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What is a building?

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

This question seems to have an obvious answer but in planning terms, it might not be as straightforward as you think. Before you start constructing something on your property, it is important to be aware of rules and standards in your local district plan. These vary from area to area, so it's important to look at the District Plan that’s relevant in your area.

District Plans are based on a common understanding of what specific terms mean, and from there you navigate through the plan to identify what’s expected in each zone, what is permitted and what needs resource consent. To help in this regard, District Plans include a definitions chapter. “Building” is one of the definitions you need to be well aware of, as it has far- reaching implications of what you can build and where. In this blog we’ll look at this definition in Auckland, under the Auckland Unitary Plan.

Auckland Unitary Plan

Auckland Unitary Plan defines a building as:

Any permanent or temporary structure. On land for the purposes of district plan provisions, “building” includes the following types of structures listed in Table J1.4.1, only where they meet the qualifying dimensions or standards:

Table J1.4.1: Buildings

  • Decks, steps or terraces- Over 1.5m in height

  • Fences or walls- Over 2.5m in height

  • Flagpoles, masts or lighting poles- Over 7m higher than its point of attachment or base support or Has a width at any point exceeding 1.2m

  • Grandstands, stadia or other structures that provide seating or standing accommodation (whether or not open or covered or enclosed)- Over 1m in height

  • Retaining walls or breastwork- Over 1.5m in height or Located within 1.5m of the boundary of a road or public place

  • Satellite dishes- Over 1m diameter

  • Stacks or heaps of materials- Over 2m in height and In existence for more than one month

  • Free-standing signs- Over 1.5m in height

  • Swimming pools, spa pools, swirl pools, plunge pools or hot tubs- Over 1m in height from ground level, inclusive of the height of any supporting structure or More than 25,000l capacity

  • Tanks including retention tanks - Over 1m in height from ground level, inclusive of the height of any supporting structure or More than 25,000l capacity, where any part of the tank is more than 1m above ground level

  • Verandahs and bridges over any public open space- Above ground level

  • In an Open Space Zone: Bicycle stand/parking structures Board walks Boxing or edging Drinking and water fountains Gates, bollards and chains Rubbish and recycling bins Seating and tables Stairs- Over 1.5m in height from ground level, inclusive of the height of any supporting structure.

And excludes the following types of structures:

  • any scaffolding or falsework erected temporarily for construction or maintenance purposes;

  • roads, road network structures, manoeuvring areas, parking areas (other than parking buildings) and other paved surfaces;

  • any film set, stage or similar structures less than 5m in height that exist for less than 30 consecutive days; and

  • aerials and water overflow pipes. In the coastal marine area for the purposes of the regional coastal plan, “building” includes any covered or partially covered permanent or temporary structure, whether or not it is enclosed.

This can include decks, fences, retaining walls, pools, tanks, satellite dishes or even a garden sheds, whether these be permanent or temporary, where the above criteria are met. You can see that this definition is very far-reaching and includes things that you may not expect- not just a new house or garage! This could for example includes a deck or spa pool (and in some cases it's easier and cheaper to design your development to comply with the District Plan rules, than applying for resource consent).

When do I need resource consent to construct a building?

Depending on the zone that your property is located in, a new building or extension to a building may be a permitted activity (meaning you don’t need resource consent) if you meet the applicable standards. This includes matters such building location (yard setbacks), the area covered in impervious surfaces, area of earthworks, vegetation removal etc. These vary depending on the zone, area and of course the District Plan.

Some properties are also located within overlays, such as Historic Heritage Overlay, Significant Ecological Area or Outstanding Natural Area which contain another layer or rules, that mean resource consent can still be required.

What if I don’t get a resource consent?

If you construct a building on your site that need a resource consent, but you don’t get a resource consent, the Council can take enforcement action against you. This could include an abatement notice, an infringement notice (a fine) or even prosecution.

In most cases you can however apply for a retrospective resource consent, allowing the building to remain if you want to keep it.

Need more advice?

Often if you’re constructing a more minor building, you may not need resource consent. A good first “port of call” to discuss this is the planning helpdesk at your local Council.

If you’re considering more extensive development of your site and need preliminary planning advice, get in contact with our experienced team. You can contact us on You can also find lots of useful information in other blogs on our website,

Clara Casaes is an Intermediate Planner at Planning Plus™and has 14 years of international experience working on land development and transport infrastructure projects. This includes land development and subdivision on all scales, and large-scale infrastructure projects such as busways, subways and airports. During these years, Clara’s work primarily related to consenting, including writing Assessments of Environmental Effects, attendance at Hearings, consulting with stakeholders and managing multi-disciplinary project teams. Clara’s background has provided her with a big picture view from initial concept design through to the construction phase of a project.


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 professional. © Planning Plus Ltd 2023

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