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How do I know if I need a resource consent?

Updated: Feb 20

Many people have never heard of resource consents, let alone know how to figure out if they need one for their development. How can you find out if I need a resource consent? Read on!

Planning “rules”

A resource consent is a formal approval for your project and can cover a wide range of activities such as the subdivision of land, new buildings (or changing the use of an existing building), the discharge of contaminants to water, soil or air or the use of the coastal environment.

In essence, planning rules work in a hierarchy moving from a permitted activity at the bottom of the hierarchy (where you don’t need a resource consent) through to a prohibited activity at the top of the hierarchy (where you can’t even apply for a consent). If your project falls in between these two extremes, you will need a resource consent. There are some rules in national level documents that can trigger the need for consent, but typically those are for more complex projects and your specialists can assist you.


Local Plans vary, as a result a permitted activity in one area may require consent in another. Your site will be zoned under your local Plan and this outlines the type of land use anticipated for the site, what you can and can’t do without resource consent. It’s important to keep in mind that the zonings for areas anticipate a certain environment; you may not get approval for an activity that isn’t proposed in the right zone.

General rules

There are also physical site-specific restraints that may trigger the need for resource consent, such as overland flowpaths, floodplains, site contamination, vegetation removal or land instability. If you are planning to build a house or another building, there may be rules relating to building height in relation to site boundaries, boundary setbacks, maximum building heights, building and landscape coverages and maximum impermeable areas that need to be met.

There are also other controls on things such as earthworks, parking numbers, driveway widths, noise levels and signs.

Where do I start?

As you can see, there are a number of rules that you need to check before you know if a resource consent is needed. The best starting point is to check the zoning of your site, and if it is affected by any overlays or designations. You can find this out by viewing the planning maps. Council’s typically have their planning maps on their websites, otherwise you can view them at public buildings such as libraries and the Council offices. An example is shown below.

Example of a zoning map from a district plan

Once you know the zoning and any overlays the next step is to find the relevant rules. Start with the rules for the zone and any overlays shown on the planning maps. Then you can look at district wide rules, such as earthworks, tree removal, parking etc. Regional rules are also relevant, for example for on- site wastewater discharge or damming water.

Many Councils also have a service where they give free preliminary (without prejudice) advice. This is generally advice about rules that apply to your site, rather than your likelihood of getting your resource consent approved. This is a very useful service for people in the initial stages of investigations.

Certificate of Compliance

What if you need confirmation from the Council that the activity is permitted? In these cases you can apply for a Certificate of Compliance which is a formal certificate that confirms the activity is permitted under the plan at that time. You still need to submit an application to the Council.

Need some advice?

Don’t forget that at Planning Plus we do this kind of work every day, and we enjoy it! We know how to find the relevant planning provisions that relate to your site and development, and can provide you with professional, honest and cost effective advice. Contact us if you would like further information; we love helping people move through the consent process with ease.

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 is not liable for any errors or omissions.

© Planning Plus Ltd 2024

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