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How do natural features affect your development?

Natural features on a site or nearby can increase the attractiveness of your development and be a real draw card for future owners. They do however create constraints that you need to carefully consider in site development. We take a look at some of these and how they can affect your development in this blog.

Water features

A water feature can include a river, lake or stream. These can impact on rural and urban development and need to be taken into account in site design. Issues to consider include:

  • How wide is the watercourse? If this is over 3m wide an esplanade reserve is likely to be required. This is a 20m wide strip (unless you apply for a reduced width) that is vested in the Council at the time of subdivision. This can impact on lot layout, size and access.

  • Do you need to get access over the watercourse? Will this be via a bridge or culvert? There are specific standards and sizes theses need to meet, otherwise resource consent will be needed.

  • Earthworks- How close are they to the watercourse? Generally, earthworks close to a watercourse are restricted in area and volume, otherwise a resource consent is triggered.

  • Do you need to remove vegetation close to the watercourse? This often triggers the need for resource consent.

  • Yard setbacks also often apply to watercourses. Will your development comply with these?

If a water feature is present on your site, you’re best to speak to a planner early in the design process to make sure its properly provided for, and to avoid unwelcome surprises further down the process.


Wetlands are a very important ecosystem, providing several environmental benefits including improving water quality, helping control flood waters and providing wildlife habitat. These are however a declining habitat- estimates are that we have lost 90% of New Zealand’s wetlands. Because of these losses, protection of wetlands has been increasing, in particular in the 2020 National Environmental Standards for Freshwater Management.

Having a wetland on your site, or even those nearby, can impact on your development. You can no longer fill in (reclaim) wetlands, and earthworks near wetlands are restricted. Discharges within 100m of wetlands, including from normally complying rural wastewater systems, stormwater and from construction earthworks for example, will usually trigger the need for resource consent. If you infringe these rules, you need to consider the impacts of the discharge on the wetland. This will likely require assessment from a freshwater ecologist.

You also need to carefully consider the definition of what a wetland is- its far more wide reaching than you might think, and this can create significant issues for development later on.

Native bush

Many rural sites and some urban sites contain native bush, of varying sizes. What impact does this have on your development?

The bush may be protected by planning documents, such as the Auckland Unitary Plan. The AUP(OP) identifies areas of high value (Significant Ecological Areas, often referred to as “SEA”). Vegetation removal, other damage and earthworks are restricted in these areas. Other native bush areas are also protected depending on size and location, including in urban environments. Remember that Auckland Unitary Plan rules don’t only relate to tree removal- consider also works to root areas such as from installing services or creating access.

You also have responsibilities under the Wildlife Act that you need to take into account- this is in addition to any requirements under the Resource Management Act. The Wildlife Act deals with the protection and control of wild animals and birds and the management of game. Most native bird, bat, reptile and frog species are absolutely protected, and many common introduced bird and animal species are not protected. If these species are present on your site, you should discuss the implications with an ecologist. Works required could include relocation of lizards, earthworks or tree removal outside of bird breeding seasons.

Other protected vegetation

Other vegetation can also be protected, for example street trees or scheduled trees. Works to street trees will require landowner approval- this can be difficult to obtain, and we recommend you try to avoid works to street trees if a realistic alternative is available. You can find out more about tree protection in this blog.

Is your site affected?

If your site contains a natural feature, discuss it early with your planner. Your planner can guide you on what other professional assessment is needed and allow you to make informed choices from the start. If you have a development in mind, give our resource consent specialists a call or e-mail. You can contact us on


As with all our blogs this information is preliminary in nature only and correct at the time of writing. It is not intended to substitute for your own investigations or obtaining specific advice on your proposal from a professional.

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