Structure Planning

Structure planning is a tool for managing the effects and demands of development or redevelopment of larger areas held in multiple ownership in an integrated, holistic and orderly way. It is an effective means to achieve sustainable management of natural and physical resources, particularly in an urban context.

This guidance note provides direction on:

  • what a structure plan is
  • the reasons for undertaking structure planning
  • the relationship between structure plans and legislation and relevant case law
  • who is responsible for preparing structure plans
  • the structure planning process
  • the content of structure plans.

This guidance note includes a number of structure plan examples at the end of the note which are intended to provide practical examples of how structure plans can be developed and implemented to achieve certain outcomes and the lessons learnt from these processes. This guidance note is closely associated with the Subdivision guidance note.

Defining a structure plan

A structure plan is a framework to guide the development or redevelopment of an area by defining the future development and land use patterns, areas of open space, the layout and nature of infrastructure (including transportation links), and other key features and constraints that influence how the effects of development are to be managed.

Structure plans comprise one or more maps, plans or diagrammatic representations of the proposed layout, features, character and links for areas being developed or redeveloped. The maps or plans in structure plans do not typically go into such detail as to define individual lot boundaries or the physical form of buildings and structures. The maps, plans or representations are usually supported by text explaining the background to the issues that initiated the structure plan and the approaches to manage those issues.

Issues that may be managed through a structure plan include:

  • urban consolidation and greenfield expansion
  • the type and location of land uses that will be permitted, including development type, density and staging
  • multi-modal transport links and connectivity (such as roading, rail, sea and air links, public transport, cycle and pedestrian access)
  • the location, type, scale and staging of infrastructure required to service an area, including stormwater, water and sewerage
  • integration of new development and growth with infrastructure and existing urban development
  • landscape character and amenity
  • reserves and open space networks
  • natural hazards
  • the provision of community facilities
  • the protection of sites, features or values (which may be cultural, ecological, historical or amenity related)
  • areas of contamination
  • provision and location of network utilities.

There are various terms used to describe the general structure plan process, including Master Planning, Development Framework Plan etc. While the nature of these plans may differ slightly depending on the primary focus and scale of the plan, the overall structure planning analysis process is largely the same.

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Reasons for structure planning

A structure plan may be particularly useful when there is a need or desire to:

  • provide integrated management of complex environmental issues within a defined geographical area (eg, urban growth, inner city redevelopment, open space planning, natural hazards management, improved water quality and quantity management, and protection of natural and cultural heritage values)
  • coordinate the staging of development over time, particularly where large areas are to be developed or redeveloped
  • ensure co-ordinated and compatible patterns and intensities of development across parcels of land in different ownership, and between existing and proposed areas of development and redevelopment
  • co-ordinate infrastructure provision and other services across land parcels in different ownership, or over different council boundaries
  • provide certainty to developers, the council, key stakeholders and the wider public regarding the layout, character and costs of development in an area earmarked for growth or redevelopment.

Structure plans are also a good way to:

  • promote a better understanding of the inter-relatedness of issues and proposed management approaches to be used in a particular area (through the use of visual material such as maps, plans and diagrams)
  • ensure that new development achieves good urban design outcomes by defining the layout, pattern, density and character of new development and transportation networks
  • show how economic, social and cultural matters are being provided for and managed alongside environmental considerations, which may be particularly helpful if the structure plan relates to community outcomes described in a Long Term Plan (LTP) under the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA)
  • help councils to meet their section 32 duties under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), particularly in relation to the assessment of costs, benefits and alternatives.)

Structure plans are often associated with “greenfield” growth areas but can also be used in areas being redeveloped (often referred to as "brownfield" developments) and complement other tools such as urban design guides, frameworks and precinct plans.

Some councils also use structure plans as an input to calculate the appropriate level of financial contributions or development contributions to be charged in areas subject to development or redevelopment pressures. Structure plans are able to provide a degree of certainty about future levels of development from which the likely cost of infrastructure and services can then be quantified. Structure plans can also identify who will be responsible for costs of future infrastructure and the intended timeframes to deliver this.

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Structure plans and legislation

The existence or content of structure plans is not prescribed in New Zealand legislation.

Relationship with the Local Government Act 2002

The preparation and implementation of structure plans is influenced by the requirements of the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA).

Under section 93 of the LGA, councils are required to prepare a LTP every three years that describes the community outcomes for the relevant city/district/region, and setting out its priorities over the next 10 years. These, in turn, may act as a useful basis for preparing a structure plan (such that the structure plan can become a tool for implementing the LTP). When scoping the issues and objectives to be addressed by a structure plan, it is important to ensure there is consistency with the community outcomes described in the current LTP.

Amendments to the LGA in 2014 now also require councils to prepare an infrastructure strategy for at least a 30 year period, and to incorporate this into their LTP. Therefore there is a direct relationship between these strategies and structure plans. Inadequate infrastructure provision or unanticipated demand on existing infrastructure outlined in these strategies or associated asset management plans could act as a significant constraint to the development of structure plans. It will therefore be necessary to ensure that the impact on existing assets and services are taken into account when developing a structure plan and that appropriate mechanisms are identified to address any funding shortfall for the provision of future infrastructure (e.g. financial/development contributions).

Relationship with the Resource Management Act 1991

Structure plans represent one method by which councils can carry out their functions under sections 30 and 31 of the RMA.

They are a technique that has gained acceptance in the Environment Court as a way of promoting the integrated management of environmental issues, and providing for the wellbeing, health and safety of existing and future residents (see, for example, Omokoroa Ratepayers Association v The Western Bay of Plenty District Council and The Bay of Plenty Regional Council (A102/2004)).

Structure plans do not have any explicit legal status or statutory effect unless they are incorporated into a statutory planning document such as a district or regional plan (e.g. through policies, rules, or specific zoning). This is also the case for any supporting design guidelines or engineering codes of practice unless they are also incorporated into a statutory plan.

Incorporating structure plan components into district plans through a plan change must follow the process set out in Schedule 1 RMA. Furthermore, it must be supported by a robust s32 evaluation (for further guidance see A Guide to Section 32 of the Resource Management Act). Ensuring that the development of the structure plan considers a range of alternative concepts and follows good consultation practice will assist with development of district and regional plans and the supporting s32 evaluation and documentation.

Care needs to be taken when incorporating structure plans into RMA plans as there will often be matters a structure plan seeks to manage that are not relevant matters under the RMA (e.g. providing a full range of educational opportunities). To ensure that the overall context is understood when referring to documents that deal with non-RMA matters, RMA plans can explain this by way of an explanatory note.

Structure plans that are not incorporated into RMA plan may otherwise be considered as an "other matter" when assessing a resource consent under s104(1)(c) of the RMA, provided they are 'relevant and reasonably necessary to determine the application’. The weight given to non-statutory plans in resource consent processes is likely to be higher when a robust process has been followed, including extensive community consultation, research, submission, and hearing processes (see for example, Wainui Beach Protection Society v Gisborne District Council, A113/04 at para 47).

Relevant Case law

Several Environment Court and High Court cases have commented on the use of structure planning and the weight to be given to non-regulatory structure plans in subsequent RMA planning and consenting processes. The following cases are of particular relevance to structure planning and effectively conclude that non-statutory structure plans are a valid RMA planning method, but they will not have as much weight as statutory RMA documents.

Omokoroa Ratepayers Association v Western Bay of Plenty District Council and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (A102/2004)

The appropriateness of structure planning as a resource management tool was commented on in this case.. The Environment Court did not accept the Omokoroa Ratepayers Association's case that the structure plan and zoning contained in Plan Change 20 was inconsistent with the RMA. The Court commented that structure plans support the purpose of the RMA, particularly for the integrated management of the effects of the use and development of land. Councils are free to adopt structure planning as a method to achieve the purpose of the Act and to give effect to the Act in its district.

Infinity Group v Queenstown Lakes District Council (C010/05)

In this case, the Environment Court commented on the Wanaka 2020 document, which was referred to in a submission on a variation and relied on by the Council to make changes to the variation. The argument was that it was not an RMA document, was not required to be consistent with Part 2 and does not provide a lawful basis for the alterations to the variation in question.   In that context, the Court placed little weight on the Wanaka 2020 plan. The Court commented that whatever the value of the structure planning exercise, it is not a substitute for the well-established process under the RMA by which the public are entitled to notice of proposals to alter planning instruments, and have legal rights to take part in formal hearings about them.

