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What’s a Significant Ecological Area mean for development?

Updated: Feb 13

Under the Auckland Unitary Plan- Operative in Part (AUP(OP)) some areas have been identified as “Significant Ecological Areas” or SEA's. SEAs have been identified on land, in freshwater environments, and in the Coastal Marine Area. These areas have been identified as meeting one of the identified five key ecologically important criteria, which are:

  1. Representativeness

  2. Threat status and rarity

  3. Diversity

  4. Stepping stones, migration pathways and buffers

  5. Uniqueness or distinctiveness

By identifying these areas as SEAs Auckland Council aims to protect and maintain biodiversity within the Auckland Region.

Where are the SEA rules?

SEA’s are an “Overlay”, and the relevant rules are found in section D of the AUP(OP). The objectives and policies are contained in Chapter D9 of the AUP(OP). You may be looking through this chapter and be wondering where the rules are- we know this can be confusing! The rules that apply to SEA’s are contained in various other chapters in the AUP(OP) as outlined below:

  • E3 Lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands (overlay rules);

  • E15 Vegetation management and biodiversity (overlay rules);

  • E11 Land disturbance - Regional (overlay rules)

  • E26 Infrastructure (overlay rules); and

  • Chapter F Coastal (rules are through various activity sections).

SEA schedule

Each SEA area referred to in Chapter D9 is supported by a SEA schedule identifying its key ecological values and the overall notable or distinctive qualities of the area. The SEA schedules are contained in Chapter L of the AUP(OP); it’s useful to review these schedules so you have a good understanding of what specific values make your SEA important. Your Planner (and Ecologist if you need one) will review these schedules as part of their assessments and assess how the proposal impacts on the values identified. Your planner may ask you about how your development choice, such as the location of earthworks or building platforms, came about and what alternatives were considered.

How does a SEA affect me?

Rules in the AUP(OP) detail that within a SEA most (but not all) vegetation alternation or removal work will require resource consent. Activities that you are allowed to do within a SEA without resource consent can include:

  • Biosecurity tree work,

  • Deadwood removal,

  • Vegetation alternation or removal for routine maintenance and repair of existing tracks, lawns, gardens, fences and other lawfully established activities,

  • Vegetation alteration or removal for customary use,

  • Pest plant removal,

  • Conservation planting,

  • Vegetation alteration or removal for routine maintenance within 3m of the existing dwelling.

These are however subject to meeting Standards, and we recommend you speak to a Planner or Council staff before starting.

If you want to carry out vegetation alterations or removals within a SEA that do not fit any of the types above, you will likely need to apply for resource consent. Similarly, any land disturbance works in a SEA can also trigger resource consent requirements. As part of a resource consent application you may need to provide an ecological impact assessment that outlines the potential ecological effects of the works; you should discuss this with your Planner.

SEA design considerations

If your site is identified as being subject to a SEA overlay you should try and avoid vegetation removal and land disturbance works in these areas where possible. If works are required in a SEA then this should be minimised where possible, with large distinctive trees and higher value vegetation and features preserved and protected.

Mitigation tools such as native replanting should also be considered, along with other offsetting or compensation measures if onsite mitigation isn’t possible. A Planner is a great resource in advising on how to improve the environmental merits of an application and reducing risk associated with development within a SEA overlay.

Need some help?

There are a lot of other things you need to look at when developing within a SEA and we’re able to provide advice about what you need to consider in the design process. Give our friendly team a call. You can contact us on 09 427 9966 or


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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