Wetland protection and subdivision in rural Auckland

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:

(a) representativeness;

(b) stepping stones, migration pathways and buffers;

(c) threat status and rarity;

(d) uniqueness or distinctiveness; and

(e) diversity.

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 E39. 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 E39. 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: