Watercourses, bush and wetlands are often seen as a constraint to development, but in some instances, they can actually be the basis of enabling development of your rural site.
Is subdivision in rural zones allowed?
In Auckland, subdivision in rural zones is very limited and restricted to specific circumstances typically where high value natural features can be protected or enhanced. 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.
This blog is part of our rural subdivision series, where we are discussing various types of rural subdivision options in Auckland. You can find the past blogs here. In this blog we look into wetland protection, and how this can assist in subdivision potential in rural Auckland.
What is a wetland?
A wetland is not just wet land- it’s a specific ecosystem type. A wetland is defined in the Resource Management Act (RMA) as including 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.
What is subdivision based on wetland protection?
Rural subdivision using this “pathway” relates to protecting areas of significant wetland. The wetland must be of a high quality; either being identified in the Auckland Unitary Plan’s Significant Ecological Areas (SEA) Overlay or meeting one or more of the SEA factors identified in Policy B7.2.2(1) of the Unitary Plan. These factors are:
(b) stepping stones, migration pathways and buffers;
(c) threat status and rarity;
(d) uniqueness or distinctiveness; and
If using the factors in Policy B7.2.2(1) of the Unitary Plan, you will need to demonstrate in a report by a “a suitably qualified and experienced person“ (usually an ecologist) how the wetland meets one or more of the criteria. These factors are explained in more detail in Schedule 3 Significant Ecological Areas – Terrestrial Schedule of the Unitary Plan.
The wetland area must not already be legally protected- you should check your Record of Title and past resource consents to confirm this.
How much wetland do I need to protect?
The area of significant wetland that you need to protect depends on if you plan to create the new lifestyle site in- situ (i.e., on your site) or if you intend to use it as part of a Transferable Rural Site Subdivision (TRSS). You can find out more about the TRSS subdivision option in Countryside Living Zones here.
The Unitary Plan somewhat incentivises the TRSS option and requires 0.5ha- 0.99ha of wetland protection to create one TRSS. This TRSS “right” would then be transferred to a site in a Countryside Living zone. If you have a larger wetland, there is a scale in Table E188.8.131.52.1 of the Auckland Unitary Plan detailing how many additional TRSS you could create. For example, if you can protect between 1 and 1.999ha of qualifying wetland you can creates two TRSS. There is no maximum number of TRSS sites that you can create using this rule, as long as you have sufficient high quality indigenous wetland on your site.
If you wanted to create the new lots in situ, a wetland of between 0.5ha and 1.99ha could be used as the basis to create one new site (you will notice that if you have a larger wetland/s, you can create more TRSS than in- situ sites; this is because the Unitary Plan incentivises creating TRSS rather than the new sites being created in rural production areas). If you had a larger wetland on the site, you could create additional sites in- situ, as set out in Table E184.108.40.206.1 of the Auckland Unitary Plan. For example, if the wetland was 2ha- 3.999ha you could utilise this as the basis for creating two new sites in- situ. You can see that creating in the sites in- situ means you must protect a much larger wetland area than you do to create the same number of TRSS.
There is also a maximum of three sites allowed using the wetland protection pathway, where the sites are created in- situ. This is another important difference to the TRSS option, where there is no maximum. The new sites should be sized between 1ha and 2ha.
What consent conditions are likely in relation to the wetland areas?
The subdivision consent will contain a number of conditions such as those relating to access, power and telephone services and building platforms, but in relation to the wetland protection, at a minimum the resource consent would require:
Initial weed and pest control in the areas to be protected. Your resource consent application should include a weed and pest control plan, written by your ecologist. This will require an ecological survey of the bush area first, identification of the weed and pest species present, and confirmation of how to manage these on an ongoing basis,
Stock proof fencing of the area,
Surveying of the area, and its identification on the scheme plan,
The ongoing legal protection of the area, usually via a consent notice condition.
This would include maintenance of the stock proof fence, limitations on what can occur in the protected area, monitoring (at least three- yearly) and ongoing weed and pest control.
What else do I need to consider?
Once you’ve investigated the above, you can start getting into the more detailed analysis of your site and subdivision. You should consider:
Natural Hazards- Is the site affected by flooding, contain overland flowpaths or unstable land? The building site and access need to be suitable in terms of natural hazards. The placement of services, in particular wastewater areas, are also affected by natural hazards. If your site is affected by natural hazards you need to consider where the best place for the platform and associated access are to ensure you’re creating a site that’s suitable for development. This may require a flood report and/ or a geotechnical report.
Is the building site located in an area that won’t notably impact on the rural character and amenity expected in this zone? Is it located away from ridgelines or other visually prominent locations, and meets zone yard setbacks?
Access- Where will the crossing for the new lot be located? Does this have good sightlines? Is it onto an arterial road? How long does the driveway need to be? Does it cross any watercourses or floodplains? Does this require an additional works/ assessments?
How will the new site be serviced? In rural areas this is typically via individual, on- site means. Are there natural hazards or watercourses that you need to take into account? For example, a slope may not be suitable in geotechnical terms for you to discharge stormwater over it. Setbacks from watercourses and wetlands are required for wastewater (and other) discharges, even after treatment. If your identified building platform is developed, can these requirements be met? This is important to consider with wetland- based subdivision, as clearly you have a significant wetland on the site and it needs to be protected- try to locate building platforms and access away from wetlands.
Can a building on the identified platform connect to power and are telephone services (wired in or wireless) available?
Think about the boundary locations. Do these split natural features? Does a natural feature split the site in two? Is one boundary so steep, future owners would be unable to fence it? Your boundary locations should take into account the features of the site.
Is an esplanade reserve required to be vested? This can be required in cases where your site contains a watercourse over 3m average width or is adjacent to the coast.
What was the past land uses of the site? Was it a use listed on the Ministry for the Environmental Hazardous Activities and Industries List? Past and present land uses can trigger the need for further investigations, soil sampling, further consents and remediation.
Who needs to be involved?
Usually subdivision of your site, including the resource consent application, will involve a team of specialists and contractors. In terms of the resource consent, usually your planner will manage the process for you. Your planner will help identify potential application and development risks, what specialists’ inputs are needed, manage these inputs and liaise with the Council on your behalf.
In addition to your planner, you will also need assessment and inputs from:
Depending on your site, its characteristics, and the natural features present, you could also require input from:
A wastewater engineer,
A traffic engineer,
A contamination specialist.
Your planner will be able to guide you on what specialist inputs are needed.
Need more advice?
If you have a site in a rural zone that you’re looking to develop, get in contact. Hannah has been working in rural land development for almost 20 years and has a wealth of knowledge and experience to advice you on your options. Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or (09) 427 9966.
Hannah holds the qualifications of BSc (Environmental Science) and Masters of Applied Science (Environmental Management), is a Member (Int) of the New Zealand Planning Institute and Secretary of the New Zealand Planning Institute Auckland Branch Committee. Hannah is also a member of the Resource Management Law Association.
As with all our blogs this information is preliminary in nature only and 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.