What is MDH?



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Resource consents are permits that allow an individual or organisation to use or take water, land (including subdivision) or coastal resources.

They also allow the discharge of water or waste to air, water or land. A land use consent may be needed for particular activities such as extending or constructing a new building where the activity is not permitted as of right or the proposed development is outside the parameters (height, site coverage and so on) of the district plan. A subdivision consent is needed to legally divide land or buildings for separate ownership – for example, into new lots or sections or as a unit title or cross-lease. For MDH developments to occur, land titles may need to be aggregated to provide a site that allows an effective MDH development.

Class of activity

Whether a resource consent is required for an MDH development and what type of consent is required depends on the type of activity and how it is classified in the local district or regional plan. District plans classify activities that require a resource consent as either:

  • controlled
  • restricted discretionary
  • discretionary
  • non-complying.

The council must grant a resource consent for a controlled activity (with a couple of exceptions) but can refuse to grant a resource consent for other activities depending on the circumstances.


The time taken to complete the planning and resource consent process can vary considerably depending on the number of resource management steps involved. Several key factors influence the amount of time these steps take including:

  • size of the development
  • scope of changes during the process
  • conformity to existing planning rules
  • land use and style of surrounding developments
  • quality of information provided in the application
  • degree of support by council officers for the proposed development
  • degree of earthworks required
  • availability of infrastructure
  • availability of external reports such as urban design assessments, traffic impact assessments and so on.

Local controls

District plans made under the RMA for the main urban centres typically include zones for activities and manage the bulk, location and type of development that is permitted. Relevant territorial rules and resource consent requirements stipulate site coverage, building height and other bulk and location requirements. There are also a range of other requirements such as stormwater discharge or permitted emission to atmosphere.

Current land-use zoning in the main centres typically has intensive and medium to high-rise housing centred around the CBD, CBD fringes and metro-centres. MDH may also be permitted in the inner suburbs or further out from the CBD.

Each council follows a prescribed process when developing and reviewing its district plan. District plan rules often include requirements for urban design assessments, concept plans and landscape assessments as part of the subdivision application for a medium-density development. This is to ensure that such developments are well designed to overcome the commonly held perception that medium-density development results in lower amenity values.

Housing accords and special housing areas

In certain areas, special housing areas may be established by the government on the recommendation of territorial authorities. Qualifying developments in special housing areas are provided with a streamlined consenting process.

The criteria for a qualifying development varies from area to area, but may include a minimum percentage of affordable dwellings within the development.

There is a view in the building industry that the consent process is a barrier to overcome or cost to carry, and some believe consent processes have a significant negative impact on their ability to deliver MDH.

BRANZ research indicates that these perceived problems with MDH consents fall into one of three categories:

  • The legal framework (including timing).
  • How well industry understands and then complies with the legal requirements.
  • How competent government is to assess the applications.

When coming to a decision on a resource consent application, the consent authority may decide to notify the application, including drafting an officer’s report and whether to undertake a hearing. It may decide on no notification, limited notification or public notification. If the resource consent is granted, the authority may set consent conditions that will need to be complied with.

The requirement for some developments to be notified is an important consideration for developers when it comes to planning and designing MDH. It can significantly impact on the time it takes to issue a consent and the amount of supporting information they need to provide.

The RMA requires councils to act in certain ways, particularly when it comes to the more complex projects. However, councils do not believe developers (or their agents) always give sufficient regard to the consent application process.

Councils say that delays in processing resource consents for MDH are often a result of developers not properly demonstrating that they were aware of the information requirements and had fully met them. This extends total time taken for a consent to be processed. Given the complexity and scale of most MDH applications, an extended processing time is, according to developers, the most common scenario.

Councils consider more effort should be put into the pre-application process, including clarifying aspects of the development at pre-application meetings.

Conversely, industry stakeholders believe councils have too much discretion with the consent process, resulting in confusing and uncertain design requirements, notifications and conditions. A lack of clarity and uncertainty about the time it will take to receive a consent can have significant cost implications for the industry.

Developers and their agents say they are often uncertain how many requests for further information or design changes they will receive. Each further request increases the length of time required to gain consent and thereby increases costs.