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Natural Hazards- How’re they affecting development now?

Updated: Feb 20

It’s been such an unsettling start to 2023, with the recent floods, slips and Cyclone Gabrielle hitting Auckland and around the country. Many homes, businesses and infrastructure have been damaged or wiped out by these events, and conversations about the impacts of natural hazards have been increasing. Why were houses allowed to be built in certain areas, why were streets and infrastructure located where they are? There will undoubtedly be more questions about existing development in the coming weeks, but how do natural hazards and the events of 2023 affect new projects? In this week’s blog will discuss the implications of the recent flooding on resource consent applications and potential impacts on proposed Plan Change 78.

How do I know if a site is affected by a natural hazard?

Due to its geography and location, New Zealand is prone to a range of natural hazards, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, erosion, landslides, and extreme weather events as we’ve seen in the last few weeks. Flooding is the most common natural hazard in New Zealand and earthquakes and tsunamis are potentially the most damaging and disruptive.

Auckland Council identifies some natural hazard zones on its Geomaps, which you can access here. Geomaps indicates floodplains, overland flow paths, coastal erosion areas and some land that is subject to instability. In most cases though this is based on high level modelling or investigation, so should not replace investigations of your own specific site. This could include a flood assessment or geotechnical investigation- these are very common assessments needed as part of a resource consent application. The outcome of these investigations informs your plan of development, including the level of risk, where buildings, access and services can be located and how it should be constructed and managed. Careful consideration and assessments will be required when developing land that’s affected by natural hazards.

What does it mean for the assessment of resource consent applications?

Auckland Council assesses natural hazard risks on a case-by-case basis as part of resource consent applications, and also identifies specific development thresholds and natural hazards of concern in the Unitary Plan rules and standards. The greater the potential risk, the more assessment is required.

At the moment, Auckland Council is taking a more cautious approach in terms of assessing natural hazards, noting also that the risk may have changed as a result of the 2023 events. This could include for example changes to stability due to nearby slips or ground saturation, increased flooding levels and frequency above what was previously expected or changes to flooding extents due to physical changes in the local environment. Specialist assessments should address potential changes at the site as a result of these events.

In terms of resource consent applications that are already lodged, your specialists’ assessments are unlikely to address the 2023 events and some updated assessment may be needed. You may need to ask your consulting engineers to check how the site and surrounding environment have been impacted by flood events and/ or potential land instability. Where the site has been affected, more detailed engineering assessment will likely be required to address the potential risk (or confirmation that previous assessments can still be relied on).

If you are investigating development or compiling a resource consent application, specialists’ reports should address the 2023 events and any new/ changed risks at the site. Depending on the results of the investigation, a design review or amendments may be needed.

What does it mean for Plan Change 78 ?

Proposed Plan Change 78 (PC78) was notified by Auckland Council in August 2022, and provides for greater intensification to occur in urban areas. You can find a summary of PC78 provisions here. Our blog from last week talks about where Proposed Plan Change 78 is up to (find out more here). To summarize, PC78 is part way through its legal process and is expected to become operative after April 2024. You may have heard about discussions on whether central government and Auckland Council should rethink PC78 in light of the recent flooding and land instability issues. This largely relates to the view that increasing intensity of development will impact on infrastructure which is already over capacity (or not able to service the development that PC78 will enable) and that increasing impervious areas will increase flooding risks in areas that are more vulnerable to flooding.

The Council has started the preliminary parts of an investigation into the implications of these events on infrastructure and planning issues, including directives from the Government and National for greater intensification (including PC78). Recent news articles have referred to the Council requesting a meeting with ministers to discuss the Government’s role in the planning response, including legislative and funding implications. By 2 March, Auckland Council planning staff will prepare a scope of the work, which Mayor Wayne Brown said will be a “nasty, big piece of work” (source here).

As part of PC78, Qualifying Matters have been introduced to identify sites with special characteristics or features, including sites that are affected by natural hazards and infrastructure constraints (transportation, water, wastewater and stormwater). You can find out more about Qualifying Matters here. Proposed Plan Change 78 does not have immediate legal effect on sites where a Qualifying Matters is present, and these Qualifying Matters will be used to manage future development on sites affected by natural hazards, including those we have seen in 2023.

It’s likely that these recent events will have an impact on PC78, at least requiring a greater level of investigation and assessment in those areas where natural hazards are present and potentially requiring a lower density of development than people may have expected.

Natural hazards affecting your development site?

The team at Planning Plus has extensive consenting experience, including over 20 years of processing resource consents for Councils and in areas affected by various and multiple natural hazards. We have an extensive network of specialists who can advise on all parts of your development, making sure we can find the right fit for you, your site and your project.

We know the process inside out. Resource consents are what we do; let us take the stress out of the process for you. Contact us on or 427 9966. We look forward to hearing from you!

Claire is an Intermediate Planner at Planning Plus and has 6 years of experience in resource consenting. Claire has been involved various projects which include the preparation and assessment of resource consents for residential developments and subdivisions 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: The above is a general discussion on indicative resource consenting costs in May 2022. The figures quoted are indicative only and are not GST inclusive. Fees are subject to change at any time. This indication of costs should not take the place of an official quote, your own investigations or without first obtaining specific specialist advice on the cost components involved in a specific project related to a particular site. Planning Plus takes no responsibility for the accuracy of the above figures.

As with all our blogs this information is preliminary in nature only and we have endeavoured to ensure it is correct at the time of writing. It is not intended to substitute for your own investigations or obtaining specific advice on your proposal from professionals. Planning Plus LtdTM is not liable in any way for any errors or omissions.

© Planning Plus Ltd 2024

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