How is central government directing New Zealand’s large cities to grow?

    Over the past two years, central government has taken a much stronger role in planning for the growth of New Zealand’s largest and fastest growing cities, including Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, and Christchurch.  

    They have made two significant reforms that councils are required to implement, the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (NPS-UD) and the Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2021.

    The government’s requirements will enable more medium and higher-density homes, such as apartments, townhouses, and terrace housing, across much of Auckland’s urban area. especially in areas close to rapid public transport and large urban centres with shops, jobs, businesses, and community services.

    What does this mean for Auckland?

    Auckland Council must allow for more housing density by making changes to the city’s planning rulebook - the Auckland Unitary Plan by 20 August 2022, including to the rules for how people can choose to develop their property if they wish.

    Unless there is an exemption to limit building height and density, called qualifying matters, we must allow for as much building height and density as possible in the city centre for new homes and businesses and building heights of six storeys or more within Auckland’s large 10 metropolitan centres.

    From the edges of the city centre, our 10 metropolitan centres and rapid transit stops, we are required to have ‘walkable catchments’ where building heights of six storeys or more must be enabled.

    We must enable greater building heights and density around other suburban centres across Auckland to match the level of jobs, shops, and other community services each suburban centre provides.

    And we are required to enable more medium density housing, with homes of up to three storeys across almost all Auckland suburbs, such as low-rise apartments, terrace housing and townhouses.

    What are metropolitan centres?

    Auckland has 10 metropolitan centres, they are Newmarket, Manukau, New Lynn, Sylvia Park, Botany, Papakura, Takapuna, Henderson, Albany, and Westgate.

    They are familiar to many Aucklanders as very large places for shopping and entertainment but also employment, education, community services, and apartment living with high-frequency transport. They are second only to the city centre in size and development.

    In the years ahead, these areas are expected to grow significantly as important residential and employment hubs.

    Most of our metropolitan centres already allow buildings higher that six storeys and where building heights are currently lower than six storeys, we’re proposing that these limits continue.

    Can the council say no to the government’s changes?

    No, we cannot.   We are directed by law to implement both the NPS-UD and the Enabling Housing Supply Act and make changes to the city’s planning rulebook – the Auckland Unitary Plan. The changes made by central government are mandatory and we must comply with legislation.

    What about protecting areas from more intensification?

    Central government allows for some exemptions that may allow the council to modify required three-storey and six-story building heights. Called ‘qualifying matters’ they are the characteristics within some areas where building heights may be limited. 

    Qualifying matters may include such things as sites of cultural, historic, or ecological significance or areas with natural hazards.

    The government has already identified several required qualifying matters that must be applied and allows us to identify other qualifying matters relevant and important for our city. 

    So, how do exemptions for building heights work?

    We cannot choose to ‘roll over’ existing protections within the Auckland Unitary Plan. Auckland Council must provide strong evidence to justify why a qualifying matter should apply, given central government’s clear direction to allow more housing.

    To provide a strong evidence base, the council must do site specific surveys. The threshold for reducing a building height and density is very high and will be tested through submissions and independent expert review. 

    Using a qualifying matter doesn’t prevent development from happening in an area. It only limits development enough to ensure that what is being protected or managed isn’t compromised by that development, we must still allow for more housing density than we currently do.

    Are there any decisions the council can make?

    While the majority of the government’s changes are mandatory, we are allowed scope to make some limited decisions, including:

    • The distances of required walkable catchments where buildings of six storeys or more must be enabled
    • The building heights and density to enable within and next to other suburban centres – neighbourhoods centres, local centres, and town centres
    • The unique qualifying matters that will apply in Auckland; the government allows us to identify relevant and important characteristics for protection in Auckland.

    Auckland Council cannot change mandatory government requirements, such as having to enable walkable catchments with buildings of six storeys or more.

    How do Aucklanders have a say?

