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Rural subdivision- where do I start?

Updated: Feb 14

You may have seen our blogs on subdivision in the urban areas, but subdivision in rural areas is quite different. In principle, the resource consent application process is the same, but the potential issues and what you need to assess are very different. In this blog we spend some time going over the preliminary issues that you need to consider.

Planning provisions

The ability to subdivide, in planning terms, is, much different in rural zones. Apart from specific lifestyle type zones, subdivision in rural zones isn’t generally based on how much land you have but a range of other factors and site features. Its important to keep in mind that most district plans are focused on retaining large parcels of land for primary production; the main aim of the zones is not to enable subdivision and a lot of district plans actively discourage it. This means that you need to investigate thoroughly the planning provisions up front and be confident that what you propose is in line with the district plan rules and other provisions.

Natural features

Often natural features on your site, such as areas of native bush or wetlands, require protection as part of rural subdivisions. Areas may also require planting, such as riparian margins or connections between existing natural features. This can be a significant cost to development, and would include fencing, weed and pest control. There can also be ongoing requirements (controlled by “consent notices” on the certificates of title for the new sites) relating to the protection of these areas.

You should also consider these areas when planning your development. Not only can they place constraints on your development (for example watercourses are often surrounded by floodplains and are fed by overland flow paths, both of which you want to keep development away from), but from an ecological point of view its good to keep development away from them. Human activity, introduction of pests and weeds and inadvertent water pollution from runoff can all have significant impacts on these natural areas. Try to locate your development away from these areas.

If your site contains or boarders a watercourse or the coast you may also be required to vest an esplanade reserve. This is a 20m strip along the edges of the watercourse or the coast. The Council can also require you to “top up” an existing reserve.

Building areas

There are a lot of things to think about when choosing a building platform, including:

  • Is the platform geotechnically stable? This will require assessment by a geotechnical engineer,

  • Is the platform affected by any other natural hazards such as flooding? You need to be clear of these hazard areas.

  • Will the platform meet Standards of the district plan, such as yard setbacks?

  • Is the soil suitable for wastewater disposal or managing stormwater?

  • Can the platform be developed without substantial earthworks? Apart from changing the landform, earthworks are expensive and can make the site less attractive for potential buyers.

  • Is the platform located away from ridgelines, important landscapes and natural features? How close are houses on neighbouring sites? These are all things Council planners will assess with your resource consent application; choose a good location from the start to avoid issues later on.

  • What are your neighbours using their land for? Reverse sensitivity is a planning term relating to sensitivities to other legally established activities on another site. In rural environments this is often lifestylers being sensitive to rural production activities, such as harvesting, calving, morning milking etc. Think about these potential issues when choosing a building area,

  • How far is it from service connections such as power and phone?


All new sites have to have legal access from a formed road. You also need to be sure that the access is suitable and not affected by natural hazards, such as flooding. This sounds easy in principle, but on rural sites it can be more complicated as roads can be a long way from good building sites and could require stream crossings or similar. Part of the access may be subject to extensive flooding. This all adds cost and complexity to a project. Think carefully about access to the new sites.

Water, Wastewater and Stormwater

Very few rural sites have access to reticulated water services. This means that wastewater, stormwater and supply of potable water all have to be managed on site. You also need to show how you can achieve hydrological neutrality; often this is via the use of tanks or additional planting to offset the new impermeable areas. You also need to consider how you will provide water supply for fire fighting purposes.

With wastewater, the soil type and features of the land affect the disposal and treatment areas. While the detailed design of systems is completed at building consent stage, you need to ensure that the new site can fundamentally service a new dwelling. Soil type and characteristics such as floodplains can affect this. Input from an Engineer at an early stage is required and is often undertaken by your geotechnical engineer as part of their site investigations.

Power and telephone

Power and phone are also essential services. Make sure there are connections available in your area, and what the costs of connection are. Connection fees can be significant, so this isn’t something to leave until the last minute. If you want your development to be serviced by wireless telecommunications rather than wired, make sure there is service to your proposed building platform. After years of visiting rural properties we can attest to this definitely not always being the case!


If you’re interested in the costs of some of these reports and investigations, take a look at this blog by Anne. Keep in mind also that undertaking detailed investigations upfront and using appropriate specialists will reduce the time it takes for Council to process your application and the associated costs. Review our blog about Council costs here.

Want to know more?

We publish a weekly blog, so you can find a lot of free information on our website, We also have

developed an e-guide which you can download for free just subscribing to our website. And of course, our friendly team is always available to talk about your specific proposal. We have extensive experience in rural development, with Hannah and Anne in particular having worked in these environments for over 15 years. We also know Council consenting processes inside out, and will give you realistic advice and take the stress out of the process for you.

You can contact us via 09 427 9966 or We look forward to meeting you!

Hannah Thomson is Director of Planning Plus and has over 17 years of resource management experience working in both local government and the private sector. Hannah has a wide range of experience including commercial, rural, residential and coastal development and subdivision on small to large scales and appearances at both Council and Environment Court as an expert witness for mediation and hearings. Hannah has assisted Councils with policy development and has also assisted private individuals with submissions to Council.

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 Ltd 2023

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