Auckland Memorial Park Ltd v Auckland Council [2014] NZEnvC 9

This case related to appeals to three plan changes introduced by Auckland Council and it considered the Silverdale South Structure Plan (amongst other non-statutory documents) and whether it identified the intensity of development now proposed.

The Court considered the date of the structure plan (some 14 years old) and its non-statutory origin. It balanced this against the current statutory documents - in particular, the operative district plan (operative 2009-2011) and found that the structure plan was of little significance or help in relation to the current appeal. The Court also noted that the non-statutory origin of the plan also meant that it was not a document to be considered under s 74(2)(b)(i) of the Act.

Malory Corporation v Rodney District Council (CIV-2009-404-005572)

In a different context, the High Court considered the weight to be given to a structure plan which had not made its way into the District Plan, when rejecting a private plan change proposal under clause 25(4) of Part 2, Schedule 1 of the RMA.

The Court found that:

  • The appellant’s proposed development had been considered and excluded from the final structure plan. The substance of the request had therefore been considered within the last 2 years (and therefore contrary to clause 25(4)(b) of Part 2, Schedule 1 of the RMA);
  • The appellant’s proposed development was timed subsequent to the structure plan, and would require revisiting fundamental Auckland urban growth issues. The proposed district plan had not been finalised, and the plan change had the potential to subvert the planning process. It was therefore not in accordance with sound resource management practice (and therefore contrary to clause 25(4)(c) of Part 2, Schedule 1 of the RMA).

The significant weight given to the structure plan recognised that the appellant’s proposed development had been specifically considered during the structure planning exercise, which had been through extensive consultation and a council hearing before it was adopted.

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Responsibility for preparing structure plans

Typically public agencies are responsible for initiating, preparing, implementing and monitoring structure plans, and this is primarily done by district/city and regional councils as part of their planning and regulatory responsibilities.

Private sector development interests are often be identified as key stakeholders in a structure planning process. However, there may also be instances where the private sector takes a lead role in a structure planning initiative. The advantages of the private sector leading a structure planning initiative include potential for significant time and cost savings for councils. The private sector may be better placed to focus resources without the competing demands and resource limitations that are often faced by the public sector. The private sector may also have more flexibility to deal with local issues, such as the ability to purchase land and to negotiate on terms that may be less constrained.

The outcomes from structure planning will at some point pass over to the relevant council so it is essential that there is excellent collaboration between the private sector and the public sector throughout the process. For example, there are examples of private sector structure planning where councils and other key public agencies including the New Zealand Transport Agency have been involved in formally established project teams.

At a high level, collaboration also needs to include clear policy guidance to give the required certainty on which private sector investment can be based. Urban growth strategy policies may provide such guidance.

The potential pitfalls of private sector involvement in structure planning may be a reluctance to buy into council objectives on some issues. Early collaboration may provide a means to identify these issues early on and to address them through the process. Therefore it is important that at the early stages of a structure planning exercise, the level of detail required is agreed and this should be consistent with the council’s requirements and approach.

While there can be benefits to private sector led structure planning, it is important to remember that the private sector lacks the statutory tools available to councils for urban planning. Where structure plans involve multiple land ownership, it can be extremely difficult to provide certainty over network development. The private sector will also generally lack powers available to requiring authorities to designate land to achieve certainty on long term outcomes. In these instances, there is likely to be the need for close collaboration between the private and public sector.

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Process of preparing and implementing a structure plan

There is no one set way to develop a structure plan. The process used will depend on the scale and complexity of the area, the issues to be managed, the anticipated level of stakeholder and public interest, and the purpose for which the structure plan is to be used. That said, most structure planning exercises incorporate the following phases or components:

  1. Scoping and project planning;
  2. Community and stakeholder consultation (throughout the process);
  3. Engagement with Tangata Whenua;
  4. Research and information analysis;
  5. Urban design;
  6. Generation and evaluation of alternatives and identification of preferred options;
  7. Finalising the structure plan;
  8. Documentation of structure plan process;
  9. Post-structure plan process;

1. Scoping and project planning

The decision to prepare a structure plan may be the result of development pressures in a particular geographical area, or identified through a wider urban growth study that has selected a particular area for development or redevelopment.

It is important that reasons, objectives and outcomes sought for the structure plan are clearly established before embarking on the structure planning exercise. These are key components which should form part of the scoping exercise.

The scoping and project planning phase of structure planning should include the following considerations:

  • Defining the area of the structure plan: the area may be determined by such things as property boundaries, topographical constraints and stormwater catchment areas, or may be determined by being the only land available.
  • An initial review of existing information on the area: this should be carried out to scope the suitability of land being considered for development or redevelopment, to identify areas of special value or significance within the area, and to provide early warning of actual or potential issues that need to be avoided or investigated.
  • Constraints identification and analysis: the structure plan areas should be assessed for any constraints that may limit development in particular areas or make areas more suitable for particularly uses (e.g. land subject to flooding, waahi tapu or other culturally significant sites). These constraints can then inform the more detailed structure plan design stage.
  • The overall outcomes desired of the structure plan: these should align with national policy directions, regional policy statements and plans, community outcome statements in LTPs, district plan strategies, iwi management plans, local authority policy guidelines (e.g. reserve strategies), and regional land transport strategies, as appropriate. Desired outcomes will often be broader than the directives in RMA policy statements and plans and include wider social and community benefits.
  • Development and implementation timeframes: timelines for structure plan development should allow adequate time for consultation, studies to be completed, development of the plans and associated statutory processes under the RMA or LGA. Indicative timeframes for implementation will need to take into account development pressures, lead-in times for infrastructure provision, and anticipated up-take of development opportunities. This should be directly inform the development of the 30 year infrastructure strategies required under the LGA and the sequencing and costs of future infrastructure provision.
  • Identification of key stakeholders: it is important to identify all the key stakeholders that should be involved in the development of the structure plan and those that will help or are required to implement the structure plan. This will generally include tangata whenua, developers, public agencies responsible for the provision of infrastructure, community groups etc. There should also be opportunities for wider community input into the structure plan at an appropriate stage of its development.
  • The method of implementation: the principal means (statutory, non-statutory or both) to implement the structure plan needs to be made as early as possible because it influences the type of information that will need to be obtained, communication and consultation requirements, timeframes, and the types of agreements that may need to be negotiated with stakeholders.
  • The resources required for the structure planning process and implementation: the source, timing and level of funding required for the structure plan needs to be carefully considered, along with the skills and expertise that are available or that need to be brought in. The true costs of developing a structure plan are easy to underestimate and the time associated with all process steps, and to address unexpected issues or appeals to the outcomes, need to be factored in.
  • Risk assessment: an assessment of the risks to the successful development and implementation of a structure plan needs to be made including legal, political, and financial risks, and how these may be managed. Such risks may include fragmentation of land in the interim which may impact on later implementation of the plan. Incentives or regulatory mechanisms to support implementation of the structure plans may need to be considered prior to structure planning commencing.

2. Community and stakeholder consultation

Consultation with key stakeholders and the community affected is an important component of the structure plan development process. The number and type of stakeholders identified and consulted with for a structure plan will depend on the scale and characteristics of the area and the issues to be managed. When it comes to generating, evaluating and refining the design of the structure plan, consultation could be iterative. Note that consulting with tangata whenua is a particularly important consideration in the structure plan process as outlined in more detail in section 3 – Engagement with Tangata Whenua.

To assist with consultation, it is good practice to develop an overall consultation plan for all groups including key stakeholders, tangata whenua and the wider community. This helps to identify all stakeholder and ensure that consultation and communications are managed in an integrated and co-ordinated way. This can also help to provide certainty to stakeholders about the opportunities to input into the structure plan process and the how the various consultation processes will be integrated into the final output. It is important that the communication or consultation plan recognises the potential for land ownership to change during the course of the structure planning exercise and any subsequent RMA plan changes.

Commencing consultation early in the process is important, and can help with:

  • obtaining stakeholder buy-in to the process;
  • gauging community and stakeholder levels of acceptance to broad concepts (such as the overall level of development) being proposed;
  • fulfilling statutory duties under the RMA, LGA and Land Transport Management Act;
  • incorporating and working through stakeholder concerns and aspirations while there is flexibility in the process to do so;
  • identifying constraints and opportunities.

Remember to consult with both external and internal stakeholders. This may include:

  • stormwater, wastewater and roading engineer
  • parks and reserves staff
  • community facilities managers
  • those who will be responsible for budgeting and finance in the planning and implementation phases of the structure plan
  • property developers;
  • landowners and occupiers of the area affected by the structure plan;
  • landowners adjoining the area being structure planned
  • those working the area affected by the structure plan
  • the New Zealand Transport Agency
  • public agencies responsible for social/community infrastructure (Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and other health service providers etc.)
  • infrastructure providers and any other requiring authorities
  • cross-boundary stakeholders (eg, other councils, Department of Conservation)
  • community groups with an interest in the area affected.

