How to Answer the ‘Can I Develop my Property?’ Question

I get asked this question a lot. Most of the time, the answer is a pretty straightforward yes or no. This is because every council in New Zealand uses zoning in their District Plan. In planning jargon we call this approach ‘activity-based’. Put simply, the zone determines where different land uses are anticipated.

When it comes to land, zoning is destiny (and density).

If you know the zone of your property, you can work out what land uses are likely to be allowed. It’s all written in the objectives and policies of the District Plan. Let’s take a few examples:

Enable residential intensification within the Inner and Outer Residential Areas provided that it does not detract from the character and amenity of the neighbourhood in which it is located.

Wellington City District Plan Policy

(1) Housing capacity, intensity and choice in the zone is increased.
(2) Development is in keeping with the neighbourhood’s planned suburban built
character of predominantly two storey buildings, in a variety of forms (attached
and detached).
(3) Development provides quality on-site residential amenity for residents and
adjoining sites and the street.

Auckland Unitary Plan H4.2 Objectives for the Residential – Mixed Housing Suburban Zone

Provide for the following distribution of different areas for residential development, in accordance with the residential zones identified and characterised in Table, in a manner that ensures:
(iii) medium density residential development in and near identified commercial centres in existing urban areas where there is ready access to a wide range of facilities, services, public transport, parks and open spaces, that achieves an average net density of at least 30 households per hectare for intensification development;

Christchurch District Plan Policy

These policies make it pretty clear that housing development is anticipated in existing urban areas.

The Right to Adequate Housing

Buried in Attachment A for Item 5 of the Dunedin City Council Meeting Agenda from 6 May 2019 is:

Action 1.4: The Council becomes a member of the ‘Cities for Adequate Housing’ and implements housing as a human right and ends homelessness in Dunedin.

Housing Action Plan for Dunedin, April 2019

The Cities for Adequate Housing calls for the following five actions that would cause even the most liberal of property developers to raise an eyebrow:

  1. More powers to better regulate the real estate market
  2. More funds to improve our public housing stock
  3. More tools to co-produce public-private community-driven alternative housing
  4. An urban planning that combines adequate housing with quality, inclusive and sustainable neighbourhoods
  5. A municipalist cooperation in residential strategies

The concept of a right to housing is from Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is somewhat clumsily bundled in with “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family”.

This also aligns with Sustainable Development Goal 11 – make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

It will be a challenge bringing “housing as a human right” into District Plans. It’s the classic consequentialist (effects-based) vs deontological (activity-based) planning debate.

Drive, Park and Ride, Drive

Hamilton is moving forward with a new Transport Hub at Rotokauri. This is despite evidence from at least 2013 that Park and Rides actually encourage car use!

I find the psychology of this interesting. What problem does public transport actually solve? The fact is, not all transport is created equal. If it doesn’t get you exactly where you want to go these days, what’s the point?

Rotokauri to Papakura is hardly the same as downtown Carterton to central Wellington.

We need better transport policies in NZ. Here’s my mini bucket list:

  • Increase the frequency and improve the reliability of existing buses and trains.
  • Build more bus shelters with real-time information.
  • Make cycling safer.
  • Properly price car parking.
  • A Seamless Integrated Mobility System.

The Universality of Universal Design

I’m a big fan of Universal Design. Lifemark, a commercial division of CCS Disability Action, is a well known advocate for universal design in NZ.

The Lifemark Design Standards focus on dwellings and are based on the following five key principles:

  1. Usable
  2. Adaptable
  3. Accessible
  4. Safe
  5. Lifetime value

The seven principles of universal design are much more far reaching however. They are:

  1. Equitable Use – The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  2. Flexibility in Use – The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use – Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
  4. Perceptible Information – The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for Error – The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  6. Low Physical Effort – The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use – Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

With 1 in 4 Kiwis limited by an impairment, District Plans should be including reference to these universal design principles to enable social well-being.

Disability is something that happens when people with impairments face barriers in society; it is society that disables us, not our impairments, this is the thing all disabled people have in common. It is something that happens when the world we live in has been designed by people who assume that everyone is the same. That is why a non-disabling society is core to the vision of the New Zealand Disability Strategy.

Office for Disability Issues (MSD), 2017

Are Townhouses a Solution to the Housing Crisis?

In May 2019 townhouses comprised 25% of all dwellings consented. But what exactly is a townhouse?

Town house

A tall, narrow traditional terraced house, generally having three or more floors. A multi-storey house in a modern housing development which is attached to one or more similar houses by shared walls.

Google, 2019

But then of course there are lies, damned lies and statistics…

According the Stats NZ definitions, a townhouse is basically any dwelling not easily classified as a house or apartment. That means we don’t even really know what a quarter of the housing we are producing actually is.

It’s hard to see how that is a solution to anything.

Basic Land Development Economics

The most common approach to valuing land for a development is known as the Residual Valuation method. This is essentially the estimated realisation less the development costs. Although it may sound simple, complexity arises when inflation, finance and cashflow variables are considered over time.

