A new pathway for complex urban developments

1 September 2022

The term 'Specified Development Project' (SDP) has been popping up lately, with the Winton Sunfield development declined for assessment by the Minister of Housing earlier this year, and the recent announcement that a SDP in Porirua has been selected to go through the assessment process.  With speculation that the SDP tool may be used to consent some of our largest, most ambitious urban regeneration projects to date, and the Porirua project being the first to test the assessment process, some mystery remains around just what could qualify as a SDP.

However, we consider there are some keys within the legislative framework that could help unlock a potential SDP:

Be an urban development:  A successful SDP must be an 'urban development' and this criterion is key to the whole legislative framework outlined in the Urban Development Act (UDA).  The definition of urban development is broad and includes all forms of housing, commercial and industrial, and community facilities.  Crucially, for an urban development to become a successful SDP, it must have three 'key features':

  • Project objectives: it must set out the key outcomes and outputs to be delivered
  • Boundary: it must have an area of direct influence (does not have to be contiguous)
  • Project governance body: it must have a project governance body to ensure the delivery of the SDP project objectives.

Engage with Kāinga Ora early:  We understand that Kāinga Ora is interested in complex urban development projects that may be too difficult to realise under the traditional consenting and development processes.  However, to help a complex urban development navigate through the SDP selection and assessment processes, applicants should engage with Kāinga Ora early.

The more complex, potentially, the better:  Does the proposal involve fragmented land?  Is funding going to be complicated?  Urban developments with these types of complexities may be suitable to be a SDP.  Once a SDP is established, Kāinga Ora will have access to its 'tool kit' powers (such as access to funding mechanisms and infrastructure powers) enabling it to support applicants through the obstacles typically associated with more complex urban developments.  If Kāinga Ora believes that it is unable to add value to a proposal by using its 'tool kit' powers, then a proposal is less likely to gain the SDP status.

Be flexible:  Applicants must be flexible about the end product of the urban development.  The more high level a proposal is, the more successful it is likely to be, given that the SDP process requires significant collaboration with others.  Changes may be required to the urban development in order to secure stakeholder support.  If the proposal is too prescribed, and there is no flexibility on outcomes for effective collaboration to occur, it will be unlikely to be selected for assessment, or if selected, may struggle through the assessment process.

Be ready to collaborate:  The requirement to collaborate underpins the SDP selection and assessment process.  The key collaboration partners are:

  • Māori
  • Territorial authorities
  • Development partners.

The legislative framework UDA has prescribed collaboration requirements.  Applicants will need to follow these requirements and engage meaningfully with the collaboration partners, and other stakeholders, throughout the SDP process.  Kāinga Ora must consult on a proposal, and/or seek input during the formulation of a proposal or get feedback on a proposal on an iterative basis.  Input can be sought via hui or meetings, social media, or any other forums that Kāinga Ora thinks appropriate.  This collaboration will help shape the end product of the urban development.

Engage with Council:  Engagement with Council is a crucial component to a successful SDP to help to iron out any potential issues early.  Relevant local authorities are a key stakeholder and territorial authorities must support a SDP for it to be established (unless the urban development is in the national interest).  A Council will also form part of a SDP Project Government Body, so early engagement should assist with the implementation phase later.

'Streamlined' does not mean fast:  Effective collaboration takes time, particularly when dealing with complex issues.  If an applicant is seeking a quick consent process, other consenting avenues (eg, fast-track consenting legislation or direct referrals to the Environment Court) may provide a more appropriate pathway.

Consider the planning framework and existing legislation:  A SDP must be able to gain a consent.  The SDP process cannot be used to circumvent the consenting process or avoid existing legislative restrictions.  For example, a development plan for a SDP must not be inconsistent with national policy statements or the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (section 58 of the UDA).  If your national policy statement includes an 'avoid' policy, chances are you may not get consent, even under the modified planning framework for a SDP.

What are the benefits of being selected as a SDP?

An urban development that becomes established as a SDP will get access to the Kāinga Ora tool kit of powers which enable a SDP to proceed with greater certainty and in a consolidated manner.  These powers include:

  • Access to coordinated planning processes, including designations
  • The ability to act as a resource consent authority and requiring authority under the RMA
  • The ability to create, reconfigure and reclassify reserves
  • The ability to build, change and move infrastructure associated with an SDP
  • Tools to fund infrastructure and development activities eg targeted rates, betterment payments and development contributions.

The powers can be delegated to the SDP Project Governance Body or another party (such as the Council).  The one tool that cannot be delegated is the power of acquire land, which will remain with Kāinga Ora.

This article was co-written by Jennifer Caldwell (partner), Natalie Summerfield (senior associate) and Tilly Matheson Dallimore (solicitor).