A challenge to Auckland Council’s rural subdivision rules is currently being heard in the Environment Court in Auckland.
The two-week hearing before Judge Jeff Smith started on March 19.
Some of the parties involved in the appeal include Cabra Rural Developments, Cato Bolam Consultants, Radiata Properties, Terra Nova Planning and Omaha Park. If the court accepts the appeals in full, the rules will widen the opportunities for subdivision.
The hearing arose after Council over-turned the recommendations of the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) in the Unitary Plan, which proposed 117 per cent more sites – mostly in the rural production zone – than Council’s provisions. Council rejected the changes on the basis that it could lead to sporadic and scattered rural subdivision, with minimal environmental benefits.
Council wants to restrict vegetation and wetland protection to mapped Significant Ecological Areas (SEAs) and any new planting to be contiguous to an existing SEA. It is also arguing for limited ‘in situ’ development and new titles to only be transferable to the Countryside Living zone.
The minimum size of areas to be set aside is also in contention – while appellants want a site of two hectares or more to be eligible for a title, Council says the minimum area should be at least five hectares.
Counsel for Auckland Council, Diana Hartley, opened submissions by underlining the importance of the hearing, given that 70 per cent of Auckland is rural and rural areas face a range of pressures including population growth. She pointed out that there are already about 8000 existing vacant titles in the rural zones of Auckland upon which additional dwellings could be built.
Ms Hartley said the key issue was how regulatory incentive subdivision should be provided in rural areas.
“Council’s position is that the Unitary Plan provisions are in interrelated suite of provisions that need to be integrated to achieve a range of resource management outcomes,” she said.
The purpose was to retain and use the productive potential of rural land, its biodiversity values, rural and coastal character, and amenity values, and avoid potential for reverse sensitivity effects.
“The aim is to direct the majority of growth to existing towns and villages in the areas outside the Rural Urban Boundary (RUB). One of the reasons for this is to achieve the benefits of a compact urban form.
“Reliance solely on SEAs, thresholds for the sizes of qualifying indigenous vegetation and wetlands, and limits on the maximum number of sites that can be created in the methods proposed by Council will ensure that there are only limited subdivision opportunities in the rural areas.”
The hearing is continuing.