Whats your question to council around planning barriers?

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Are planning barriers hindering the uptake of prefabricated housing? A project funded by the Building Reserch Levy and completed by research firm Planalytics reviewed District Plans in 25 high and medium-growth urban areas to see whether there are inconsistencies in resource consent requirements for prefabricated housing.

On Innovation Bites webinar, Toni Kennerley the director of Planalytics and originally an urban planner discussed the results of this research and its implications for the prefab industry - watch it here. With over 190 industry folks watching the webinar, it's easy to see this is a hot topic that needed investigation.
Toni Kennerley, 2017.jpg

Toni Kennerley, Planalytics Director

i-Bites | Your Expert Answers, takes webinar questions posed and puts them to a expert voice on the topic to answer. This topics question was, "What question/statement would you pose to councils (around planning barriers)?". Expert voice Toni Kennerley donned her Agony Aunt hat and remarked, "I actually had quite a lot of fun responding to these!" - its a fun and insightful read - see below!

The ‘planning barriers’ research has now been finalised and attached are copies of the following documents:

  • Final research report (also available on the BRANZ website) here
  • Summary infographic here
  • Article in the latest BUILD magazine here

What question or statement would you like to pose to councils?

Q: Why are minimum lots sizes required in addition to solar access, setbacks, outdoor living area rules etc

A: Minimum lot sizes control density (with consequent implications for infrastructure) and to a lesser extent, residential amenity. Where I live in Wairarapa the District Plan has a range of minimum lot sizes, from 88m2 (in a character zone for townhouses); to 350m2 or 400m2 for serviced lots; to 1,000m2 for unserviced lots; and 2,000m2 for serviced lots in a low-density character area. Just using solar access, setbacks, and outdoor living areas to control density wouldn’t work on larger sites if there are infrastructure implications (i.e. not enough infrastructure in place to service the number of sites created).

Q: Relax rules around denser inner-city housing development

A: I agree, and some councils such as Wellington City are trying to achieve this.

Q: Can the council lean on developers not to impose silly covenants? i.e. make it a condition of the subdivision consent...

A: Unfortunately, covenants are outside the control of the council. They are private legal instruments imposed under legislation other than the RMA. Auckland Council released a good report on the impacts of covenants on urban development last year, available here

Q: Your work thus far highlights the value in shared experiences, data and learning. Well done. The CoHousing space is attempting to generate 'open-source' information so new projects and groups don't have to re-invent the wheel, and can access proven strategies and 'short cuts' around not having to repeat the time and cost delays and mistakes of preceding groups. Do you think it would be possible to collate similar information from the Planning world, to provide a 'how to plan a prefab project' data/resource?

A: Great idea, but unfortunately because district plans are different throughout the country, this would need to be done on a council-by-council basis.

I think PrefabNZ are developing ‘resource consent tips’ for SNUG homes which will be a great start.

Q: How can development covenants still be justified in town planning?

A: Yes there are definitely a lot of benefits to be had by standardising district plans across the country. The Ministry for the Environment (MFE) are trying to achieve this through the National Planning Standards, check it out here

Q: Would like councils to encourage some very high-density subdivisions with very small freehold sections suitable for tiny houses or small prefab houses. Would be an affordable first step to home ownership for younger and disadvantaged people. These could incorporate/ encourage innovative concepts. Owning something of their own rather than renting could improve the well being of people, and benefit the wider community.

A: Yes some councils realise this, in Wairarapa where I live there is a character area that provides for townhouse lots of a minimum size of 88m2. Ask your local council what their minimum lot size is in the residential zones, and why they don’t go smaller. I’d also recommend keeping an eye out for the next district plan review (usually advertised in the newspaper). Then you can lodge a submission (and encourage others to do so as well) to ask for smaller lot sizes. As long as you provide a reasonable argument, your council has to give it due consideration.

Q: There should be no difference between a prefab home and a new build in terms of RMA/Building Consent process. There needs to be differentiation between prefabricated buildings and older existing buildings that are relocated and require upgrading.

A: I agree. PrefabNZ lodged a submission on MFE’s National Planning Standards last year; asking for a standard definition of ‘relocated building’ that excludes complete/transportable prefab buildings. If accepted, this means that all councils across the country will have to use the same definition for ‘relocated building’. Fingers crossed that MFE agree! A decision on National Planning Standards is due in April, check it out here

Q: To what extent do councils (and planners) see their responsibility for reducing house size in order to achieve affordability through encouraging and incentivising offsite construction?

A: Good question and unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for you. Each council and every planner within that council will have a different level of knowledge regarding prefab and offsite construction. I would challenge all PrefabNZ members to go into their local council and give the building and planning teams a talk on offsite construction, its benefits, and the obstacles it faces.

Q: I think most councils do a good job and get blamed for a lot of things out of their control. Not by you, but the general public.

A: Yes that’s true, there are a lot of great council planners out there. Being a planner in a council is a tough job – you literally can’t please anyone (developers/ neighbours/ public/ other council staff etc). Have a bit of sympathy next time you’re in council and see someone tearing a strip off the duty planner – they are just doing their job. (Unfortunately, though, it’s a job regimented by the RMA!)

Q: Agree with Toni, 65 district plans for such a small population seems excessive. Let's try and reduce that number.

A: Absolutely! For sure each district within NZ is different and has its own unique character, but there is definitely room for some standardisation in our planning system. I’d hate to think how much $$ has been spent on planning consultants to develop and update 65 district plans over the last 28 years that the RMA has been in force….

Q: Wake up. Please

A: Agree!

Q: Educate the processing officers - If CCC is issued for a building, they don't need to consider it as part of BC assessment, just where it connects to ground and links into the services.

A: Yes, there is always room for improvement and upskilling in any profession. Make sure you query any decisions coming out of council that doesn’t sound right/logical. It’s only through raising these issues that people will have opportunities to learn.

Q: Why is the planning different in each council in the country with some requiring RC to delay the project and add additional costs?

The RMA requires that councils prepare, and regularly review, district plans. In Wairarapa where I live, three councils got together and produced one combined district plan. That system seems to work pretty well, but I think Wairarapa is the only place that this has happened. I’m not sure why - maybe turf protection?

Q: Nationwide standardisation for planning & building requirements seems to be the only way to create a functional system, that needs only a one point interaction to update to current innovation. Needing to approach 86 councils on each issue is a great way to slow any improvement down to a crawl.

I agree, hopefully MFE’s National Planning Standards will address this need for standardisation. See here

Q: Slightly off topic, it would be interesting to know how councils confirm off-site constructed buildings to be code compliant - do they carry out the normal series of inspections for each house in the factory, as they will do for the on-site elements of the project?

Sorry but I can’t comment on the building consent side of things, I was a lowly planner only 😉. But I do know that BRANZ has commissioned some research on compliance and assurance prototypes for manufactured buildings, check out a brief description of this research on page 3 of this BRANZ document here

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