Make way for Medium Density Housing

RMA changed to enable housing intensification in certain areas

March 2022

The Resource Management (Enabling Housing Supply and Other Matters) Amendment Act (the Enable Housing Act) was quickly passed into law in December 2021. Its significance on future urban development and planning cannot be understated, as we explain below.

The Enable Housing Act removes existing red tape to speed up the construction of new medium-density homes in high-demand residential areas. It does this in two ways:

  1. introducing new medium density residential standards (MDRS) for “relevant residential zones” in Tier 1 districts (and potentially to Tier 2 and Tier 3 districts). The MDRS will enable up to 3 dwellings per site up to 3 storeys high without needing resource consent; and
  2. creating a new streamlined planning process so councils can implement parts of the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 faster.

Which Councils have to implement the MDRS and what zones will they apply to?

The MDRS must be put in place by all Tier 1 councils. Christchurch City, Selwyn and Waimakariri are the only Tier 1 areas in the South Island.

The MDRS must apply to “relevant residential zones” – this includes all residential zone, except does not include:

  • large lot residential zones, as defined in the National Planning Standards (generally these are rural-residential areas but will depend on the particular council’s zoning makeup);
  • areas predominantly urban in character comprising less than 5,000 people as reported in the 2018 census, unless the District Council intends for the area to become an urban environment;
  • an offshore island; or
  • Settlement zones, as defined in the National Planning Standards.

Tier 2 and Tier 3 Councils may only be required to implement the MDRS if the Environment Minister makes a recommendation that they do so (after consulting with the Ministers for Housing and Māori Crown Relations) and the Governor-General approves it. Tier 2 councils include Dunedin, Nelson, Tasman and Queenstown-Lakes. Other South Island councils are left in Tier 3, or in no tier at all (depending on population size).


Key MDRS include:

  • maximum of 3 residential units per site;
  • minimum building setback of 1m from side and rear boundaries, and 1.5m from front boundaries;
  • maximum dwelling height of 11m, or 12m where the entire roof slope is 15 degrees or more;
  • maximum building coverage of 50% of the net site area; and
  • outdoor living spaces of no less than 20m2 for each residential unit on the ground floor level, and a balcony of no less than 8m2 for residential units above ground level.

Councils will be able to leave out or modify one or more of the MDRS if doing so will be more enabling for development – for example, a council could increase the maximum building height or decrease the minimum size of outdoor spaces.

There is also some limited ability for councils to make the MDRS less enabling of development – for example to manage significant risks from natural hazards, ensuring safe or efficient operation of infrastructure, or to be consistent with iwi participation legislation. So there is still some uncertainty of exactly which areas will be subject to the MDRS when the councils notify the changes later this year.

When will the MDRS have effect?

The new MDRS will have immediate legal effect from their notification date.

Tier 1 councils must prepare and publicly notify the new MDRS in their “relevant residential zones” by 20 August 2022. If the Governor-General approves a Minister recommendation for a Tier 2 or Tier 3 council to implement the MDRS, the required notification date will be set in the Order in Council.

To notify the new MDRS rules, the council must prepare an Intensification Planning Instrument (IPI) which will go through a new Intensification Streamlined Planning Process (ISPP). Under the ISPP process, submissions on the IPI will be heard by an independent hearing panel before a final decision is made on the rules. There will be no rights of appeal, meaning the public will only have one opportunity to influence the new rules.

What about covenants?

The Enable Housing Act does not override covenants, so developers can continue to use them to restrict further intensification (for example, to protect single storey housing subdivisions). However, the Government has signalled that it will investigate whether intervention is required to override restrictive covenants in the future. So watch this space.

Want to find out more?

If you are looking to acquire new land for development opportunities, or you want to find out more about how the Enable Housing Act may affect your existing property, talk to one of Resource Management specialists. Our team can also assist you in preparing a submission on the IPI in your area once it is notified.

Johanna King
021 917 140

Sam Chidgey
021 221 1388