    There are two opportunities for Aucklanders to have a say. From the 19 April to 9 May 2022, we are giving Aucklanders an opportunity to provide feedback on some proposed changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan. Aucklanders can have their say at

    This consultation is not a government requirement. Rather, as we’ve done previously with the Auckland Unitary Plan, the council has chosen to give Aucklanders a say on whether we’re on the right track with the limited decisions we can make to help inform proposed changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan in August. 

    There is a second opportunity for Aucklanders to provide feedback in August 2022 when the council’s proposed plan change is publicly notified for people to make submissions. This allows their views to be considered during statutory decision-making.

    What can Aucklanders have a say on?

    We’re seeking feedback on our proposed walkable catchment distances of a 15-minute walk (approx. 1,200 metres) from the edge of the city centre and a 10-minute walk (approx. 800 metres) from the edge of our 10 metropolitan centres and around train stations and stops along the Northern Busway.

    We’re also asking for feedback on our approach for enabling more building heights and density around larger local and town centres with good access to public transport, up to 200 metres around large local centres and 400 metres around large town centres. And on some proposed qualifying matters, or exemptions, to limit building heights and density.

    What is a walkable catchment?

    These are areas around town centres or public transport stops where people can live within walking distances to everyday things like work, shops, community services, or to catch a bus or train to get around.

    Having more homes within easier reach to everyday places and services means more people can choose to live close to the things they want and need, without relying on a car.

    This makes better use of the space we have and helps to reduce congestion, urban sprawl and harmful greenhouses gas emissions with people driving less distances and less often. 

    Why have these walking distances been proposed and not shorter to longer ones?

    While some people are willing to walk considerable distances to access public transport, a 10-minute walk, around 800 metres, is considered the distance an average person is likely to walk to an urban centre or a rapid transit stop.

    This distance is commonly used in New Zealand  for walkable catchments around rapid transit stops. It’s also in line with the findings of academic studies and the planning approaches of comparable overseas cities and states. 

    The walking distances around the city centre have been informed by a similar approach combined with census data examining people’s journeys to work and education. A bigger walkable catchment for the city centre is proposed because it has the greatest number of jobs and the greatest concentration of activities and amenities.

    Are these walking distance like a circle on a map?

    No, each walkable catchment has a different shape. The measurement of walkable catchments reflects the actual routes and distances that people can walk rather than a straight-line, as-the-crow-flies distance. They consider location specific factors such as steep hills, pedestrian crossings and barriers like motorways or wide arterial roads may limit the distance people can walk in 10 or 15 minutes.  

    Doesn’t the Auckland Unitary Plan already provide for enough housing?

    Auckland Council has led the way nationally. The Auckland Unitary Plan allows for a huge number of additional homes to be built across our city close to public transport and urban centres, with increasing numbers of higher-density homes and more housing choices being delivered at record levels.

    We’re consenting up to 20,000 new homes a year, four times what we were a decade ago, with around two-thirds of new consents for higher-density housing.

    Overall, Auckland has capacity for over 900,000 homes in Auckland’s existing residential areas over the next 30 years, and even more when the city centre and large metropolitan centres are included. This is more than enough to cater for growth over the next 30 years. However, central government is now directing us to do more which requires significant changes to enable more development.

    Does this mean my property will be developed?

    The Auckland Unitary Plan sets the rules for how land can be used including what can be built and where.  Changing the planning rules for what can be built on a property does not require that development must take place. 

    Rather, it provides property owners which more choices about how to use their land and it is entirely up to them to choose to develop their property if they wish. 

    There’s also a long way to go before any final changes are decided and, even then, it can take years before redevelopment of new areas happens.

    Does this mean there will be apartments everywhere?

    Building more higher density homes, such as apartments and townhouses, doesn’t mean there won’t still be other types of housing. Instead, it means a greater variety of homes providing more choices for people to live in places they want, closer to where they work and within walking distance of shops, cafés, schools, and reliable transport options.

    Increasing housing density to meet our growing population is the smartest solution to meeting not only today’s housing demands, but also the needs of future generations.

