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It's not a building... is it??

Updated: Feb 20

Sometimes things are not always what they seem- and a “building” in planning terms is one of these. A “building” means something to most people, but in the context of a district plan it has a lot of different implications. As we always say, do your homework upfront to save headaches later!

Different Plans

Each district in New Zealand has its own district plan and each District Plan sets out what’s important in that area, and what the plan seeks to achieve. There are often common themes and requirements, but the plans are all standalone documents. You need to be clear about what District Plan applies to the area you’re working in, and that you’re getting access to the current version. You can usually access the District Plan via the Councils website.


Each District Plan will contain a section on definitions. The definitions are specific to that District Plan, and the objectives, policies and rules. It’s important that you check the definitions, and make sure you have the correct basis for your review of the rules. For example, District Plans contain yard setback rules but what is a front yard and what is a rear yard? “Building” is a very important definition, because so many of the plan rules are related to buildings. It’s also usually a wide-ranging definition, meaning that a lot of things could be classed as buildings. This means that flow on rules apply, and these can impact on your development and consenting requirements.

You need to be clear on these base definitions before you can apply the Plan provisions accurately.

In Auckland, the Auckland Unitary Plan defines a “building” as:

Any permanent or temporary structure. On land for the purposes of district plan provisions, “building” includes the following types of structures listed in Table J1.4.1, only where they meet the qualifying dimensions or standards:

Table J1.4.1: Buildings

  • Decks, steps or terraces- Over 1.5m in height

  • Fences or walls- Over 2.5m in height

  • Flagpoles, masts or lighting poles- Over 7m higher than its point of attachment or base support or Has a width at any point exceeding 1.2m

  • Grandstands, stadia or other structures that provide seating or standing accommodation (whether or not open or covered or enclosed)- Over 1m in height

  • Retaining walls or breastwork- Over 1.5m in height or Located within 1.5m of the boundary of a road or public place

  • Satellite dishes- Over 1m diameter

  • Stacks or heaps of materials- Over 2m in height and In existence for more than one month

  • Free-standing signs- Over 1.5m in height

  • Swimming pools, spa pools, swirl pools, plunge pools or hot tubs- Over 1m in height from ground level, inclusive of the height of any supporting structure or More than 25,000l capacity

  • Tanks including retention tanks - Over 1m in height from ground level, inclusive of the height of any supporting structure or More than 25,000l capacity, where any part of the tank is more than 1m above ground level

  • Verandahs and bridges over any public open space- Above ground level

  • In an Open Space Zone: Bicycle stand/parking structures Board walks Boxing or edging Drinking and water fountains Gates, bollards and chains Rubbish and recycling bins Seating and tables Stairs- Over 1.5m in height from ground level, inclusive of the height of any supporting structure.

and excludes the following types of structures:

  • any scaffolding or falsework erected temporarily for construction or maintenance purposes;

  • roads, road network structures, manoeuvring areas, parking areas (other than parking buildings) and other paved surfaces;

  • any film set, stage or similar structures less than 5m in height that exist for less than 30 consecutive days; and

  • aerials and water overflow pipes. In the coastal marine area for the purposes of the regional coastal plan, “building” includes any covered or partially covered permanent or temporary structure, whether or not it is enclosed.

As you can see, this definition is wide reaching, and includes things which you ordinarily might not think of as a building, such as retaining walls, fences, flagpoles, satellite dishes and pools. It would be easy to overlook these strictures if you hadn’t checked the definition first. Knowing what meets the “building” definition is critical to knowing what rules and Standards apply.

Rules and Standards

Once you know that your project is a “building”, you can start reviewing the plan rules and Standards, to confirm what restrictions apply. This could include:

  • - The type of building and what it’s used for

  • The location of the building on the site, including in relation to

    • Yard setbacks

    • Height in relation to boundary controls

    • Overlay areas

    • Floodplains and overland flowpaths.

  • The building size

  • How much of the site the building can cover

  • The maximum height of the building.

You can then either alter your design to comply with these rules and Standards or apply for resource consent.

You can see that establishing the rules and Standards that apply is a stepped process:

1. Identify the relevant District Plan,

2. Review the District Plan definitions,

3. Check the Rules and Standards

4. Amend project or apply for resource consent.

Does your building need resource consent?

We know district plans and resource consents can be confusing. If you’d rather hand over your development to the resource consent specialists, give our team a call. We know the process inside out and will take the stress out of the process for you. You can contact us on


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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