Divide and Conquer | Subdivision 101 . . . Advice from the experts

Divide and Conquer | Subdivision 101 . . . Advice from the experts
  • Written by
  • Dyani Van Basten Batenburg

Subdividing land is nothing foreign on Kiwi soil. In fact, slicing off the backyard is becoming ever popular – and new homes being built on these sections are ever shrinking in size. According to Stats Aotearoa, the average floor area of new homes consented in 2019 was about 21 percent (42 square metres) smaller than the peak of 200 square metres in the December 2010 year.

Unfortunately, the subdivision process goes beyond a thumbs up from the neighbours, a Trade Me listing and a couple of fences. The course is much more involved than what many of us think – especially first timers – but it isn’t out of reach.

Capitalising on the subdivision dream is possible so long as you head into the process well-armed with reputable advice and guidance on how to get the ball rolling – and stay rolling, say subdivision experts. This involves knowing who to approach; doing your due diligence; understanding statutory costs – and unexpected ones; and staying about timeframes.

Where to begin?

Buying a new section or carving up an existing block comes under the resource management act. Whatever your situation – aside from looking up your district plan – ensuring you contact your local planner or surveyor is a solid first step, says Paula Golsby of 4sight Consulting.

“Undertaking thorough due diligence is a must, so ideally people will come to us – or a surveyor depending on the scale – when they’ve got the subdivision idea in their head,” she says.

“Every district council will have its own set of rules around land size requirements – and there are changes happening all the time. Every parcel of land has its own friction points that need to be taken into consideration. So, approaching a planner to undertake a desktop assessment of your property is really important – this helps determine what other technical inputs are required i.e. geotechnical advice, stormwater, waste water.”

Catriona Eagles, planner at Cheal – surveying and planning experts, agrees.

“A risk assessment at the beginning of the subdivision process ensures a solid starting platform. You’ll have a clearer idea of where you’re going to have to spend your money,” she says. “Hazards, soil contamination, district planning analysis, all factor into whether you’ll get consented. Essentially, the subdivision process itself hasn’t changed a lot in the past 20 years, however an increased focus on natural hazards and soil contamination has come into play since 2011.”

For some would-be subdividers, preliminary assessment – or due diligence – can mean the beginning or the end of an idea, says Paula.

“This background assessment gives you the opportunity to make an informed decision about your level of investment. Sometimes we’ll have

people come to us who have a subdivision idea that we can professionally support, but know it’ll be a difficult process for them. In those cases, we advise them of those implications i.e. higher costs if we know the council isn’t going to be supportive of it because you might end up in hearings.”

Because every parcel of land and every council navigates its own challenges, it’s wise not to assume that subdividing in one region will typify in another.

“Each block of land has its own Geotech composition, hazards and infrastructure constraints,” explains Catriona of Cheal. “Don’t forget that councils are updating their long-term plans this year. With the significant rate of growth right throughout our regions, councils are under pressure to provide more infrastructure. This means there’s more capital expenditure, which means councils will be considering whether development contributions will go up.”

Common conundrums

Navigating potentially big – and costly – hurdles is something all subdividers need to prepare for – regardless of city or suburb. Geotechnical issues; natural hazards, such as harbour inundation, flooding and overland flow paths from rainfall, soil contamination and disposal of stormwater and sewage, are the biggest to work through, says Andrew Martin, surveyor at Lysaght.

“That first assessment will highlight key areas to address. For example, how are you going to dispose of sewage and stormwater for the new property? Is there a sewer connection that can be accessed by gravity or will you need a pump system?” he questions. “Is there stormwater reticulation to the site, or is the site suitable for ground soakage systems to take in stormwater from roofs, driveways and other hardstand areas?”

Properties in Mount Maunganui, for example, generally have good soakage due to sandy soils. However, if there are steep slopes nearby, ground soakage systems could compromise other properties by causing slips.