Network utility providers operate under legislative requirements and constraints which will differ from those of councils or developers. Early consultation regarding network utilities is important because the ability and timing of infrastructure provision can be critical in determining options for how the structure-planned area is to be managed and development staged.

During the course of consultation, it is important to be clear about the objectives and outcomes at all stages so that all stakeholders and the community have a clear understanding of this. During consultation, it is also important to reiterate that not all points of views and preferences may be able to be satisfied and these can differ between different groups. Appointing internal council leaders in the form of senior councillors and management team representatives and engaging community leaders who endorse the process can assist with achieving buy-in to the structure plan process.

The utilisation of existing forums and means of communication can assist with the consultation process with the wider community. Open days, public workshops, focus groups and other interactive forms of consultation allow for open, detailed and interactive discussion consistent with recognised principles of good consultation. Facilitation of consultation exercises can also be a good approach to encourage open discussions and help to increase community buy-in. Once consultation has been undertaken, issues to be resolved, opportunities, and information gaps that need to filled to progress issues further should be identified and documented. Potential solutions to address these issues can then be developed and discussed further with those consulted earlier to ensure these solutions will be effective and supported.

The rigour and formality of the consultation exercise will be influenced by whether the structure plan is to be implemented through non-statutory or statutory means. A well-defined consultation process similar to Schedule 1 of the RMA and section 82 of the LGA should be followed even for a non-statutory structure plan, so that the plan can be given some weight in any subsequent RMA consent processes. This may require structured submission and hearing processes for a draft structure plan, prior to its adoption.

3. Engagement with Tangata Whenua

Engagement of tangata whenua in the preparation of structure plans provides a significant opportunity for the recognition and provision of the relationship of Māori with their ancestral land, water, sites, wāhi tapu and other taonga, in the development of regions, cities and towns. It may also enable kaitiakitanga by tangata whenua.

As with all RMA planning processes, the identification of tangata whenua interests and provision for their involvement is an important consideration in structure planning. The recognition of, and provision for Māori values in structure planning may take many forms. This could include the identification and appropriate protection of places and areas
of significance to tangata whenua. These areas may include (but are not limited to) historic reserves, wāhi tapu, wāhi tūpuna, mahinga kai, urupā, forests, mountains and rivers. The development of specific policy, guidance, conditions and/or management mechanisms for these areas can help ensure that these resources are either protected, and/or enhanced through future development. Such provisions can also help ensure that any impact particular values have on future development of land are taken into account in infrastructure planning and funding. Tangata whenua may also seek ways to facilitate the development of Māori land and other resources.

The Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 contains specific provisions to recognise Māori heritage, including wāhi tapu, wāhi tūpuna and wāhi tapu areas. The structure planning process needs to ensure these provisions are complied with. Further, as all pre-1900 archaeological sites, such as those associated with pā, kāinga and urupā, are regulated under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, it will be important that these are identified early in the structure planning process.

Recognition of traditional place names, historic events and customary use of resources and areas associated with the land involved in a structure plan will also be important. Again, these matters could potentially be addressed through the development of appropriate management mechanisms, or through the naming of streets, sites, facilities, and other open space where appropriate and supported. Consideration for creative expression of traditional landscape associations through the design is also important.

In the early stages of the structure plan process, dialogue is required with tangata whenua about the type and form of tangata whenua involvement which may be most appropriate. Dialogue will involve identifying key interests and issues (potentially both negative and positive) and can often be facilitated by the organisation and running of hui (meetings). Initial meetings are important and will normally involve the provision of background information, what is proposed, and the form that the future process is planned to take. Being prepared to carry out particular protocols, resourcing the meeting adequately and being open to make changes to processes is important, particularly where existing agreements about process are not in place.

Depending on the nature of the structure plan, tangata whenua involvement could include:

  • representation on a steering group or part of the leadership team that will guide the structure plan process;
  • preparation of an iwi management plan, cultural impact assessment or other reports and analysis documents;
  • examining ways to facilitate Māori development opportunities, including development of Māori land;
  • projects involving the identification of places and areas of significance; and
  • being consulted, receiving regular updates or being kept informed.

Note that some of these forms of consultation and engagement may also be appropriate for other stakeholder groups.

Because structure plans have a long duration from initial inception through investigation, policy formulation and implementation, there is value in formulating a specific agreement or joint work programme with tangata whenua that describes how engagement throughout the process will be managed. Drawing up a Memorandum of Understanding or relationship agreement may be useful as a record of key personnel, resourcing, expectations and known timeframes. They can also provide for reviews and/or evaluation processes to ensure that relevant matters and issues are known and are able to be resolved for all those involved.

Often the ability for tangata whenua to participate in structure planning processes will depend on adequate time, resources and information. Options should be explored to assist tangata whenua to participate in structure planning processes. This may involve visits to meet with tangata whenua representatives directly (e.g. on local marae), provision of funding and resources to attend meetings and provide input into the structure planning process, and support for iwi management plans and cultural impact statements.

Further information and guidance on consultation with tangata whenua can be found in the consultation with tangata whenua guidance note. Guidance on key cultural principles and issues that are relevant to structure planning can be found within the Te Aranga Cultural Landscapes Strategy, developed by Ngā Aho – the national network of Māori design and planning professionals, and the Auckland Design Manual.

4. Research and information analysis

The research and analysis phase is a core component of the structure plan process. This research and analysis should build on the work carried out in the scoping phase and may run parallel to consultation, with each helping inform the other. Research and analysis should therefore be ongoing and detailed information obtained during this phase can be used to refine the final design.

Research and analysis should include a review of all available relevant existing information on the area being structure planned. Further research and investigation may need to be undertaken where critical information gaps are identified. Depending on the issues identified, the outcomes desired and the information already available, research and investigation may need to be carried out into:

  • Existing and desired urban form: for example, the site may be within or adjacent to an urban area with an inherent set of features and links in a pattern that is to be continued. There may also be a desire to investigate how best to incorporate quality urban design principles from the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol into the area being structure planned.
  • Population growth, market viability and development pressures: these can be developed based on existing information and be used to project future population growth and the likely development demand tothen map required development densities.
  • Natural resources and environmental constraints: e.g. catchment characteristics (both upstream and downstream of the area to be structure planned), biodiversity, vegetation coverage and habitat importance, the sensitivity of receiving fresh or coastal waters, and proximity to and characteristics of the coastal environment.
  • Open space and recreational opportunities: e.g. areas of existing open space and its current use to then identify to opportunities to enhance this with new development, existing recreational activities within the structure plan area.
  • Landscape and visual amenity: particularly identification and management of significant natural areas or areas with high scenic value.
  • Natural hazards and land suitability: e.g. slope, geotechnical limitations, susceptibility to flooding and inundation, erosion, liquefaction, tsunami, the location of active earthquake faults or (where applicable) geothermal hazards.
  • Māori culture and heritage: e.g. sites, places and values of importance to tangata whenua; sites, places and values of heritage value and historical importance to the general community.
  • Infrastructure (roading and transport, stormwater management, energy supply, telecommunications, roading and transport): e.g. the existing capacity and availability of infrastructure, and the investment needed to service the area being structure planned to the level of development anticipated, and how the effects of the installation and operation of the infrastructure could be managed.

A key part of the research phase will be the examination of the existing patterns of development both within and adjoining the subject area. This will help indicate the potential for change, key linkages and connections (for transport and infrastructure), any sensitive or high value natural areas, and the urban design quality of existing development. This analysis could take the form of an urban design analysis with expert input.

Information obtained from the research and analysis phase will often have a geographical element that can be mapped or represented graphically in some way. Maps and plans are useful tools for looking at constraints and opportunities in an integrated way (through such techniques as overlays, sieve-mapping or GIS mapping), and for communicating with interested parties.

5. Urban design

Structure plans can play an important part in achieving good urban design and promoting quality outcomes. As a starting point for promoting good urban design the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol identifies seven essential design qualities that can also act as guiding considerations in the structure planning process. These are referred to as the seven Cs: Context, Character, Choice, Connections, Creativity, Custodianship and Collaboration.

