Before buying a section you need to find out what is in your district plan and what resource consents you might need.

A brief introduction to local government

You will often hear the terms territorial authorities, local authorities, district councils, city councils and regional councils when embarking on a house-building project. You’ll need to approach some of these councils at various stages of the process, including before you buy your section.

Local authorities structure
Local authorities structure

In New Zealand our local authorities comprise:

  • 12 regional councils, and
  • 74 territorial authorities, of which 15 are city councils and 59 are district councils.

To find out which council you will be dealing with, use the Council Finder.

District plans

Each of the regional councils must produce regional plans, and city councils and district councils must have district plans (there could be several). This is a legal requirement under the Resource Management Act 1991 with the aim of protecting the environment from any adverse effects from people using natural and physical resources, including land, air and water.

The district plan covering the area where you are buying your section could affect:

  • How far from the boundary you can locate your new house.
  • How high you can build.
  • How much of the section you can build on.
  • How much noise you can make.
  • What other activities you can do on your property.

What is in a district plan will vary from council to council. Some of the matters you may be able to research include:

  • Whether any motorway is proposed close by.
  • Flood zones and any areas subject to natural hazards which may affect where you can build and require special construction methods.
  • Any requirements to manage natural and technological hazards.
  • Airport zones.
  • Heritage buildings and wahi tapu/heritage sites.
  • Zoning, for example, whether your new section is next to a proposed industrial zone.

If you want to do anything with your section that could have an adverse impact on the environment, you may have to apply for a resource consent.

Resource consent

If the section you are buying is zoned residential in the district plan, you may not need resource consent before building a house.

For example, if the section you are looking to buy is on the side of a hill and you will be sculpting out a lot of earth, you will probably need to get resource consent. There may be protected trees, protected access or protected rights of your neighbours to consider, or you may want to build closer to the boundary than allowed in the district plan. You will have to apply for resource consent if your plans are going to affect any matters relating to the environment.

Before you buy, it’s a good idea to talk to your local council. Council staff can help you look through the relevant plans, work out whether you’ll need any resource consents and process your consent application. For more information see Resource Management Act.