The ability of those who own land on the urban fringes of Christchurch to develop their land in future is now in the Earthquake Recovery Minister's hands. This follows the closure on 2 August of submissions on the Draft Land Use Recovery Plan (LURP).

The draft plan put forward far-reaching changes to the urban fringe planning zones and rules of the district plans for not just Christchurch but also Selwyn and Wamakariri - in the same way as the Central City Plan changed them for the CBD. It also proposed changes to the Regional Policy Statement, identifying a number of Greenfield Priority Areas, which consist of undeveloped land, some of which already has a residential or commercial zoning, and some of which are to be changed to that zoning from its current rural zoning.

That rezoning, along with the provision of more detailed development designs (outline development plans) for the newly zoned and already zoned areas the LURP earmarked for development, are to happen through changes to the district and city planning provisions.

With the opportunity to make submissions on these changes having closed on 2 August, the decision as to whether the changes put forward in the Draft LURP will make it into the finalised version is now entirely in the Minister's hands. Once he releases his decision the changes to the district planning rules, zoning and policies as well as the RPS, will take effect pretty much immediately.

Once that occurs the resulting new zones, rules and design plans will dictate whether currently undeveloped land on the urban fringes can be developed, if so, how, and in many cases in what configuration. Some land owners will find their rural land has become commercial or residential. Many of these land owners, as well as owners of undeveloped land that is already zoned for development, will also find that they do not have much flexibility as to how to configure development. The outline development plans dictate where things like roads, parks, green corridors and stormwater ponds must go.

This then is a double-edged sword. Yes, once the plan takes effect, it will undoubtedly speed up the process for making more residential sections available, but it comes at a price. If you happen to own land that is within the priority development areas - and can easily fit in with an outline development plan (where there is one) - you will find that once the LURP takes effect, it will be a lot easier to get your own subdivision plans approved.

On the other hand, if you have rural land that happens to fall just outside one of the priority areas, it is going to be very difficult to get it rezoned for development in future, or to get subdivision consents to develop it for a purpose other than rural. In the same way, if you find that an outline development plan has drastically cut down the number of lots you could achieve, it will be a very hard to get a subdivision approved that gets a better yield by not following the design prescriptions in the outline development plan.

Because these changes are being put through under the earthquake legislation there is no opportunity to appeal. Only if it becomes obvious that the Minister's final decision has ignored compelling evidence put forward in submissions, or is patently unreasonable for other reasons, would there be a possibility to challenge the finalised LURP, but then only in the High Court and on limited grounds.

So for now it remains simply a waiting game for owners of affected land, for the final version of the LURP as approved by the Minister. Once that version is released, affected land owners and developers will want to find out what finalised form the new zones, rules and policies take, as they will have to start complying with them pretty much immediately. To find out when those changes are released, keep an eye on this page or the LURP page on the CERA site.

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