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Rural subdivision protecting wetlands- what's involved?

Do you have a rural site that contains a watercourse, bush or wetland? Often, these are seen by people as site constraints that restrict how you can use the land. However, in some cases, these may actually enable you to subdivide your rural site.

This is the third blog in our series on rural subdivision in Auckland. Our first blog in the series covered rural subdivision based on protection of bush. Have a read of it here. The second blog in our series discussed highly productive land and its impact on rural development, you can take a look at it here. In this blog we talk about wetlands specifically and how these could be the basis of your rural subdivision.

What is a wetland?

A wetland is not just wet land, but a specific ecosystem type. A wetland is defined under the Resource Management Act (RMA) as “permanently or intermittently wet areas, shallow water, and land water margins that support a natural ecosystem of plants and animals that are adapted to wet conditions”.

It is a broad definition and can include may areas that you may not at first think are wetlands.

How can I subdivide my site based on protecting a wetland?

All rural subdivision in Auckland is subject to a resource consent application. Subdivision in rural zones in Auckland is limited and restricted to specific circumstances typically where high value natural features can be protected or enhanced, including wetlands. This is very different to urban zones, where subdivision is usually based on a specific site size or a specific land use, and development (up to a certain density) is encouraged.

Rural subdivision using this wetland protection “pathway” relates to protecting areas of significant wetland, and wetlands of a minimum size. The wetland must be of a high quality.

Source: Forest & Bird

What does “high quality” mean?

You will need to confirm if your wetland is identified in the Significant Ecological Areas (SEA) Overlay in the Auckland Unitary Plan or meets one or more of the SEA factors identified in Policy B7.2.2(1) of the Auckland Unitary Plan. This will confirm if the quality of your wetland is high enough to be used as the basis of your rural subdivision.

The SEA factors include:

(a) Representativeness;

(b) Stepping stones, migration pathways and buffers;

(c) Threat status and rarity;

(d) Uniqueness or distinctiveness; and

(e) Diversity.

An ecologist will assess the wetland to determine if it meets one or more of the Unitary Plan criteria. This wetland area also must not be already legally protected, such as under a consent notice or covenant on your Record of Title.

How much wetland do I need to protect?

The area of significant wetland you must protect varies depending on how many new sites you intend to create and whether you are wanting to create the new sites in-situ (on your property) or use it as part of a Transferable Rural Site Subdivision (TRSS), where the new “opportunity” is created on another site in the Countryside Living zone. You can find out more about the TRSS pathway here.

The bigger the area of significant wetland on your site, the more lots you can create.

Transferable Rural Site Subdivision (TRSS)

The Auckland Unitary Plan generally incentivises the TRSS subdivision option rather than in-situ subdivision. The Unitary Plan requires the protection of 0.5ha to 0.99ha of significant wetland to create one TRSS “opportunity”. This TRSS “opportunity” would then be transferred to a site in the Countryside Living Zone (called the receiver site)- you would sell this “opportunity” to someone else to use. Table E39. of the Auckland Unitary Plan outlines the area of wetland to be protected and the number of TRSS sites that can be created. You can find it here.

There is no maximum number of TRSS “opportunities” that you can create using this Auckland Unitary Plan rule, as long as you have sufficient significant wetland on your site. Your resource consent application (or applications) should identify both the donor site (where the wetland is) and the receiver site (where the “opportunity” is going to be used). There can be timing issues with this option, given the different sites and people involved, and you should discuss this with your planner.

The TRSS subdivision pathway is often a more complicated option and involves two rural sites (the donor and receiver sites). It is however often an option which provides more opportunities and yields. You should use a planner who has good rural experience, in particular experience with TRSS subdivision consent applications.

In-situ subdivision

If you want to undertake in-situ subdivision, protecting 0.5ha to 1.99ha of significant wetland would enable you to create one new lot (in-situ site). The Auckland Unitary Plan requires the new lots to be sized between 1ha and 2ha.

There is a maximum of three in-situ sites allowed to be created via the protection of wetland under the Unitary Plan. However, there is no maximum number of sites that can be created through the TRSS option, which is another important difference between the two subdivision options.

What are the consent conditions that will be imposed?

When resource consents are granted, there will be conditions of consent that will be imposed by the Council. With subdivision consents, there will be conditions relating to access, power, telecommunications and building platforms as well as protecting natural features. In particular, with wetland protection subdivision consents, some resource consent conditions could include:

  • Ecological conditions, including weed and pest control in the areas to be protected. This will be based on the weed and pest control plan, prepared by your ecologist and submitted with your resource consent application,

  • Stock proof fencing,

  • Surveying conditions, including surveying of the wetland area for protection,

  • Consent notice conditions relating to the ongoing legal protection of the wetland area, including maintenance of stock proof fence, limitations on what can occur in the protected area, monitoring and ongoing weed and pest control.

Source: Forest & Bird

Who needs to be involved?

Subdivision in the rural areas can seem like a big undertaking and it’s important to get a team of experienced specialists around you that can assist in making the process as smooth as possible. Having a planner as the lead of the process is important as they will help to identify potential resource consent application and development risks and opportunities, the specialists who are needed and manage those inputs and liaise with the Council on your behalf.

You may need assessments from:

· Planner;

· Surveyor;

· Geotechnical engineer;

· Civil engineer;

· Ecologist.

There may be additional assessments and input required depending on the characteristics and natural features that are present on your site. Your planner can identify and advise you on other specialists that may need to be engaged.

What else do I need to consider?

There may be additional matters you need to consider when undertaking a more detailed analysis of your site and subdivision. This includes:

  • Lot layout – is your lot layout efficient and logical? Does it take into account the natural features of your site?

  • Highly productive land - Does your site contain highly productive soils? For more information, take a look at our previous blog here.

  • Building platforms/Specified Building Areas – is there sufficient area within the lot that can be provided for future development of the site? Are these away from ridgelines or other visually prominent locations and can they meet the zone yard setbacks?

  • Access – are the proposed lots accessed via a vehicle crossing or right of way? Are any passing bays required? Are the right of ways located within any floodplains or watercourses?

  • Servicing – How will the lots be serviced? Typically, in rural areas, these are provided via on-site means.

  • Site features – are there any watercourses, floodplains, potential coastal flooding or inundation or other natural hazards on your site that needs to be taken into account? Is the watercourse over 3m wide, as it may require an esplanade reserve to be vested?

  • Land contamination – what were the past land uses of the site? Was the use of the site listed on the Ministry for the Environmental Hazardous Activities and Industries List?

These are all issues that are different in rural environments, and highlights the need to use a planner with rural experience. Your planner will help guide your development to take these and other issues into account. Your planner will also have industry contacts to ensure that you get the best team of specialists for your specific rural project. Having the right team is critical to ensure all potential risks, issue and opportunities are addressed from the start.

Want to find out more?

Development in rural locations is very different to urban areas. Apart from the Council requirements, practical issues like servicing, access, areas to build on and site constraints are very different and need input from professionals experienced in rural development.

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.

Contact us on or (09) 427 9966 to discuss your rural project.

Mary Zhou is a Planner at Planning Plus®. Mary has been part of the Planning Plus team since 2021 and has a real passion and drive for all things planning. Mary has experience with a variety of projects including rural and urban land use, subdivision and feasibility analysis.


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


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