage or to require a certain paint finish.

Need some help?

There are a lot of other things you need to look at when designing in the Special Character Areas Overlay or other heritage areas and we’re able to provide advice about what you need to consider in the design process. Give our friendly team a call. You can contact us on 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. © Planning Plus Ltd 2024

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