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Highly Productive Land- how does it affect rural development?

Development in rural zones requires careful planning and assessment of many issues that aren’t present in urban locations. One example is soil quality and protecting the highest quality soils. In Auckland, this is an issue identified in both the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP(OP)) and in national direction set out in the National Policy Statement on Highly Productive Land. In this blog, we provide an overview of this National Policy Statement and how it may affect your rural subdivision.


This is the second blog in our new series about rural subdivisions in Auckland. You can find the others here- we’ll be loading a new blog each week so keep an eye out for more.


What are National Policy Statements (NPS)?


Taking a step back, what is a National Policy Statement (NPS)? A National Policy Statement is a document written under the Resource Management Act that contains objectives and policies for addressing environmental matters of national significance. The oldest and best known NPS is the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement. There are now a number of other National Policy Statements relating to freshwater management, urban development, indigenous biodiversity and energy. An NPS must be recognised by Council’s in their regional and district plans and in their decision making (including for a resource consent), meaning that local outcomes must align with these national requirements.


What is the National Policy Statement on Highly Productive Land?


The National Policy Statement on Highly Productive Land (NPS-HPL) came into force on 17 October 2022 and had immediate legal effect on the use, development and subdivision of highly productive land in New Zealand.


Why was it needed?

Historically, subdivision, use and development for urban or rural residential or lifestyle development have resulted in the loss of approximately 35,000 hectares of highly productive land over the last 20 years. The greatest loss of highly productive land has been in the areas around Auckland and Christchurch[1].


What’s its purpose?

The main purpose of the NPS-HPL is to improve the way highly productive land is managed, providing protection to highly productive land for use in land-based primary production. It also seeks to direct new housing development including urban and rural residential development and other land use activities that do not require high-quality soils, away from the highly productive land.


What is highly productive soil?


“Highly productive land” is the most fertile, versatile and productive land that has the fewest limitations. This makes it best suited to food and fibre production. Approximately 15% of New Zealand’s land is classified as highly productive land.


The NPS-HPL requires Councils to identify and map highly productive land in the region by late 2025. Until then, the transitional definition of highly productive land in the NPS-HPL will apply. Land zoned General Rural or Rural Production which contains prime and elite soils (being Land Use Classification Classes (LUC) 1, 2 and 3 in the Land Use Classification system) is classed as highly productive land, but there are a small number of exclusions.


In Auckland, this transitional definition generally relates to land zoned Rural Production, Mixed Rural or Rural Costal in the AUP(OP) that is also LUC Classes 1 – 3. In the NPS-HPL, highly productive land is protected. There are also provisions for other classes to be protected in specific circumstances.


What will change in the Auckland Unitary Plan (Operative in Part)?


Under the current Auckland Unitary Plan[i], prime and elite soils are also protected. Elite and prime soils, being Classes 1, 2 and 3 in the LUC system, are protected through the objectives, policies and rules of the Auckland Unitary Plan. However, the NPS-HPL introduces a more stringent approach to better protect the elite and prime soils from inappropriate use and development. Resource consent applications are assessed under both the Auckland Unitary Plan and National Policy Statement requirements.


The NPS-HPL required the Council to apply the NPS-HPL from 2022 and notify changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan Regional Policy Statement. Auckland Council is required to implement the new national level direction by updating the objectives, policies and rules in the current AUP(OP) within two years of the land information map becoming operative (so by 2027 at the latest).


The NPS-HPL contains directive language in the document and has a strong direction to decision makers. It includes provision for highly productive land that restricts urban rezoning, avoids both subdivision and rezoning for rural lifestyle living, protects highly productive land from inappropriate use and development and prioritises its use for primary production. There are, however, some exceptions that you should discuss with your planner.


With the introduction of the NPS-HPL, Council will have greater powers and responsibility to limit development on highly productive land. This means the AUP(OP) provisions will in the future become more stringent in terms of controlling the use and development on highly productive land, and also that any resource consent decisions made must consider the NPS- HPL.


How do I find out if there’s highly productive soil on my property?


Auckland Council is expected to release their own mapping by 2025. In the interim, soil mapping information is available on the New Zealand Land Resource Inventory (NSLRI) website, see here. The transitional definition of highly productive land is also spatially shown in the Auckland Unitary Plan maps, see here (under the “Land Capability Use” layer). Before planning a development on a rural property, you should discuss the soil quality with your planner.


Development on highly productive land?


Development on highly productive land is now more restricted. With the more stringent regime introduced by the NPS-HPL, it will be more difficult to use and develop highly productive land through resource consent applications and private plan change requests, when the activity isn’t primary production related. This includes the rezoning of highly productive land for urban and rural lifestyle development, the establishment of land use activities not based on soil resource of the land and general subdivision. If you are thinking of developing, try to avoid subdivision, use and development on highly productive land where possible. You should discuss this with your planner.


New Consultation on NPS-HPL


Since the introduction of the NPS-HPL, concerns have been raised about its restrictions on the use and development of highly productive land for activities that don’t rely on soil such as:

  • New specified infrastructure on highly productive land, including solar farms and infrastructure, for example, to support the recovery after Cyclone Gabrielle.

  • Intensive indoor primary production and greenhouses on highly productive land.


The Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries are seeking feedback from interested parties on these issues, with some changes to the NPS- HPL likely in the near future.


Want to know more?


It is important that you discuss your proposal and the implications of NPS-HPL with your planner. Also remember that developing in rural areas is not straightforward and should involve consultants with experience working in rural areas- issues and opportunities in rural areas are quite different to urban.


The Planning Plus team have over 20 years of experience working in rural environments, including land use and subdivision. We manage rural subdivision applications for clients as well as processing subdivision applications on behalf of Auckland Council, giving us a good understanding of the process and issues from all sides.


If you have a development in mind and want to know how the NPS-HPL may impact that, you can contact us on hello@planningplus.co.nz or (09) 427 9966.



Claire is a Senior Planner at Planning Plus and has 7 years of experience in resource consenting. Claire has been involved in various projects which include the preparation and assessment of resource consents for residential developments and subdivision consents.

Claire holds the qualification of Bachelor of Urban Planning (Honours) and is an Intermediate Member of the New Zealand Planning Institute.

In addition to her planning expertise, Claire is also fluent in English, Mandarin and Cantonese.


Disclaimer

Please remember that the advice in this blog is general in nature and based on information and advice available at the time of writing. We recommend you get your own planning advice. As with all our blogs this information is preliminary in nature only and we have used our best endeavours to ensure it is correct at the time of writing. It is not intended to substitute for your own investigations or obtaining specific advice from professionals. Planning Plus LtdTM is not liable in any way for any errors or omissions.


© Planning Plus Ltd 2023


[i] 2023

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