What is MDH?



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The type of MDH you can build and where you can build it is governed by the planning framework under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

The RMA planning framework contains a number of planning instruments, including district plans, regional plans, regional policy statements, national environmental standards and national policy statements.

MDH chart


The instrument with the most direct influence on MDH are district plans.

District plans

District plans are developed and administered by city and district councils (territorial authorities). District plans set out the policies and rules a council will use to manage the use and development of land in its area. District plans establish zones, each with policies and rules to encourage or deter different land uses and types of development. District plans state what can be built as a permitted activity, what needs a resource consent and the criteria against which the resource consent application will be assessed.

District plans often include requirements for things such as urban design assessments, concept plans or landscape assessments to ensure MDH developments are well designed and support amenity values.

Regional plans

Regional plans are developed and administered by regional councils. They include rules around things such as activities in the coastal marine area and discharges to air and water. Some MDH developments will need resource consents under both a regional plan and district plan.

Regional policy statements

Regional policy statements are developed and administered by regional councils. They provide an overview of the resource management issues of a region and include policies and methods to achieve integrated management of the natural and physical resources of the region. They may contain policies relevant to MDH, such as a policy to use land efficiently. Regional and district plans must implement the directives of a regional policy statement.

National environmental standards

National environmental standards are regulations set by central government. They prescribe technical standards, methods or other requirements for environmental matters. They provide an opportunity for central government to promote consistent standards at the regional and district level.

National policy statements

National Policy Statements are developed by central government. They state objectives and policies for matters of national significance relevant to achieving sustainable management of natural and physical resources. They must be implemented in regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans.

National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020

In July 2020, the government released the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (NPS-UD) to promote the density of housing in urban centres, especially in areas close to public transport.

The NPS-UD sets rules for what local councils can and cannot do in their planning decisions around issues such as setting height restrictions in city centres and enforcing minimum car parking requirements.

Tier 1 and Tier 2 local authorities are obliged to carry out certain actions under Parts 2 and 3 of the NPS-UD. Tier 3 local authorities are “strongly encouraged” to follow suit, adopting whatever modifications are necessary or helpful to them.

For Tier 1 authorities, in city centre zones, building heights and density of urban form must realise as much development capacity as possible to maximise benefits of intensification. In metropolitan centre zones, building heights and density of urban form must reflect demand for housing and business use in those locations, and in all cases, building heights must be at least 6 storeys. There must be building heights of least 6 storeys within at least a walkable catchment of existing and planned rapid transit stops, the edge of city centre zones and the edge of metropolitan centre zones.

National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity

In 2016, the Environment Minister issued the National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity. It aims to ensure that local authority planning (regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans) provides sufficient opportunities for development to meet housing and business needs. Specifically, this national policy statement directs councils to:

  • Place greater emphasis on change and development when making decisions about urban development
  • Provide sufficient urban development capacity to support housing and business growth
  • Ensure that planning processes facilitate urban development.

Development capacity refers to the amount of development that is support by infrastructure and is allowed by zoning and plans. This includes outward development on greenfield sites and upward development by intensifying existing urban areas.

The National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity applies to all councils, but there are different objectives, policies and timeframes for implementation, depending on whether an area is classified as low, medium or high-growth.

Objective OA1 applies to all areas and is relevant to MDH:

Effective and efficient urban environments that enable people and communities and future generations to provide for their social, economic, cultural and environmental well-being.

Also relevant is the directive within Policy A3. This is to have particular regard to promoting the efficient use of urban land and infrastructure, and providing for choices that will meet the needs for a range of dwelling types and locations, working environments and places to locate businesses.