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Special Character Areas & Front facades – what to watch out for and avoid

Do you own a property in a special character or heritage area? Thinking about a new development, or additions and alterations to an existing dwelling but not sure where to start? Then this blog series is for you! This is the third blog in our new series, all about developing in special character or heritage areas. You can find the others here and here. These blogs are full of useful tips and information to help you on your development journey.

The first blog covered what the Special Character Areas Overlay is in the Auckland Unitary Plan, its purpose and potential resource consent triggers. The second blog was all about the significance of chimneys in the Special Character Areas Overlay. This week we’ll be talking about the front façade and what to consider when thinking of a project in the Special Character Areas Overlay.

Special Character Areas seek to retain and manage the special character values of specific areas of Auckland and this is often assessed through a resource consent application process. Each individual Special Character Area has a special character area statement within the Auckland Unitary Plan which describes what values and characteristics that area holds and why they are important and relevant to the community and region. This includes how and where the existing early dwellings are situated on the site, how they interact and are viewed from the street, and the streetscape created.

The front façade (the principal front of the dwelling, that faces the street or open space) plays a vital role in contributing to the special character values. Maintaining the streetscape qualities , values and cohesiveness is key to the special character areas and their overall value.

I’m sure many of you who own a dwelling in one of these special character areas can appreciate the style, characteristics and aesthetics the early villas and bungalows and other early dwellings all bring to the area. There is just something about the way the dwellings have been sited on the site to be close to the front yard and have a sense of presence as they relate to the street. The front façade of these early dwellings have been designed in a way that further add value to the special character whether it’s the proportions of windows and doors, bay windows of the villa, front porches and verandahs, location of stairs, or the finer more intricate detailing such as fretwork, moulded architraves and other decorative pieces. These all combine to tell a story of these areas and create this special character. In many cases the special characteristics and values of these areas are not just made up of one aspect of these features but the combination and styling of the varying range of early dwellings that contribute so strongly to the streetscape and overall cohesiveness of these areas.

However, not all existing dwellings in the Special Character Areas are in good condition, some are in dire need of maintenance, or just really don’t suit modern day living. The Unitary Plan provisions recognise this can occur and encourage the recovery and restoration of special character values of buildings and features. A lot of the finer details of these traditional dwellings are located on the front façade, with the other facades often appearing plainer in detailing or having later additions or alterations. The front façades often contribute the most to the buildings overall values and character of the areas.

The Unitary Plan provisions seek to minimise the loss of built fabric that contributes to the streetscape and cohesiveness of the areas. Generally, the Auckland Unitary Plan seeks that the front façade be retained and/ or restored rather than altered to a significant degree. This is due to the visual qualities it usually brings to the streetscape and the interaction between buildings on different sites and the street. On some sites the degree of alteration and/ or additions could be greater, for example where a site is set back from the street, or the building is more modern. This would be assessed through a resource consent application and should be discussed with your planner.

Along with the protection of the front façade the special character areas also seek to retain low traditional style fences and landscaped front yard which further enables this streetscape character to continue to provide value to the area. This doesn’t mean the front façade cannot be altered, however the key to any special character project is the sympathetic design of the proposal. That’s why we recommend working with a heritage architect and us as Planners to ensure the outcome is one that balances your goals for the project with the outcomes sought in the Special Character Areas rules in the Auckland Unitary Plan. There is usually a solution that meets both, but you do need to make sure you get the right advice on this from the start to avoid costly redesigns and delays.

In Auckland, most work within the special character area overlay requires resource consent, except for some minor alterations to the rear of a building, so it’s important to work with an experienced team.

In order to be successful obtaining resource consent for a project in the special character area, we need to ensure that we minimise potential negative effects on the streetscape and special character context. This can be achieved by having regard to the architectural form and style of the dwelling, the authenticity of its component parts and how these contribute to the overall streetscape character.

Maybe your dwelling is part of a group of consistent villas that line the street with a consistent front yard setback, protruding bay window and a verandah- the overall context is not just how the individual dwelling interacts with the street but how these dwellings and their detailed frontages interact with each other and are seen as a group and create cohesiveness. Maybe the front façade contains traditional detailing that needs to be repaired and this can be balanced with additions and alterations to the rear of the dwelling. Getting the balance right between maintaining the specific values of your special character area, and what you want to achieve on your site is something your planner will help you with. Choosing a planner with experience in these areas is essential for a successful project.

Need help with your development?

If you’re thinking about undertaking a project in a Special Character Area, give our specialist team a call. With experience in special character and heritage development we will help make sure your project is on the right track from the start.

We have extensive industry contacts and can put you in touch with architects and other specialists that will help in making your project a reality. Give us a call to discuss your ideas. You can contact us on or (09) 427 9966.

Charlotte is a Senior Planner at Planning Plus® and has over 10 years’ experience in resource management, working in both local government and the private sector. This includes time spent at Auckland Council as a Senior Planner where she processed a wide variety of resource consent applications. Charlotte has extensive experience in the resource management field including residential, rural, commercial, heritage and coastal development as well as subdivisions ranging from small to large scale.

Charlotte holds a Bachelor of Planning with Honours from the University of Auckland and is an Intermediate Member of the New Zealand Planning Institute.


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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