In relation to structure plans:

  • Context: the area being structure planned, and the features in it, need to be seen to be part of, and relate to, the surrounding environment, town or city.
  • Character: the form and style of development that a structure plan promotes should reflect and enhance the distinctive character and culture of the environment. However, this does not mean preserving a particular character as character is dynamic and evolving, not static.
  • Choice: structure plans should foster diversity and offer people choice of densities, development types, transport options, and land use activities.
  • Connections: structure plans need to take into account all networks and how they connect streets, railways, walking and cycling routes, services, infrastructure, and communication. Structure plans need to provide for connections to existing transport networks and provide for different transport modes to operate in an integrated manner. Good connections enhance choice, support social cohesion, make places lively and safe, and facilitate contact among people.
  • Creativity: structure plans may need to incorporate innovative and creative solutions to address problems or provide for quality outcomes, and also allow for creativity to take place in the area being planned. Creativity adds richness and diversity, and turns a functional place into a memorable place. Creativity facilitates new ways of thinking, and willingness to think through problems afresh, to experiment and rewrite rules, to harness new technology, and to visualise new futures.
  • Custodianship: in regard to structure planning and urban design, custodianship recognises the lifetime costs of buildings and infrastructure, and aims to hand on places to the next generation in as good or better condition.
  • Collaboration: structure planning requires good communication and co-ordinated actions from all decision-makers: central government, local government, professionals, transport operators, developers and users. Strong leadership, clear responsibilities and regular communication are important to maintain continuity and direction throughout what can be a long structure planning process. Urban designers can offer broad and general knowledge across a range of specialist disciplines and can act as an effective interface with the community (e.g. design charrettes) to ensure a holistic approach is taken and creative solutions reached.

These design qualities should also flow through into the contents of a structure plan. Checklist(s) within a structure plan document or to be used when developing the plan are helpful to ensure relevant qualities have been considered.

6. Generation and evaluation of alternatives

The generation of alternatives for the structure planning process can be done with or without direct community input. However, a collaborative approach involving key stakeholders, tangata whenua and the wider community (for example workshops or charrettes) to identify and evaluate alternatives is more likely to result in community buy-in and confidence in the final outcome.

The alternatives need not be developed to a highly detailed level, and could take the form of concept drawings or sketches (and an accompanying statement or explanation) until such time as they are either discarded or selected for further work or refinement.

The development of alternatives should be guided by:

  • consistency with the overall objectives and outcomes set for the structure plan area in the scoping phase
  • stakeholder goals, concerns and aspirations identified during consultation
  • the ability to overcome constraints identified through consultation and research phases
  • any relevant statutory duties, particularly those under the RMA or LGA.

Evaluation of the alternative to be used as the basis for the final structure plan should be guided by the goals and priorities set by the council, the community, or the developer (if the structure plan is being developed as part of a private proposal). Criteria could include how well each alternative meets the objectives of the structure plans, if it achieves stakeholder goals, the degree to which adverse environmental effects are avoided, and which alternative is the most cost-effective. Preferred alternatives also need to be tested thoroughly for viability in the market and also in terms of the overall cost, especially for the provision of key infrastructure such as roading and wastewater. The outcomes sought should not be unrealistic, but based on what is likely to be achieved.

The evaluation process could be carried out in the form of a table whereby each alternative (in table rows) is measured against the criteria (in columns) and given a score, matrix-style. Clear guidelines need to be set for allocating scoring for each criterion. Not all evaluation criteria will be of equal significance. For example, environmental considerations may be more important in a particular structure plan area than developer aspirations for residential development. The importance of stakeholder views may also vary depending on their relationship with the area and the degree to which they may be affected. In these situations, a weighting system may be employed to denote differing levels of importance. When a weighting system is used, the un-weighted evaluation should be clear so that the effects of any weighting applied in the selection/evaluation process can be identified. An example of a completed matrix assessment from the Wanaka Structure Plan, with the un-weighted evaluation shown within brackets, is presented below:



Stakeholder Goal 1


Stakeholder Goal 2


Ability to avoid environmental


Cost Effectiveness


Retention of
heritage and character


Overall Alternative Score


Importance Weighting







Alternative One


(2 X the weighting   score)


(3 X the weighting   score)


(1 X the weighting   score)


(1 X the weighting   score)


(2 X the weighting   score)


Alternative Two


(4 X the weighting   score)


(2 X the weighting score)


(3 X the weighting   score)


(3 X the weighting   score)


(1 X the weighting   score)


Alternative Three


(1 X the weighting   score)


(4 X the weighting   score)


(1 X the weighting   score)


(4 X the weighting   score)


(1 X the weighting   score)


Table 1. Wanaka Structure Plan – matrix assessment

7. Finalising the structure plan

Case law identifies that the implementation of a structure plan can have a greater weight in subsequent RMA consent processes and be more effectively implemented if a formal consultation and adoption process is followed. This could be integrated with consultation processes under the LGA for the LTP or annual plan which may be beneficial to provide efficiencies and alignment given the direct relationship between these plans, especially in relation to infrastructure provision.  

If this approach is used, the draft structure plan would typically be put through a final consultation period, including public displays and awareness raising initiatives, with opportunities to submit on the structure plan for a defined period. Submissions could then be summarised and reported on, in advance of a council hearing which enables submitters to be heard. Council decisions on submissions would then form the basis of the final structure planning document, prior to its adoption by the council.

Document format and production is an important consideration at this stage. The finalised document should follow a logical and easy to read format, and incorporate figures and plans which graphically indicate the desired outcomes and aid the plan’s interpretation.

8. Documentation of structure plan process

Documentation of structure planning processes is important so as to:

  • assist councils to fulfil duties under the RMA (such as a section 32 evaluation), the LGA, or both (for further guidance see A Guide to Section 32 or the Resource Management Act (1991)
  • serve as a record or source of information if part of the process needs to be revisited or checked or the plan is formally reviewed
  • record processes, studies and the outcome of consultation, which can provide useful background material for subsequent plan changes or resource consent applications (especially if the structure planning was undertaken as part of a private proposal which subsequently required consent or a private plan change application to be made)
  • justify public investments in infrastructure, particularly where there is significant investment concerned, as LGA decisions require additional and more thorough evaluations of social, economic and cultural dimensions (see section 76 and Schedule 10 of the LGA)
  • identify the expected environmental effects of future development and how this will be managed to provide a basis to future monitoring and migration measures
  • defending challenges, such as appeals to the Environment Court or judicial review in the High Court.

Documentation of the development of a structure plan does not need to be included in the structure plan itself although a summary can be helpful, especially when the provisions from the structure plan are to be integrated into a district or regional plan.

9. Post-structure plan process

9.1 Implementation

A structure plan may be implemented through regulatory and non-regulatory methods, or both.

Non-regulatory approaches offer greater flexibility and adaptability to changing needs. However, a regulatory approach may be favoured when greater certainty or stability is required (e.g. due to growth pressures, changing market conditions, fragmented land ownership, or risk that voluntary agreements may be ignored).

In implementing the structure plan, an array of tasks may need to be completed, including:

  • preparing and finalising the plans, maps and accompanying text, taking into account the means by which the plan is to be implemented
  • the final costing calculations (for infrastructure provision for example) and associated financial or development contribution calculations (if applicable);
  • preparation of a plan change and associated section 32 evaluation (if the structure plan is to be implemented through a RMA plan).

If the structure plan requires changes to be made to a RMA plan, the normal plan change process will need to be followed. For further guidance on the RMA Schedule 1 process, see the Plan Development - The Steps guidance notes.

How provisions are inserted into a RMA will depend on the structure of the existing plan. Typically provisions will either be integrated into the existing plan chapters, or contained in a separate chapter and cross referenced to other relevant provisions. It is important that the drafted provisions are clear in their intent, minimise ambiguity, and are in the same general style and format as the rest of the plan.

The completion of the structure plan and its implementation can take several years. It is therefore important to manage the timeframe expectations of stakeholders during the entire course of the process.

Remember to brief everyone who will be involved in the implementation of the structure plan, or who may be asked questions about it. For councils, this should include resource consent processing staff, policy planners, front counter and call centre customer service staff, and staff who manage infrastructure provision or asset management.

If the structure plan covers a large area which will be taken up over a lengthy time period, consider provisions that stage the development to minimise adverse effects and promote co-ordination, efficiency and continuity of service provision and utilisation (e.g. staged release of land, programming of infrastructure, larger minimum lot sizes and / or lower density controls for later stages in the interim, advanced land purchase, etc.).

