Minister Twyford has released a discussion document on the proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Development (‘NPS-UD’), which he suggests will partially “fix” what he refers to as the “stuffed” housing market.

The NPS-UD will provide national direction under the Resource Management Act 1991 (‘RMA’) aimed at enabling growth and regulating land use in urban areas. The NPS-UD will replace the National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity which the Government acknowledges is not working. So what is proposed under the new approach and what impact could it have on our housing crisis?

The key components

A copy of the discussion document can be found here. While the NPS-UD will focus on the six major urban centres of Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown which are all experiencing high growth, it will also contain provisions that will apply to all councils. The new NPS-UD is intended to cover four key areas:

  • Future Development Strategies and Housing and Business Development Capacity Assessments –requiring the major urban centres to carry out long-term planning to accommodate growth and ensure well-functioning cities. The discussion document highlights the importance of aligning these processes with the Local Government Act 2002 planning cycles.
  • Making room for growth in RMA plans –requiring councils to allow for growth ‘up’ and ‘out’ in a way that contributes to a quality urban environment, and to ensure rules do not unnecessarily constrain growth. A series of objectives and policies are proposed. Eventually, a National Environmental Standard could also be added, to control the bulk and location rules that councils use to control urban development. The focus is  on a “culture shift” to enable urban development, while also appropriately managing its effects.
  • Evidence for good decision making – would require councils to develop, monitor and maintain an evidence base about demand, supply and prices for housing and land, to inform their planning decisions.
  • Process for engaging on planning – would ensure council planning is aligned and coordinated across urban areas, and issues of concern to iwi and hapu are taken into account.

The missing pieces

Over the past week there has been commentary from various councils that many of the district plans (or proposed plans) in the major centres are already broadly consistent with the proposals in the discussion document. The NPS-UD would, however, assist in achieving consistency of approach across councils and provide clearer expectations around minimum requirements for long term development capacity planning.

By itself the NPS-UD is unlikely to provide any panacea for solving the housing crisis. Rather, the NPS-UD is just the first plank in the Government’s Urban Growth Agenda (‘UGA’). To deliver more substantial outcomes the following critical missing pieces need to be added:

  • Infrastructure funding – Councils often limit development capacity because of the lack of infrastructure to service new development. Other work under the UGA aims to support private funding for infrastructure. Certainty of funding will help local authorities to be flexible in timing the release of land for development.
  • Integrated spatial planning – Only Auckland is required to prepare a spatial plan. The Expert Advisory Group reporting on the Stage 2 RMA reforms has been specifically tasked with looking at this issue. Effective spatial planning is critical to ensure the integration of development and infrastructure provision.

The NPS-UD is part of a suite of national guidance proposed by the Government including the recently announced NPS on Highly Productive Land and a proposed NPS on Indigenous Biodiversity.   Getting the balance right between the potentially competing values addressed by each NPS will be critical.

Your chance to have a say

The discussion document poses a series of questions seeking feedback. The broad and searching nature of these questions signals that there is a real opportunity to provide meaningful input into shaping the new NPS-UD. If you would like help analysing what is proposed or drafting feedback, please get in touch with a member of our Environment and Planning Team below. The chance to provide feedback closes on Thursday 10 October 2019.



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