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What to consider when buying land for development

It’s a hot property market in New Zealand at the moment, with more people than ever looking for land to develop. But what should you look for if you want a site for development? After many years in the land development field, this blog provides some tips for what to look out for.

Record of title

The record of title is the legal instrument that confirms the site owners, site size, if its Limited as to Parcels and the rights and restrictions that apply to the land. These rights and restrictions could include:

· Easements,

· Land covenants,

· Consent Notices.

All of these can affect site development, and you should review all these documents.

Land zoning

Development potential of land is largely governed by the District and Regional Plans in your area. In Auckland, these are combined into one document (the Auckland Unitary Plan). The land zoning sets out the rules and Standards for the land use type, dwelling density, site development and subdivision. You need to make sure the site is located in the right zone to achieve the development you have in mind. This doesn’t mean a resource consent won’t be needed but being located in an appropriate zone will reduce your risks of having resource consent notified and/ or declined.

People will often seek advice from a Planner at this stage and obtain a feasibility report.

Land size and shape, orientation

Once you know the site is in the right zone, take more of a look at the site itself. The size of the site is a critical factor in development potential, but so is the shape. A rectangular shape typically provides the best development options, but with adhoc infill subdivision in the past often sites are an unusual shape, with different boundary lengths and angles. This can impact on what can physically fit on the site and can reduce the potential yield.

Orientation is also important. The Auckland Unitary Plan confirms the need to provide high quality spaces, and this includes indoor and outdoor living areas that have good access to sunlight. A site that’s an odd shape or has poor orientation can impact on your ability to achieve the urban design outcomes that the Auckland Unitary Plan seeks.


While there is an ever-increasing push towards non- car transportation, sites still need to have suitable access to roads and in most cases, this includes vehicle access. Check the legal road frontage that the site has- is it wide enough for the activity that you propose? For example, is a single or double lane access required? Is there enough width to provide for this? This can be problematic with rear sites that have a pan handle access strip, where the physical width can be severely constrained.

Is the frontage shared with neighbours, such as by a right of way arrangement or Jointly Owned Access Lot (“JOAL”)? Will you need approval of those people for development?


If the sites in an urban area, you will usually have access to reticulated water, wastewater and stormwater services. However, sometimes the easiest connection point is in a neighbours site. Will they give you physical access and an easement?

In some more established areas, soakage has historically been used for stormwater management. With redevelopment, there may be insufficient space on site for this to continue, and assistance from a civil engineer would be required.

Natural Hazards

Natural hazards such as areas of flooding, overland flow paths or instability can also impact on the type and location of development. Most Councils have GIS maps that can show you, at a basic level, areas of flooding and overland flowpaths. There may also be older geotechnical reports on the Council’s property file that can give you a sense of stability issues.


Past land uses can contaminate the land, and when redeveloped this needs to be remediated. You can review historical aerial photos, Council records and speak to the property owners to see if any activities occurred on the site in the past that could have led to contamination. You can find a link to MfE’s Hazardous Activities and Industries List here.

Need more advice?

If you need more land development advice or would like to discuss a feasibility report please get in contact. You can contact us on

Disclaimer 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 is not liable for any errors or omissions.

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