Other processes and procedures that may need to be considered as part of the implementation of the structure plan include:

  • RMA designation processes for new council or other public agency infrastructure works or facilities. Where a structure plan is to be incorporated into the district plan efficiencies can be achieved by including new designation requirements in the plan change (in accordance with Clause 4 of Schedule 1)
  • Reserves Act 1977 processes (for new recreation or scenic reserves, for example);
  • covenanting of features to be protected – e.g. under the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust Act 1977, or Conservation Act 1987
  • obtaining integrated catchment consents for stormwater management and discharges to provide for development to take place up to a predicted level with appropriate standards incorporated into any relevant RMA plan
  • consultation under the LGA (where no other consultation has already been provided for
  • the production of new, or changes to existing design guidelines or engineering codes of practice necessary to achieve the desired quality of the development. Such documents also may be incorporated into the RMA plan.
  • inclusion of aspects into Annual Plans or the Long Term Plan (LTP) under the LGA for council funded projects.

9.2. Monitoring and Review

As with all plans, monitoring and review of structure plans is essential.

Structure plans should be reviewed for ongoing effectiveness when relevant RMA plans and long term plans are reviewed. Provision should be made for resourcing to undertake updates and reviews on a regular cycle, likely to be between 4 to 10 years. Reviews should monitor the staging of development and the timeframes for monitoring may be influenced by projected growth rates and/or the actual rate of uptake of development.

Review of the infrastructural detail of structure plans is more likely to occur on a shorter cycle as technological changes and other opportunities arise. Annual workshops with developers within structure plan areas to ensure there is ongoing understanding of the key issues of implementation should be undertaken ahead of any annual plan process (for example, refer to the Tauriko Business Estate / Pye’s Pa West case study). On-going facilitation with other key stakeholders should also occur to help ensure ongoing buy-in to the structure plan and coordinated implementation.

Consideration should also be given to the impact of any new policy at national and regional level which may impact on standards assumed for structure plan development. For example, new information on climatic events may lead to the need for the redesign of stormwater systems.

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Contents of a structure plan

The use of structure plans and their content is variable, and readily open to adaptation to meet local issues and circumstances. The following content headings provide a general guide on how a structure plan could be structured and adapted as required to meet its particular objectives and scope:

1.  Vision, objectives and development principles;
2.  Context, key issues, and constraints;
3.  Engagement and consultation summary;
4.  Structure plan overview;
5.  Structure plan components:
     5.1 Urban form and land use;
     5.2 Reserves and open space networks;
     5.3 Community facilities;
     5.4 Transport and movement;
     5.5 Natural hazards;
     5.6 Infrastructure networks;
6.  Implementation plan;
7.  Monitoring and review.

1. Vision, objectives and development principles

The broad purpose of structure plans can sometimes be lost within the detail of their contents. Placing a vision statement and key objectives at the front can clearly identify the high-level issues being addressed by the structure plan and can focus those involved in implementing the structure plan based on its original intent.

A vision statement is potentially the most aspirational part of the document and inclusive of views derived from the engagement and consultation undertaken. It is a written and visual snap-shot of the qualities the community could look forward to at the end of its nominated timeframe. It is aimed at inspiring and motivating the community - council, developers and end users alike - to achieve the holistic outcome sought through the combination of initiatives presented in the plan. It still needs to be realistic, both within constraints of the area and the resources available.

Key objectives identify specific priorities and strategic areas of focus to help achieve the vision. These could be measurable over time or at least be able to provide a high level of accountability for each decision made.

The principles of good design are important to establish early, as the layout and supporting infrastructure of developments often endure well beyond the life of the built forms that follow. Good design decisions made early, before development is undertaken, can have lasting amenity, function, and cost benefits with relatively modest design input. Design principles should be site specific and help bridge the gap between generic good practice (e.g. the NZ Urban Design Protocol) with those distinctive qualities and constraints of the structure plan area and its context. Furthermore, these principles can be used as a checklist for each structure plan initiative and in the assessment of development proposals that follow.

2. Context and key issues

This section should contain a synopsis of the findings from the research and information analysis undertaken. This is helpful as a way of consolidating the diverse information available, clearly identifying the most relevant aspects and providing an evidence base to back up decisions made during the evolution of the structure plan. Detailed information could be provided in appendices for future reference.

It is recommended that the structure plan includes a summary of the key issues, constraints and opportunities of the existing area, particularly those used to inform the preferred structure plan option and identifying what the subsequent actions should be. This should include consideration of market viability and the feasibility of different development opportunities. An example of key issues, constraints and opportunities from the Rolleston Structure Plan is set out below. :

 Table 2 Key issues

         Table 2. Key Issues, Constraints and Opportunities for Rolleston (Rolleston Structure Plan, 2009)

3. Engagement and consultation summary

Identifying the range of engagement and consultation activities undertaken, who was involved, the level of participation achieved, and the issues identified in the structure plan is a transparent way of demonstrating that the structure plan has taken into account relevant stakeholders, tangata whenua and community views. This is also consistent with the principles for consultation in s82 of the LGA which promote a clear record of how views expressed through consultation have been considered and reflected in the decisions made.

Conflicting views between stakeholders (or with other key issues identified through the analysis process) may be inevitable and in these situations it is useful to provide an appropriate explanation to show how the the issue has been considered, addressed and accepted/rejected. It is important that this is presented systematically to link the issue raised with the response explaining how it has been addressed. A tabular form can be one clear and simple way of communicating this, such as used in the Rolleston Structure Plan below.  

 Table 3 Summary

Table 3. Summary of submissions and recommendations (Rolleston Structure Plan, 2009).

4. Structure plan overview

This section also provides an opportunity to highlight the overall approach of the structure plan. For example, this may explain what the major drivers for decision-making were in designing the layout and identifying the key aspects, or ‘big moves’, of the structure plan as a whole.

If staging is important for the coordinated implementation of the structure plan layout, it may be necessary to include a summary of these expectations early in the document, rather than in the implementation section at the end.

5. Structure plan components

5.1. Urban form and land use

The rationale for establishing areas of varying urban form should be explained in the structure plan. Urban form is essentially the close link between land uses, including their intensity, and the physical layout of the built environment.

Good urban design practice tends to follow a ‘multi-nodal’ approach, where different urban forms are matched to varying levels of accessibility and connections. For instance, growth of higher density land uses are encouraged to locate around key nodes of higher public transport, cycling and walking accessibility. Alternatively, industrial uses of lower employment densities may be better suited to marginal areas where good links to regional freight routes and supply chains exist. These densities both have recognisable patterns of development and building typologies associated with them. This recognition is important and provides the local community and visitors clear messages over which locations in the built environment have priority or service particular important community and economic functions. Often it will be useful to establish a hierarchy of different urban forms with the structure plan area and communicate this through the structure plan.

There are other potential land use considerations that may need to be explained, including how complementary activities are provided for, how incompatible activities are managed, and how areas of high value or sensitivity (for environmental, cultural or social reasons) will be protected/managed. Demonstrating how demographic change, community needs, and market analysis may influence the quantity, distribution and diversity of particular land uses are further explanations that could be provided.  

5.2. Reserves and open space networks

Reserves and open space networks may be used in structure plans as a way of providing for any one of a multiple of the following purposes: the recreational needs of the future population, as a way of managing hazards, the protection of natural or historic heritage, landscape character, amenity, or water quality.

Reserves may be indicated in a variety of ways, such as through notations on the plan or map showing the general area in which a future reserve is proposed but for which the final details are still open to negotiation.

In planning reserves it is good practice to:

  • establish a hierarchy and network of open spaces with linkages between them
  • provide for both active and passive recreational needs, as well as for heritage protection, stormwater management and off-road linkages within an urban area
  • provide flexibility for multiple activities to occur in public spaces (e.g. stormwater reserves for passive open space, adaptable hard courts facilities)
  • ensure the amount of reserve land to be set aside is matched to an ability to acquire the land and maintain it. For example: this could be through financial or development contributions or a designation process if in Council ownership, or through a body corporate agreement if in private ownership.
  • where reserves acquisition differs from that used in association with more generic subdivision or development provisions, justify that difference in a robust manner (such as through a recreational needs assessment, a water quality study, hazards assessment, or an ecological impact study)
  • clearly state in the structure plan when and where the retention of natural features in public and private ownership will be required (such as through rules restricting development potential, or the use of private covenants on private land).

The needs assessment should relate to the council's policy or position on the level of service for active and passive reserves relative to the population size and character. This is usually expressed in terms of the range of reserve types that may be applicable to the local conditions.

