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3 February 2022

Zoned Out

Do you know your home's planning zone? You should, because it will determine what you can and cannot do to improve your existing house or develop the site.


Do you know your home's planning zone? You should, because it will determine what you can and cannot do to improve your existing house or develop the site.

If there’s been one upside of this lockdown, it's that it's allowed many of us to become more familiar with our immediate neighbourhoods; thanks to the hundreds of kilometres we’ve spent tramping around the area in an attempt to reach our daily goal of 10,000 steps.


Whilst out walking, and when you haven't been off daydreaming, you will have no doubt discovered there's a lot of building going on, with barely a street with fewer than three or four significant renovations and the odd townhouse development underway – which begs the question, could that be done in my street, or to my house? Could I add a storey or lift the house and go under? Could I subdivide or even bowl the house and build some townhouses? These are all relevant questions, so we asked a planning professional for her advice.


Hannah Thomson is the Director and Principal Planner at Planning Plus, a team of planning consultants that provide advice and assessment for all types and aspects of residential development. Starting at the beginning, she says that each district or city in New Zealand has its own District Plan, and, as part of this, every site (home) is given specific zoning. In Auckland, these zones are determined under the Unitary Plan, which is a district and regional plan combined. 


Her first piece of advice for the curious is to go to the Auckland Council website, where you can find your home’s zone by searching the unitary plan maps. Once you have this information, you can then review the rules that relate to that particular zone. Here’s a link to Auckland Council’s GeoMap site, where you can find out your zone. 


“There are also other planning provisions that apply, such as earthworks controls, transportation requirements, etc., but you should always start your investigations by looking into a site’s zoning,” she says. “LIM reports will tell you broadly which district plan provisions apply, such as zones, overlays, precincts, designations etc., but it doesn’t give you a complete picture. If you plan to use a site for a specific purpose or undertake a development, you should get site-specific advice from a professional planner. Importantly, however, a LIM report does help you confirm if something is legally established, such as a minor dwelling, as you will be able to see the building or resource consents obtained.”  


In some of the city’s more leafy city suburbs, mention is often made of 'heritage overlay' or, to give it its correct title, the Special Character Area Overlay (SCAR). Thomson says that this overlay is usually applied or put into place at the same time as the plan provisions are notified. They can be added later, via a formal plan change, but most of the overlay areas came into being when the Unitary plan was first notified. 


“The purpose of the overlay is to retain and manage the special character values of the specific area. These are set out in a Special Character Area Statement, which you can find in the Unitary Plan here. For most residential owners, and concerning the redevelopment of a site, the main issue people will notice is that demolition, most additions and alterations and new buildings in this overlay require resource consent. The bulk and location ‘Standards’ are also different in this overlay, and fence heights are more restricted.”


Auckland’s Unitary Plan can be confusing, she says, because there are various layers of rules and Standards applying. These could include controls on works near watercourses or wetlands, vegetation removal, earthworks, car parking and access requirements, etc. 


“Once you have basic knowledge [of the zone and any provisions or overlays], you’re best to speak to a professional planner, so you can obtain a good understanding of the planning provisions that apply and what specialist inputs are required for your development and the associated risks. For more straightforward projects, you can also get advice from Auckland Council, as they have a planning helpdesk for more basic general enquiries – 09 301 0101.”


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