A better approach is often to consider the Internal Rate of Return (IRR) for a development project. This is generally a more appropriate metric for assessing capital investments, which property development is.

To get started with calculating IRR you need to know the expected realisation and costs for your land development project.

Infill is a service that can help you find the right professionals to develop a proposal and accurately estimate the realisation, cost and programme. Once this information is compiled, calculating the IRR will be a piece of cake.

We want to de-risk land development projects to make them more affordable for everyone. If this sounds good to you, register your interest.

Location, Location, Quality

The recently released Framework for Housing Quality from Stats NZ defines four elements of housing quality:

  • Habitability
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Functionality
  • Social and cultural sustainability

Interestingly, the location of a house affects all four of these elements and has a significant impact on overall housing quality. Infill development is the perfect way to create quality housing.


Habitable houses are physically safe, secure and healthy.

Environmental sustainability

The design and construction of environmentally sustainable houses ensures that they are responsive to the climate and environment, facilitate sustainable living and are both durable and resilient.


Functional houses enable cultural, spiritual, social and economic participation, improve connectivity and provide for physical, sensory, cognitive, emotional and mental health needs.

Social and cultural sustainability

Socially and culturally sustainable houses are adaptable and flexible to changing living needs and circumstances.

If you’re interested in how Infill can help you to create quality housing by addressing these elements in your land development project, please register your interest.

Kiwibuild, KiwiBuy and Kiwi…Land Recycling

There are currently two landmark housing programmes in New Zealand. One is the somewhat infamous Kiwibuild and the other a lesser known KiwiBuy. But there is an older approach to housing affordability not discussed much these days.


The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development states that KiwiBuild has three core aims:

  • increase home ownership
  • increase the supply of affordable homes where there is a shortage
  • use government procurement to foster innovation and reduce the cost of building new homes

Kiwibuild homes will cost up to $650,000 in Auckland. This is still regarded as ‘severely unaffordable’ but there are some apartments at lower prices.


KiwiBuy combines proven and innovative pathways to home ownership, including Shared Ownership and Progressive Home Ownership.

Habitat for Humanity, 2019.

While shared and progressive home ownership can help individuals, it doesn’t usually improve housing affordability overall.

Kiwi…Land Recycling

Land Recycling is a third way to affordability and it is actually something that Kiwis have been doing for a long time. It involves taking the traditional quarter acre block and replacing some of the lawn and vegetable garden with a new home. Sometimes known as a ‘backyard’ subdivision, it is often a DIY approach to land development.

Infill is a service that allows any Kiwi to become a property developer, whether they are an Owner or a Purchaser. Check it out by registering your interest.

Unlike Kiwibuild and KiwiBuy, land recycling is more affordable for a community over the long-term.


Habitat for Humanity. 2019. KiwiBuy: a solution for home ownership. Retrieved from

Convergence of the Professions

A typical land development project involves a variety of professionals drawing from their respectively diverse bodies of knowledge. Despite this, the outcome sought by you as an owner or purchaser remains a piece of land or a new building to use.

Achieving this outcome requires unprecedented workflow collaboration, usually under the direction of a lead professional or project manager. Unfortunately, strong professional silos persist that put pressure on the project management triangle of scope, cost and time.

The Infill model of land development breaks down these silo barriers by:

  • Creating a vision
  • Defining common goals
  • Motivating stakeholders
  • Measuring success
  • Sharing knowledge

1. Creating a vision

Each professional must not only understand their technical role in the land development process; but also the context within which their work is required. Creating a vision provides this context.

2. Defining common goals

Once defined, the vision will bring into focus the unique problems that must be solved to deliver the project. Overcoming these challenges is achieved by identifying shared objectives and prioritising the work to be done.

3. Motivating stakeholders

But having goals is not enough. The team must also be rowing in the same direction. By aligning economic and professional incentives with the goals, it is possible to leverage collaboration and achieve best practice.

4. Measuring success

Every discipline has a unique body of knowledge against which its performance is measured. Communication between and within each profession is critical for promoting accountability and sustaining momentum.

5. Sharing knowledge

Improving communication provides the team with opportunities for creativity and learning. It is through this combination of vision, shared goals, alignment and success that knowledge can truly be shared.

If this model of land development appeals to you, please register your interest. Alternatively please search our directory for the specialist skills you need.

Economic and Demographic Divergence

Did you know that by 2043 around 75% of kiwis will be living in just 25% of our cities and districts.

In fact, a third of New Zealand cities and districts are already struggling to grow.

This means that population composition is becoming more important than population size. It also means that migration is becoming the only reasonable option for growth.

The land development and housing markets need to respond to this economic and demographic divergence. Suburban homes and apartment blocks are not the only solution to slowing growth and affordable housing. We need to put more effort into unlocking the potential of under-developed land in existing urban areas.

Infill provides a solution to this problem by connecting landowners with home buyers. The intention is to better manage the land development process by reducing uncertainty and improving the outcome for everyone. Click here to register your interest.