5.3. Community facilities

The nature and scale of the community infrastructure provided for in a structure plan area will be dependent on the type of development being contemplated. A needs assessment may be required as part of the structure plan process to inform, supplement or evaluate stakeholder aspirations and community facility needs. The needs assessment could determine if specific facilities should be provided based on criteria such as future population growth and demographics, the needs of the population, and the extent to which current facilities can meet those needs.

In an urban situation, consultation should be undertaken with social service provided to determine what facilities are needed or planned. For example, consultation should be undertaken with schools and the Ministry of Education may be needed to determine whether additional schools are needed or planned, if there is capacity in existing schools, or if the structure plan may adversely affect a school's catchment through changing land uses. Other parties who may have an interest in how the structure plan could impact on the way they provide community services include social service providers, health providers and emergency service providers and these parties should also be consulted as appropriate to determine the current and future community facility priorities.

5.4. Transport and movement

A good understanding of transport patterns and behaviours in both rural and urban settings is important to achieve good integration between land-use and transport outcomes. A robust assessment of transport patterns and future needs is a key part of the structure plan process and this can help to:

  • provide for a choice of transport routes and modes (bus, walking or bicycle, for example), access to them and routes and modes appropriate to the level and type of development anticipated
  • match the transport network density to development intensity (higher urban density may require smaller block sizes and a multimodal transport network with more connections)
  • promote the safe and efficient movement of people and vehicles while successfully resolving tensions between the needs and objectives of pedestrians, public transport users and motorists.

Implementing structure plans through RMA plans can present a challenge because the preferences of developers, unforeseen site constraints or some engineering requirements may mean development takes on a different form to that envisaged by the structure plan. It is therefore important to set minimum standards to ensure that the capacity of infrastructure provided matches the likely level of development.

Where structure plans are implemented through RMA plans, transport provisions should be prepared in such a way as to provide certainty over the general routes that are to be followed to link proposed land uses, but retain enough discretion to allow flexibility in the final design and layout of the links.

Some RMA plans get around the problem of not knowing the precise alignment of infrastructure such as roads by providing indicative roading layouts and transport links on structure plans. These then form a matter of over which a council may retain control when subdivision consent is applied for. This can provide an element of design flexibility to meet both the objectives of the council and the developer.

To address the effects of traffic, the early and ongoing involvement of transport planners and engineers (including those from The New Zealand Transport Agency, where appropriate) is important to provide sound analysis and advice.

5.5 Natural hazards

Natural hazards are one of the key assessments required when undertaking structure planning. A good understanding of natural hazards and associated risk to development is important for ensuring that the capacity of an area can be understood with certainty and planned for accordingly. Natural hazard assessment will assist in determining the suitability of land for future use and development of infrastructure. Natural hazard assessments may identify areas that should be avoided altogether or where specific hazard risks need to be addressed before development could occur.

Assessment of flood risk and the management of stormwater within some catchments may have a significant influence on urban form and development. In such areas stormwater catchment management will often be a key component of the structure plan. For example, assessment of flood risk may lead to minimum requirements for building platform heights, the need for land to be set aside for stormwater storage to mitigate peak flow, and the need for overland flow paths for events that exceed design parameters. Stormwater treatment requirements may also lead to requirements for low impact urban design in new development and the use of green infrastructure.

Where hazard assessment is undertaken in detail at the time of structure planning, there is then the potential to look toward multiple uses of land set aside for hazard mitigation. In many cases this land can also be used for open space and other low intensity, short duration or less sensitive activities (e.g. car parking, ecological enhancement, etc).

For low probability and high consequence hazard events such as tsunami, structure planning enables consideration to be given to the level of risk acceptability, and also consideration of feasibility for escape routes to high ground. Risk acceptability refers to the level of risk that can be accommodated when planning for a development and it is important that this is clearly defined. This is important to provide certainty to developers, communities, council about what this level of acceptable risk is and who the risk needs to be acceptable to.

Levels of risk acceptance should be defined based on standards found in planning documents or best practice guidelines for specific types of hazard (e.g. Preparing for future flooding; Preparing for coastal change, Tools for Estimating the Effects of Climate Change on Flood Flow, etc). Common factors affecting the acceptability of risk include control of the risk (degree to which person can modify risk), fairness (whether everyone is affected equally), familiarity (common versus new unfamiliar risks) and voluntariness (extent to which risk is accepted versus imposed). For greenfield areas, acceptable risks to life and property are generally very low. In areas of redevelopment higher risks may be tolerated, but steps should always be taken to reduce the risk from natural hazards where practicable. For more information on a risk based management approach to natural hazards, refer to the Natural Hazards guidance note.

5.6. Infrastructure networks

The ability to extend network infrastructure such as roads, water, gas, electricity and telecommunication facilities can significantly affect the availability and viability of land-use options for the area being structure planned. Network utility providers can therefore hold considerable influence in the successful implementation of a structure plan.

Where structure plans are to be implemented via a RMA plan, early canvassing of possible structure plan provisions which meet both the objectives of the council and the network utility provider can help provide certainty in the development of the structure plan, and avoid delays in its implementation. Generic roading designs that include the provision for infrastructure (e.g. wide road berms) can be beneficial to reassure infrastructure providers that there is an ability to service the development.

6. Implementation plan

The success of a structure plan is often determined on how straightforward and practical it is to deliver it on the ground. Numerous development initiatives will have been identified throughout the structure plan document and the implementation section should aim to collate those initiatives and identify the appropriate methods, timescales and responsibilities to implement them.

There are several methods or approaches available to implement a structure plan and it is likely that a combination of these will need to be utilised, including:

  1. Statutory planning, including RMA plan mechanisms
  2. Investment in land, infrastructure and council owned facilities and services, to facilitate, enable and support growth
  3. Participation in the ‘market’, either directly or in association with the private sector, for example in a possible ‘demonstration project’ using council owned land
  4. Other direct actions by council, such as investigating proposals, developing guidelines and standards, operational policies, etc.
  5. Indirect actions by council, such as coordinating, liaising, encouraging, promoting or facilitating action by others
  6. Requiring action by others, such as developer provided infrastructure.

With a complex matrix of initiatives and methods of implementation, it is critical that the structure plan sets out the necessary actions that will coordinate and support the ongoing implementation of the structure plan and integrated growth in general.

An action plan is useful to systematically set out relevant considerations, such as the topic area, required action, land requirements, timeframes/priority, cost implications, methods and responsibility.

A good example of an implementation action plan from the Rolleston Structure Plan is set out below. This identified specific actions associated with the structure plan the timeframes and cost implications to achieve and the methods to achieve it. This can provide an effective method to provide certainty to all parties about who is responsible for what and when to help ensure the structure plan outcomes are successfully implemented. For more information on the Rolleston Structure Plan process, refer to the Rolleston Structure Plan case study.

 Table 4 Movement

Table 4. Movement Network Action Plan (Rolleston Structure Plan, 2009).

A staging plan should be included to ensure a coordinated approach is taken to achieve the holistic outcomes desired within the structure plan. It is an early signal to those responsible for implementation at the appropriate timeframes to start planning and allocating funding and resources as necessary to achieve particular parts of the structure plan. It is also a way of managing landowner and developer expectations. Deliberate mechanisms will also need to be put in place for later stages to prevent interim initiatives, such as further subdivision, causing significant difficulties in managing and delivering the structure plan outcomes.        

7. Monitoring and review

Structure plans should be regarded as ‘living’ documents, as circumstances influencing development change and new development can influence and shape subsequent development. Issues or opportunities often arise during the implementation of the plan that were not anticipated when the structure plan was prepared and some flexibility is necessary to resolve emerging issues (e.g. funding and infrastructure changes), integrate potential improvements or adapt to changes in good practice. Also refer to the monitoring and review process.

This section should outline regular review periods, appropriate performance criteria to assess successful progress and mechanisms that ensure the structure plan remains relevant for the community. Such mechanisms could include the establishment of an ongoing liaison group including community and stakeholder representatives.

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Related guidance notes

Relevant publications

New Zealand

Auckland Design Manual. This web-based resource provides practical advice, best practice processes and detailed design guidance. The manual enables the community to make informed choices, to build houses and develop streets and neighbourhoods to not only look good but to ensure they are built to last, sustainable and give the best return on investment.

ARC Guide to Structure Planning: A Regional Practice and Resource Guide, Auckland Regional Council, 2005. This guide seeks to support good practice and a consistent approach to structure planning across the Auckland region.

New Zealand Urban Design Protocol, Ministry for the Environment, March 2005. The Urban Design Protocol provides a platform to make New Zealand towns and cities more successful through quality urban design.