    It also gives our older Aucklanders more options to downsize to smaller homes in the same neighbourhoods where they raised their families.

    But there are benefits to being a growing city?

    Yes, many benefits. It means a greater variety of homes and more choices for new homes in places you want to live and closer to the everyday things you need. More housing close to public transport means people can reduce their reliance on cars reducing greenhouse gas emission, congestion, and urban sprawl.

    A growing population also attracts new businesses, investment, global firms, and start-ups. This not only means more jobs, but higher paying ones, contributing to a stronger economy and quality of life.

    What has been decided so far?

    There is still a long way to go before final changes are decided. Right now, Auckland Council has  put out some proposed approaches for Aucklanders to have their say to help us understand if we areon the right track with the limited decisions we can make. 

    This is in advance of publicly notifying  changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan in August 2022 for people to make submissions. 

    After submissions have closed, an Independent Hearings Panel will consider all submissions and hear from submitters. They will then make recommendations to the council on the changes they think should be made to the Auckland Unitary Plan.

    What is rapid transit?

    These are our most frequent transport services where a bus or train arrives at least every 15 minutes on a dedicated route separated from general traffic. 

    It includes stops along the Northern Busway,  the stop on the Eastern Busway between Panmure and Pakuranga and Auckland’s rail network - the Western, Eastern, and Southern rail lines. The Onehunga Branch Line is not rapid transit as it is not planned to reach a 15-minute service frequency. 

    Ferry services are excluded as they don’t meet the definition of rapid transit as specified by central  government within the NPS-UD.

    Can I have my say on changes the government has made?

    No, the mandatory changes central government has directed us to make, such as having walkable catchments where six-storey building heights must be enabled, are legislative requirements that Auckland Council must implement.

    Is there a difference between historic heritage and special character areas?

    Yes, the terms ‘heritage’ and ‘special character’ are often used interchangeably but they are different.

    Put simply, a historic heritage place has a ‘story’ about how it is associated with people and the past. They include a wide range of specific places (houses, roads, property), archaeological sites, natural features, and sites of significance to Māori.

    The Resource Management Act recognises heritage as a matter of national importance to be protected from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development. 

    Special character is where councils choose to use planning rules to help maintain a sense of history and place for whole groups of properties within older residential suburbs by limiting the building heights and density, and in many places, requiring a resource consent to demolish existing character buildings. 

    These rules aim to retain and manage the ‘character qualities’, or the look and feel, where areas collectively share similar and consistent characteristics, such as shared streetscapes, trees, street patterns, building types and architectural styles. 

    So, Auckland’s historic heritage will continue to be protected?

    Yes, Auckland’s historic heritage continues to be protected as a matter of national importance under the Resource Management Act and heritage protections in the Auckland Unitary Plan will not change.

    What is the council’s approach to residential special character areas?

    An extensive review of all existing special character areas was completed. This was the first region-wide review as one was not undertaken for the Auckland Unitary Plan. 

    Following this review, we’re proposing a balanced approach to ensure areas of special character are protected while also delivering on the government’s strong direction to enable more housing for current and future Aucklanders.

    Within walkable catchments, only areas with high quality special character value are identified to be protected. This will enable more housing density around large centres and rapid transit that is close to jobs, shops, and services.

    Outside of walkable catchments, areas that continue to have special character values are identified to be protected. There are some existing areas that have not retained their special character value. It is proposed that these areas will change to support more housing density.

    Why has the council proposed this approach?

    To meet the government’s requirements, we need to find a balance between protecting the important character values of these areas and enabling more housing density in places that provide good access for people to jobs, shops, community services and public transport. 

    We cannot simply choose to ‘roll over’ our existing special character protections for an area. While central government allows for some exemptions to reduce building heights and density, Auckland Council must provide strong evidence to prove why further housing density should be limited. 

