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New Density Rules Spark Interesting Debate

With clever planning you could look no further than out your back window to see a potential nest egg, but there is much to consider, writes Hamish Frizzell.

By: Hamish Frizzell

1 November 2022

Christchurch City Council has been the first of the councils to reject the government’s new medium density residential standards, raising eyebrows of those of us in the residential development industry around the country.

This relatively strong move by the council just ahead of the election was surprising because central government has indicated the possibility these regulations could come into effect regardless, overriding any rejection by local councils to the new changes.

The council has written to Wellington and is hoping the government agrees to allow for a bespoke set of rules for increased density developments that preserve the aesthetic of the city, arguing that the earthquake rebuild has already accelerated development within the city ahead of the rest of the country’s time frames.


If you aren’t familiar with MDRS, this stands for Medium Density Residential Standards, and under the government proposal it allows for most homeowners within Tier 1 councils to build up to three, three-storey units on their section without resource consent, provided they are designed within certain parameters. The maximum height these can be is 11 metres plus 1 metre for a pitched roof, with setbacks of 1.5 metres for the front yard and 1 metre for the back, and maximum 50 per cent site coverage.

This is to assist with urban growth via “infill” developments, and remove red tape for developers, landlords and homeowners to help ease the housing crisis. Provided plans of the proposed houses fit within these requirements no additional resource consents will be required but, of course, building consent followed by subdivision consent will still be required as is the case now.

With clever development planning, you could have to look no further than out your back window to see a potential nest egg and build some attractive homes to meet the projected demands of residential growth.

‘Removing restrictions entirely across most suburbs ignores the much enjoyed privacy we have had’


As a bit of a traditionalist, I raise my hat to CCC and applaud the request to give equal consideration to our environment and the aesthetics of the Garden City.

Removing restrictions entirely across most suburbs ignores the much-enjoyed privacy we have had; the high levels of sunshine and light we have enjoyed; the ever-diminishing tree canopy; and opens the door for “out of character” density in areas where residents have paid a premium for this level of amenity which they thought were there forever.

In many ways these provisions threaten to alter these neighbourhoods irreparably, and the MDRS may cause the reverse effect of its intention, as hemmed-in homeowners sided by three-storey buildings quit the city to move out and, in the process, sell out to even more ambitious developers seeking to further their stamp on the city.

Yet the optimist in me also reminds property investors that not every redevelopment has to be three-units with three storeys. We see one of the main benefactors of these provisions as the “mum and dad” investor who will now be able to build a nicely designed dwelling in their back yard without the previous minimum area requirement, or the threat of having to obtain consents of affected parties as this is no longer essential.

There are still strong markets for one and two-storey and larger in-fill dwellings on the section in your back yard. In fact, the more care and attention you pay to what you build by looking at local demands and trends, the more likely you will be to drive better investment returns than just going to the max of MDRS.


My advice to landowners considering developing their backyard is to get started now. If MDRS has already been accepted by your council, and you have the capital to invest, it’s best to get ahead and start planning.

If you are in Christchurch City or another area where the government guidelines have not yet been adopted, we say don’t spend a penny on your plans until we have a better idea on where this is heading. With a refreshed council and new mayor in Christchurch, who knows where this may end up.

Hamish Frizzell is a second-generation owner of Survus Consultants. He is passionate about helping everyday Kiwis to do more with their land to maximise their ROI. Visit Survus at www.survus.co.nz or call 0508 787 887


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