The Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Bill (Bill) has recently been reported back from the Select Committee, following the hearing of public submissions (see our previous article on the Bill here).

While the Select Committee has tinkered with some of the finer details of the Bill, and slightly watered down some of the MDRS, the intent of the Bill remains the same - allowing for increased density in urban areas, and quickly. The next step is for the Bill to be considered by the Committee of the whole House for its second reading, on track to be passed by 16 December 2021 as originally anticipated.

The Bill provided for increased housing density in most residential areas across Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch, by seeking to accelerate the implementation of the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (NPS-UD), and introducing new Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS). As originally proposed, the MDRS would allow for up to three dwellings of up to three storeys high to be built as a permitted activity (without requiring resource consent).

The Select Committee has proposed some amendments to the Intensification Streamlined Planning Process (ISPP), including broadening its scope so that it can be used to change provisions in plans that are consequential and complementary to the NPS-UD and MDRS changes, and to enable provision of papakainga housing. The Select Committee considers that this broadened scope could include provisions on subdivision, fences, earthworks, district-wide matters, infrastructure, stormwater management, provision of open space and community facilities / commercial services. It has also proposed that the Bill clarifies that if a qualifying matter (which may mean that the MDRS doesn't apply to an area) has already been through a plan-making process, the matter would not need to be reconsidered under the ISPP (and therefore the significant evidential burden on the council to establish the matter would not apply).

Changes are also proposed to the MDRS. New MDRS relating to glazing and landscaping have been recommended, requiring 20 percent of a site - at minimum - be set aside for planting, grass or tree canopy, and at least 20 percent of the front façade of a building to be glazed. There are also proposed increases in the outlook space and outdoor living space standards, but it is recommended that these could be counted cumulatively to provide for communal use spaces.

Changes to the height in relation to boundary standard would reduce to five metres plus 60 degrees recession plane, from the originally proposed six metres plus 60 degrees. Some Committee members preferred a further reduction to improve the balance between additional housing and sunlight and amenity but wanted to better understand the impact any reduction would have on the number of units that could be built, prior to making any recommendations. It is also proposed that the standard for impervious areas is deleted and dealt with as a district-wide matter by councils.

The Committee has also recommended that the MDRS apply in relevant residential zones in relevant councils' plans, rather than "urban environments" (as it considers the NPS-UD and the ISPP will allow for commercial activities to service residential areas). This would see the application of the MDRS widened to more areas, which would avoid councils needing to determine whether smaller towns were "urban environments" as defined by the NPS-UD.

The Committee has also recommended that objectives and policies be included in the Bill for councils to adopt when they incorporate the MDRS into their plans, as required. This will essentially provide a whole section of a district plan ready to drop in.

Interestingly, the Committee has recommended that the MDRS apply to land designated for schools, allowing schools to also utilise the standards. The Committee further recommended that the provisions for subdivisions are clarified, so that a subdivision is a controlled activity for existing dwellings that meet the MDRS, new dwellings that are permitted under the MDRS, or for dwellings that have been approved for a resource consent process. An application for subdivision consent for residential units in accordance with the MDRS or associated land use consent must not be notified, either publicly or limited.

Numerous changes throughout the provisions have also been highlighted in order to strengthen and protect Maori involvement in the processes, including:

  • requiring at least one member of the ISPP hearing panels has knowledge, skills and experience of tikanga Maori (appointed in consultation with iwi authorities)
  • giving effect to relevant Treaty settlement legislation (such as Te Ture Whaimana o Te Awa o Waikato / Vision and Strategy for the Waikato River) as a qualifying matter
  • requiring the Minister for the Environment to consult with the Minister for Maori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti as well as the Minister of Housing, before directing a Tier 2 council to implement the MDRS

Changes to transitional provisions

The Committee has sought to amend the difficulty with transitional provisions for plan changes that have already been notified, noting that in most cases these should be addressed through variations to incorporate the MDRS (rather than withdrawal of the plan or plan change).

The Committee also noted that it is mindful that covenants under the Property Law Act could hinder intensification (and could be a way around the MDRS for developers not wishing to implement the standards). The Committee referred to comments in the regulatory impact statement that the Government intends to undertake further work on this to understand whether changes are required, so watch this space for any changes to private covenant arrangements.

Due to the significantly shortened process around the passing of this Bill, the Select Committee has described its recommended amendments, rather than preparing the usual revision-tracked version of amendments.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.