Urban Design Case Studies, Ministry for the Environment, March 2005. The case studies support the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol by demonstrating practical examples of successful urban design.

Urban Design Case Studies: Local Government, Ministry for the Environment, May 2008. This second volume of case studies provides examples of ways that local government can incorporate urban design in strategies, plans and guidelines, and demonstrates the practical application of urban design principles.

Urban Design Toolkit, Ministry for the Environment, March 2009. The Urban Design Toolkit supports the New Zealand Urban Design protocol and comprises a compendium of tools that can be used to facilitate high quality urban design.


Liveable neighbourhoods, Planning Western Australia, January 2009. Liveable Neighbourhoods addresses both strategic and operational aspects of structure planning and subdivision development.

Precinct Structure Planning Guidelines, Victoria State Government, December 2012. The Precinct Structure Planning guidelines promote a consistent and thorough approach to planning for future growth. The guidelines apply to the preparation or assessment of Precinct Structure Plans for new residential communities and new employment areas.

Structure Plan Preparation Guidelines, Planning Western Australia, August 2012. The Structure plan preparation guidelines have been developed to provide clear and consistent guidance in the preparation and assessment of structure plans across the state.

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Structure plan examples

Whangarei Coastal Management Strategy Structure Plans

Fast facts

Location: Whangarei District.

Prepared by: BECA Planning for Whangarei District Council.

Timeframe: 2002 with a full revision in 2009.

Description: This project involved the development of nine structure plans for coastal settlements aimed at improving coastal planning, management, development and conservation at a local level. The plans indicate the Council's policy direction for infrastructure, land use and other resource management issues to provide a concept as to how the settlements should look in 20 years. These first structure plans were the priority plans identified in the Whangarei Coastal Management Strategy. A further 11 structure plans for lower priority planning were identified and are waiting for the RPS to identify the extent of the coastal environment before being progressed.


In late 2002, Whangarei District Council adopted the Coastal Management Strategy, which established a long term vision for the District’s coast. A key outcome of the strategy was the establishment of a vision for location specific ‘policy areas’.

In order to implement the strategy vision, structure plans were prepared for nine high priority coastal settlements. The structure plans were started at the same time as the introduction of the LGA 2002 and emphasised a move from the Council’s traditional focus on resource management and asset management to a more strategic and community outcomes focus. Several further lower priority structure plans may follow as the need arises to give effect to the NZ Coastal Policy Statement (2010).

The coastal policies from the strategy have been incorporated into the Whangarei District Plan both within the Coastal Chapter, through the appeals process prior to it becoming operative in 2007, and through a plan change to the Urban Form Chapter as part of a rolling review in 2011. This allows for concentrated coastal villages with open coastal environment between these settlements.

The rapid coastal development in the early 2000’s resulted in many subdivisions lacking adequate services and infrastructure. As a result, a planned approach to settlements along the coast was needed. The typical baches were replaced by holiday homes and the coast became the recreational backyard for the urban areas, with the population swelling more than threefold during the summer months. In most cases property owners still relied on rainwater harvesting but it became necessary to develop local waste water treatment plants to cater for the increasing population. The beauty of the beaches and the ecosystems had to be protected to retain the reason why people flocked to the coastal settlements. Local economic services and entertainment followed which became the fabric of the coastal villages. In order to manage these in a planned way, both for the immediate needs as well as for the longer period the Structure Plans needed to be created to provide the opportunity for growth and servicing.

 Figure 1. Whangarei District Growth Strategy

Figure 1. Whangarei District Growth Strategy (Whangarei District Council, 2009).

 Figure 2. Coastal Management Strategy2

Figure 2. Coastal Management Strategy, Policy Implementation Direction map, Ocean Beach – Whangarei Heads (Whangarei District Council, 2002). 

 Figure 3. Marseden Point

Figure 3. Marsden Point – Ruakaka Structure Plan (Whangarei District Council, 2009).

Structure plan development process

The preparation of each Structure Plan followed an eight-step methodology:

  • Step 1 - Confirmation of management direction for the Policy Area and definition of Structure Plan boundaries. The definition of the structure plan areas considered the particular resource demands, issues and conflicts that had been identified for the policy areas in the Coastal Management Strategy process.
  • Step 2 - Collation and mapping of existing constraints and opportunities within the Structure Plan area. Information was collated and mapped to identify constraints and opportunities. This included current zonings, natural hazard areas, sites of ecological, heritage and cultural significance, and protected areas identified from technical studies.
  • Step 3 - Workshop with community to identify key Structure Plan concepts and desirable outcomes. This first phase of consultation focussed on identifying existing issues in the structure plan area and how the community wanted the area to look over the next 20 years. The Council’s primary engagement with Tangata Whenua was facilitated by Kaahu Communications who conducted three hui and prepared a summary report
  • Step 4 - Validation of the Structure Plan direction. The community feedback was validated against the earlier Coastal Management Strategy and policy area visions.
  • Step 5 - Structure Plan concept development including mapping and identification of key infrastructure components. The community feedback was collated and the structure plan elements mapped including infrastructure requirements, future land use patterns, development initiatives, sense of place features, and areas for protection.
  • Step 6 - Workshop with community to review Structure Plan and key outcomes. An informal open day was held to allow the community to review and provide feedback on the draft structure plan, and proposals for the implementation measures and programme.
  • Step 7 - Development of implementation programme (including 'triggers', timeframes and statutory changes to the District Plan).
  • Step 8 - Finalise Structure Plan and presentation to Council for adoption.

Content of structure plan

The Structure Plans provided for a wide range of future land uses, including:

  • Future residential areas, differentiating between clustered settlement areas, low density residential areas, and rural living environments;
  • Economic development opportunities and business expansion areas;
  • Rural development opportunities while addressing reverse sensitivity issues;
  • Areas for protection, including future recreation and conservation reserves;
  • Management of existing reserves, including improved access and maintenance;
  • Preliminary identification of hazard issues (based on available information).

In regard to the latter point, the Structure Plans considered the potential risks from natural hazards including land instability, flooding, and coastal hazards. The Structure Plans refer to research reports and comprehensive land hazard maps prepared for the district, avoiding those areas identified as unsuitable for development.

Future utility infrastructure requirements were provided for to cater for any growth and community aspirations, such as demand for reticulated servicing. In considering future stormwater requirements, the need for comprehensive stormwater catchment plans, low impact design, and priorities for mitigation were identified. Major new roading requirements and traffic management measures (e.g. traffic calming) were also provided for.

In addition, the Structure Plans identified a number of other desirable outcomes to be delivered by a range of methods, including by the community and other agencies working collaboratively. Those outcomes included, for example:

  • measures to enhance the sense of place, including signage and place making;
  • recognition and promotion of the heritage values of an area;
  • protecting and enhancing biodiversity through community led initiatives, or in collaboration with the Department of Conservation.

Methods of implementation

The Structure Plans were intended as a non-statutory implementation tool, to be achieved through specific actions such as changes to the District Plan, infrastructure studies and asset planning, capital works, parks planning and community run projects.

Notably, not all of the actions identified in the Structure Plans were the responsibility of the Council. The Structure Plans record actions that other agencies and the local community are to undertake themselves.

Plan implementation was to a great extent left for the market to determine with private developers applying for plan changes or resource consents. Applications outside the structure plan proposals were challenged in Court and the Court upheld most of the structure plan proposals. In some cases the structure plan was considered as an ‘additional matter to be considered’, especially where the change was an infill or a slight deviation from the District Plan provisions, but in larger developments the Structure Plan was a key consideration. See the case law section for more detailed guidance on the weight to be given to structure plans in RMA consent processes. In the urban areas Council did take the initiative to prepare plan changes to implement the Structure Plan proposals.

The provision of infrastructure and more specifically waste water treatment was undertaken by the District Council in various ways but mostly by installing small plants with the capacity to be added on to. Parking areas and boat and trailer parks were identified and developed.

Implementation was initiated on an as-needs basis. In Ruakaka, the former Structure Plan was incorporated into the District Plan and created a total over-zoning of land. Much of the new development proposals were zoned ‘Future Development’ and required a comprehensive development plan, including a servicing plan. However, bulk services could not be provided to those areas by the Council and applications were subsequently received in an uncoordinated manner. As a result of that decision, it was agreed not to incorporate the Structure Plan into the District Plan unless 60% of the already zoned areas were taken up with development. The remaining 40% provided flexibility to accommodate market forces and freedom of choice. Council has done some rezoning on private land where the 60% has been reached but those have not yet been taken up by the market and they are now also revaluating the potential for infill of existing zoned land. In later Structure Plans, a programme for incorporation into the District Plan was added, guided by the market and service availability. In particular instances, the Structure Plan zonings were included to force or provide for uses that were to be relocated.