    This needs to be justified against with the government’s clear requirements to allow more housing density. The evidential threshold for limiting building height and density is very high and will be tested through public submissions, hearings, and independent expert review.

    Then why are changes happening in special character areas?

    Central government’s new housing direction mandates more building height and density across the city, so there will be changes for almost all Auckland suburbs, including those with special character. 

    Many of Auckland’s older residential suburbs were originally built around the early public transport network and emerging town centres, which have become increasingly important for people as the city grows. This is where our special character areas are located. 

    It is also within these areas where the government now requires Auckland Council  to enable more housing, including apartments of six-storeys or more within walking distances of our 10 large metropolitan centres and rapid public transport, like train and busway stations. We are also required to enable more homes of up to three storeys on most residential sites across the city.

    How were residential special character areas assessed?

    Special character areas were reviewed in a process which involved data collection, review, and analysis. Field surveys were carried out until the national COVID-19 alert levels no longer allowed this, with the site-specific data then collected through a desk-top based survey.

    We surveyed all residential special character areas using five criteria based on the values of special character identified in the Auckland Unitary Plan. This includes architectural style, period of development, typology, relationship to the street and scale. In addition, we also looked at the physical integrity of buildings. This means each individual property receives an overall score of up to six.

    An individual score is combined with the results within the street or neighbourhood to determine an overall area quality.

    Why not keep all existing special character areas?

    Central government has given strong direction that there needs to be changes to allow for more housing across our city, with fewer blanket protections. 

    We cannot choose to ‘roll over’ our existing special character protections. While the government allows for some exemptions to limit building heights and density, these are on a site-by-site basis. We cannot use them without providing strong evidence to prove why further housing density should be limited. 

    Any exemption also needs to be justified against the government’s clear requirements to enable more homes. The evidential threshold for limiting building height and density is very high and will be tested through public submissions, hearings, and independent expert review.

    Not complying with government’s requirements could result in losing more of Auckland’s special character areas. 

    What does “Under Investigation” mean on the preliminary response map viewer?

    Auckland Unitary Plan has Precincts, which include place-specific standards that manage areas differently to the underlying zone.  There might be a development opportunity or constraint that requires place-specific standards.

    Precincts are likely to require change because their standards may limit development that the MDRS now allow.  

    The Precincts are under investigation as we identify all the relevant standards.   Changes to Precincts will be included in the intensification Plan Change that will be notified in August 2022.

    What does “Modified” mean in the GIS Viewer Legend?

    You will see the word “Modified” after the Terrace Housing and Apartment Buildings Zone and the Mixed Housing Urban Zone in the legend.  

    This word is there to show that these zones are changing.

    Council is required to incorporate the government’s Medium Density Residential Standards into these zones, plus the Terrace Housing and Apartment Building Zone must allow six storey buildings in walkable catchments to comply with the government’s national policy statement requirements.  The mandatory changes to standards mean the current zones in the Auckland Unitary Plan will be modified.  

    What are these two zones?

    These two zones reflect the level of development in the current Single House and Mixed Housing Suburban zones after the government’s Medium Density Residential Standards are incorporated, and where one or more qualifying matters are proposed.

    The presence of a qualifying matter can reduce the height or scale of built development the government’s intensification requirements otherwise require.  

    Why are some zones not shown as being modified in the preliminary response map viewer legend?

    There are a few places where council is not required to incorporate the government’s Medium Density Residential Standards, as outlined on factsheet #5.

    The preliminary response viewer shows the unmodified Single House and Mixed Housing Suburban Zones in the locations where MDRS is excluded – these are small settlements of less than 5000 people.

    Council’s preliminary response in suburban Auckland is to either re-zone residential land to accommodate the mandatory intensification, or to apply a modified form of the Single House or Mixed Housing Suburban Zones where the Medium Density Residential Standards are applied, but modified to cater for at least one qualifying matter.  These are the zones shown as Two storey Single Dwelling Residential Area, and Two-Storey Medium Density Residential Area.