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Impact of the proposed Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS) on the resource consent process

Introduction

Rico conducted a study to analyse the effect of the recently proposed amendment to the RMA to enable housing supply on the resource consent process.


We looked to analyse the impact that adopting the proposed Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS) would have on work within the Planning and Resource Management industry, both for local authorities and consultants. In particular the number of resource consents and work involved in preparing and processing them.


Method

We analysed 388 proposals that were prepared on our software platform, Rico, over 2020 and 2021 within Auckland. Rico enables us to analyse the rules (e.g. activities and standards) involved in resource consent proposals and which are affected by the proposed MDRS.


‘Affected zones' are those zones where the proposed MDRS would be implemented. These are:

  • H3 Residential - Single House Zone

  • H4 Residential - Mixed Housing Suburban Zone

  • H5 Residential - Mixed Housing Urban Zone

  • H6 Residential - Terraced Housing and Buildings Zone


‘Affected standards' are those standards we anticipate changing to become more permissive than they are currently. Affected standards vary within the zones above as the standards in some zones (such as Mixed Housing Urban and Terraced Housing and Apartment Buildings) are already as permissive as the proposed MDRS. Generally, affected standards related to:

  • Building Height

  • Height in relation to boundary

  • Alternative height in relation to boundary

  • Yards

  • Building coverage

  • Outlook space

  • Outdoor living space


Findings




We found that:

  • 0.8% of the total proposals no longer required resource consent. These were cases where a proposal would no longer require resource consent if the MDRS were adopted. I.e. all reasons for consent were infringements to affected standards and the proposal would no longer infringe if the proposed MDRS applied.

  • 62.4% of the total proposals contained infringements to standards that are affected by MDRS but still required resource consent.

  • 36.9% of the total proposals were unaffected by the proposed changes. This includes 19.3% of total proposals which were in an affected zone but did not have any reasons for consent that were affected by the proposed changes.


Discussion

Our analysis showed that all else equal, the proposed MDRS would remove the need for fewer than 1% of resource consent proposals in Auckland over the 2020 - 2021 time period. This is a negligible reduction.


It’s important to note that Auckland’s planning rules are closer to the proposed MDRS than other affected areas (Tier 1 urban areas such as Christchurch, Tauranga, Wellington, Hamilton) after it rolled out the Auckland Unitary Plan (AUP) in 2016.


Like the proposed MDRS, the AUP enabled a substantial increase in density while relaxing bulk and location rules. This exacerbated environmental effects in other areas like Earthworks, Transport, Bulk and Location, Urban Design, Infrastructure and Servicing etc.


These environmental effects, in turn, need to be managed by local authorities. To do this, additional rules are created and approaches for exercising discretion during the consenting process are developed.


Ultimately, reasons for consent relating to these issues are ubiquitous in Auckland’s resource consent process. Our study saw 63% of proposals affected by the proposed MDRS, with fewer than 1% no longer requiring resource consent. The main difference here was that proposals triggered reasons for consent relating to other issues in addition to those stemming from affected standards.


In this way, relaxing density restrictions creates the need for more comprehensive assessments of proposals. Any planner working within Auckland through the roll-out of the AUP will have seen the effects of this with application complexity and processing timeframes increasing substantially over this period.


There have been claims that the proposed MDRS will simplify the consent process. However, based on our analysis and what we’ve seen with the roll-out of the AUP, it’s almost impossible to see this playing out in reality.


No doubt the proposed changes will have a substantial impact on resource management outcomes that go well beyond what’s discussed above. However, in terms of the impact on the resource consent process, it is our view that the changes by the Housing Supply Bill (including the introduction of the MDRS) will cause a negligible decrease in the number of resource consents while resulting in more complex proposals with substantially higher information requirements. All this points to busy times ahead for the Planning and Resource Management industry across NZ.


At Rico, we've developed technology for planners and related professionals to streamline and simplify the preparation of complex resource consent applications and assessments of environmental effects. You can learn more at our website here.


Notable limitations

Though our analysis has useful insights, it’s not perfect. The following limitations are acknowledged:

  • The study only involves resource consent proposals under the Auckland Unitary Plan (Operative in Part). When compared to other plans in Tier 1 urban environments, the AUP(OiP) is more permissive and more closely aligned with the proposed Medium Density Residential Standards.

  • The proposals analysed were only those prepared on Rico’s software and may not be representative of all applications submitted in Auckland.

  • The proposals are prepared in Rico but subject to change outside of our software (e.g. changes during council processing).

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