Environmental benefit blocks are an exception to Subdivision Rules (November 2021)

When deciding to allow rural subdivision, councils consider many factors with the issue of demand for the blocks being very low on the list, if at all.  In this context, I am not talking about rural residential subdivisions where there might be a hundred or more half-hectare blocks grouped on the outskirts of town.  Rather, I am talking about small farms and lifestyle blocks where you might like to escape to from the chorus of ride-ons on a Saturday afternoon. The sections where you can build a house without covenants, have a few animals and raise a family away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Over the years, I have been approached by many wanting to rezone a rural area to allow for lifestyle subdivision.  In their mind, it would be a good use of land where the blocks are already small and located on unproductive soils.  Well, it makes sense doesn’t it?  Yes, it does, but from my experience it needs scale and it needs to be promoted by Council.  The process is huge in terms of both time and cost, and the likelihood of success is extremely low, unless there are extenuating circumstances. 

For a start, Council will want all the effects of the future subdivisions addressed at the outset of any proposed rezoning.  These effects can include traffic - so you won’t want to be too close to a state highway or city, nor too far from one!  Then there is rural character, soil productivity, archaeological, wastewater, stormwater and ecological to consider to name but a few of the issues to be reported on.

By far the best way to go is to approach Council with your concept and see if you can talk them into it being ‘their idea’.  If council officers think that your proposal has merit they can advance it through their periodic Plan Change process with the bonus that Council will cover the cost to a large extent.  If they don’t like it then the way forward is very risky.  With courage, you could either put a submission in to their next plan change or promote a Private Plan Change at some point, but the cost would be all yours.

Often unproductive land goes hand in hand with environmental attributes.  It is here that we are finding that councils allow a little more flexibility with rural subdivision.  This is not rezoning over several properties but it can allow some additional lifestyle blocks on farms with qualifying features.

Wetland areas, regenerating native bush and stream banks are some of the most popular features with councils.  Western Bay, Waikato, Thames-Coromandel, Franklin (now partly in Waikato and Hauraki), Waipa, Hauraki, South Waikato, Matamata-Piako, Whakatane and Opotiki District Plans all now recognise the benefits of protecting these features.  Using the Western Bay as an example, half a hectare of wetland can be enough to justify the subdivision of one additional section.  Also, if you have a waterway running through your property there is a good chance that you can get a credit for a subdivision – you’ll need 250m of bank planted in natives, 20 metres wide.  Established forest or regenerating scrubland also qualifies, with various size limits of several hectares as in other districts.

If your land has a feature similar to those mentioned in this article and you want to subdivide your property, call us to discuss the prospects with you.  

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