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Development Needs Homework Too

Development Needs Homework Too

Property development is regulated by district plans set out by councils, and it pays to know the rules early, writes Anthony Corin.

By: Anthony Corin

6 May 2024

If you are seeking to develop land, it’s important to have a clear understanding of council regulations and controls. Utilising this insight will help you streamline the development and reduce design costs because you will know what is permitted.

Local Planning

Property development is regulated by district plans set out by councils. Each district is governed by its own district plan. Land activities are categorised as Permitted, Controlled, Discretionary, Non-Complying or Prohibited. These activities are often determined by the land’s zoning.

Zones are designated by councils and vary by district. These zones come under Rural, Residential, Business and Special Purpose – further sub-categorised into zones like Mixed Housing, Suburban, Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings.

Zones determine factors such as building coverage allowance and height restrictions, ultimately affecting what you can build. For example, an 800m2 section in the THAB zone will allow for higher building coverage, a taller building, and less landscaped area compared to an 800m2 section in the Suburban zone.

These regulations are in place to ensure appropriate building intensification for the area, protection of natural resources and preservation of the street’s character.


Various constraints such as flood zones, road widening designations, covenants and easements can make the land less desirable for development. However, this does not mean the site is a lost cause although it often means there will be more to consider and extra work required.

For a flood zone site there are mitigation solutions such as building elevation, rearranging the site layout for buildings to avoid the flood area, stormwater management and implementing waterproofing construction.

Land features can be viewed through online district planning mapping services. Purchasing the land title to access LINZ data will help provide a comprehensive understanding of limitations on the site.

From a design perspective, a constraint that you may not be aware of is how orientation influences the site’s layout. There is a preference for north-facing outdoor spaces and for front units to face the street. This means designers must adapt so the layout meets district plan requirements based on site orientation.

Call The Experts

Site assessment is a nuanced process and can be overwhelming to tackle alone. Project management teams generally have in-house expertise in site acquisitions and concept design planning. These professionals know what to look for, have a keen eye for spotting optimal land, and can identify red flags that may affect what the developer is wanting to build.

In addition to in-house expertise, a project management team maintains a trusted network of consultants who have a proven successful track record with similar projects.

Seeking early planning advice is wise. Jumping straight into the architectural design may result in compliance complications. Errors that go unnoticed early can lead to cost blow outs, redesigns, and possibly result in the project’s termination. By engaging a project management team, their expertise, connections, and access to software can fill the gaps in your property development understanding, allowing you to build more than you thought possible or saving you from a dead-end design.

Keep in mind there are many things to consider when pursuing a property development project that can be overwhelming, especially for first-time developers. Every site is different and requires a uniquely tailored approach to meet compliance.

Even sites of identical size can result in completely different outcomes depending on zoning and further constraints. Do your research, understand each site is unique, and engage experts to set you on the right path to ensure a seamless start to your development venture.

Anthony Corin and his team specialise in property development and construction using ICFs and operating through a relational contract, open-book system. Shorcom Ltd, 0800 SHORCOM, www.shorcom.co.nz