“In cases like this onsite detention for stormwater would be considered with or without kerb connections,” says Andrew. “But the next big factor for subdivision is possible soil contamination from orchard sprays, chemical storage or other rural and/ or industrial activities. We look back at historical photos, property records and talk to owners to gauge any previous land activity that could trigger if an assessment is required in terms of national environmental standards.”

Any soil contamination may need to be moved offsite to a registered landfill for contaminated material.


Geo yes!

Every subdivision in New Zealand now requires a Geotech assessment – it’s not optional. A requirement the Christchurch earthquakes played a role in cementing.

“The earthquakes upped the ante on Geotech requirements. Councils are now considering more closely the impact of coastal hazards and flooding hazards – for example Matata,” explains Catriona. “It’s not unusual to have these regulation changes. Back in 2005 Waikato Regional Council changed onsite wastewater requirements relevant for subdivision in the Taupō catchment area. So, there’s always things being tinkered with.”

Ultimately, Geotech reports should be embraced not feared – it’s just a matter of working in with them.

“A Geotech report will determine if the soil strength is suitable for development or if remediation or soil strengthening is required, and determine any building restriction lines,” says Andrew.

Costs, contributions and time

A lot of people don’t know what a subdivision will cost them – and costs can vary from site to site depending on which council you are in, says Andrew.

“Simple subdivisions in Tauranga City can cost anywhere from $30 – 50k+GST, whereas in Western Bay of Plenty District, costs can be $20 – 30k+GST more. Typically, council fees are approximately one third of your costs, your consultant surveyor and/or planner costs are about a third, and then there’s other fees like lawyers, construction costs, and Land Information NZ.

Council fees can vary hugely from council to council too, says Paula. And, don’t forget financial contributions and development contributions are two separate

things. Financial and development contributions help pay for the infrastructure i.e. roads, wastewater and stormwater services and parks, required by growing cities.

“It’s important to find out when contributions will be required so that these costs can be factored in. For example, with Tauranga City Council, you might get charged a financial contribution at the time of subdivision, and then another component – development contributions – at the time of building consent,” she explains.

And, some councils don’t charge a development contribution at all – like Rotorua – sights Catriona.

“Rotorua has a financial contribution for reserves which is less than most council’s development contributions. Taupō does have a development contribution and currently it’s about $18K+GST – and it’s possible this could go up,” she says.

And it’s not just the dollars that are creeping up. Time speak, start to finish, simple subdivisions typically take six-to-eight months to get through – from consulting with someone, to title being issued, says Andrew.

“And time can eek out even longer at the moment because many are finding it hard to get contractors to do the work because they’re so busy. Council processing isn’t getting any quicker either.”

My covenants, council covenants and neighbours

Typically you, the subdivider, can request covenants on your land via your lawyer such as materials for a new building, colours, storey restrictions. The only things council typically covenant – or put on your title – are things that you haven’t complied with at the time of subdivision that will need to be complied with at the time of building.

“For example, at the time of building you must comply with the Geotech report and dig out/compact soil. There’ll be a consent notice that goes on the title which specifies what needs to be complied with,” explains Andrew.

And, if you are doing anything that isn’t in line with the permitted rules of the city plan, often council will request you seek your neighbour’s consent.

“For example, if you’re trying to do a subdivision of four lots that are smaller than the minimum lot requirement, council will ask you to get your surrounding neighbours’ consent,” says Andrew. “If you’re proposing closer to a side boundary, or you are going to go through daylight plains, you’ll need neighbour sign off too.”

It’s these ‘beyond the zone provisions’ that subdividers really need to watch for when deliberating the process from the get-go, cautions Catriona.

“For example, if you were wanting to split your land into three parcels down a right-of-way, even if you’re at the right density, and council have given it a green light, they’ll still ask you to get your neighbours approval,” she says. “And, if they don’t give their approval that can add costs.”

Approaching the subdivision process with an open mind and willingness to work in with district plans, council rules and regulations, neighbours, land limitations and a long-term picture, is what it’s made of. And, reaching out to experts to journey with you, ensures better steps forward – and possibly sanity intact!


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