What has happened on the ground

As a result of the following structure plans, a number of implementation initiatives have occurred (as at September 2014):

Ruakaka Structure Plan:

  • Marsden Town Centre – Operative;
  • Ruakaka Equine Centre with residential – Decisions made (under appeal);
  • Marsden Cove Marina – adjustment of land uses – Operative;
  • Rail Designation – Finalised, which protects a corridor of land for a future railway extension from the main trunk line to the port and refinery;
  • Various Resource Consent applications approved or declined according to the Structure Plan process;
  • Phasing of the sewer outfall designed according to the phasing in the Structure Plan – guided by Development Contributions.

Kamo Urban Structure Plan:

  • Light Industrial Zoning Plan Change (to provide land to remove the industry from the Business Area) – Operative;
  • Kamo Walkability Environment Plan Change (to rezone the residential area to accommodate higher density and the make redevelopment of the shopping centre easier) - Notified.

Tikipunga Structure Plan:

  • Subdivision of a 300 section development.

CBD and Port Structure Plan Area:

  • Port Nikau Mixed use Plan Change to replace the active port facilities - Operative;
  • Bulk Retail Environment in the Outer CBD to consolidate the Okara shopping centre - Notified;
  • Hihiaua Precinct Plan – consultation;
  • Hatea Loop way - 4.2 km walking and cycle way within the CBD – open to the public

Lessons Learnt

Key lessons learnt include:

  • The process was very effective with widespread community participation and good feedback about the consultation process and the outcomes achieved. During the 2009 review process, participation was seen to be dropping off and fresh approaches to consultation were considered. For example, the review of the Kamo Structure Plan was consulted on through an Agility programme which used social media to the fullest. Called the Kamo Place race, the Facebook and Twitter reactions were instant and staff and the Mayor responded daily. The council won an award for the best use of social media to get public participation. The result is that within two months the council notified a plan change for densification of Kamo, did a walkability proposal and replaced the rules of the District Plan with policies and design guidelines;
  • The process enhanced community/Council relationships and resulted in community ownership of outcomes. Workshop sessions were programmed to tie with long weekends to ensure greater representation of absentee land owners/ holiday home owners;
  • Iwi were invited to participate in these consultation sessions together with the new arrivals which were very seasonal due to the nature of the population. In the later Urban Structure Plans, Iwi were consulted separately and again during the community consultation;
  • The biggest challenge in the development of the Structure Plans was to consult with the absentee land owners/holiday home owners, creating differences within the communities itself without reaching mutual consensus all the time. The needs of both landowners and visitors had to be taken into account, which were quite diverse;
  • In the Ruakaka Structure Plan it was decided to have formal submissions and hearings rather than consultation meetings, due to a major proposal for change within the Marsden Town Centre, which proved effective, as it was treated as a formal and credible process;
  • The consultation process further assisted LTP and LGA planning, by obtaining direction on areas where the Council should target resources;
  • The initial constraint and opportunity mapping and the wider Coastal Management Strategy findings 'set the scene' for the community to focus on realistic development/growth scenarios;
  • One major conclusion of the exercise was that in most areas it was not a matter of investing resources into new capital projects or studies, but rather doing better with what the Council and community already had;
  • There was a common theme throughout consultation that developers must pay the fair and reasonable cost of the infrastructure and service demands they create;
  • The identification of implementation actions provided a transparent means for the community to track how their aspirations were being delivered by Council actions.

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Tauriko Business Estate / Pye’s Pa West

Fast facts

Location: Tauranga District / Western Bay of Plenty District.

Area: 430 Ha (Pye’s Pa West) / 200 Ha (Tauriko).

Prepared by: Beca Consultants and others for Grasshopper Developments Ltd (Pye’s Pa West) / Boffa Miskell and Aurecon for Element IMF Ltd with Tauranga City Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council (Tauriko).

Timeframe: 2003-2005 (Pye’s Pa West Residential), 2004-2008 (Tauriko Industrial).

Description: Development of structure plans for residential and business land development to give effect to the SmartGrowth Strategy settlement pattern.

 Figure 4. Pyes Pa West Urban Growth Plan2

Figure 4. Pye’s Pa West Urban Growth Plan (Diagram UG7, Tauranga City Plan, 2009).

 Figure 5. Tauriko Business Estate Urban Growth Plan2

Figure 5. Tauriko Business Estate Urban Growth Plan (Diagram UG8, Tauranga City Plan, 2009).


Pye’s Pa West and Tauriko were identified by the Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty Council’s as urban growth areas in the Western Bay of Plenty SmartGrowth Strategy and Implementation Plan 2003 as key initiatives to address identified shortages in land for residential and industrial development. The areas build on existing urban growth areas and are located at the southern end of Tauranga’s toll road, which formed part of the Councils’ Strategic Road Network. Tauriko industrial area is located on the main road corridor linking the Bay of Plenty to Auckland and the Waikato.

The urban growth areas were subsequently anchored in the Regional Policy Statement (Change No. 2 Growth Management, 2009), as part of the region’s urban growth policy.

While these areas were identified by the councils, land developers have always been actively involved in the planning process and collaborated with the councils, including funding and undertaking technical assessments.

Structure plans were developed in conjunction with proposals for urban rezoning. This occurred over adjacent areas through two separate plan change processes. In both cases, this was initiated by developers through a private plan change request.

The structure plans provide a framework for implementation to occur under the RMA (land use, subdivision, stormwater discharges) and LGA (infrastructure planning and development contributions).

The existing environment of the area presented several challenges including managing the interface between business activities and adjacent rural and residential areas, staging to integrate with the timing of planned services upgrades, links to the arterial road system, and recognising cultural values associated with the area. Both Pye’s Pa West and Tauriko Structure Plans are broadly split into three stages each.

Structure plan process

Separate structure planning processes were followed for the two adjacent areas. Common characteristics of both processes were:

  • Confirmation of the overall spatial planning direction in SmartGrowth and via RPS Urban Development policy – this was key to giving the necessary certainty for private sector investment in structure plan initiation;
  • Developer agreement with local authorities over the private initiative to develop the Structure Plan – this included establishment of a joint project team with the developer, council and NZTA representatives which met on a two weekly cycle;
  • Collation and mapping of constraints and opportunities – including investigations of a wide range of resource management and development issues;
  • Land owner engagement and workshops with community to identify key Structure Plan concepts and desirable outcomes.

The Pye’s Pa West plan change was relatively non-contentious locally with the development building upon an already established urban growth area at Pye’s Pa. Main challenges were in the management of urban stormwater given the adjacent water course which was already flood prone. A network of stormwater management lakes was integrated into the design as a key recreational and amenity feature.

Tangata whenua consultation was undertaken as a series of meetings with hapu representatives. This was done after contact was made with the local authority iwi liaison representative and the iwi to confirm who should be contacted. The meetings began before any concept designs were undertaken, and built on the results of an archaeological survey of the entire area. The hapu representatives accompanied the archaeologist on that survey work. Mitigation measures for urbanisation were agreed including riparian planting with nominated species and the protection of certain archaeological sites.

Consultation with tangata whenua and interested landowners/submitters was ongoing after lodgement to resolve issues prior to the hearing and during the appeal period. Two appeals were resolved within one month.

The Tauriko plan change was more contentious as it included rezoning of rural land within an area that had been developed for high amenity rural lifestyle use. Facilitated prehearing meetings were held with submitters which assisted in bringing many issues to a resolution. An appeal to the Environment Court was ultimately determined in favour of the industrial re-zoning.

At Tauriko, a formal memorandum of understanding was developed between Ngai Tamarawaho hapu and Element IMF, and this facilitated the smooth implementation of a cultural impact assessment, the construction of a large pou, re-vegetation, works to restore the Koprererua stream meander, lakes supporting eels, introduction of new street names that reflect the area’s history, ongoing meetings, site visits, on-site monitoring and advice.

Both Structures Plans were reviewed and updated through the City Plan Review. The Review included removal of much of the infrastructure detail and inclusion of this detail entirely in the Councils Development Contributions Policy to provide greater flexibility for updating (i.e. avoiding plan changes).

Provisions for increased housing density (minimum density rules) were included in the initial structure planning for Pye’s Pa West, reflecting a Regional Policy Statement urban growth policy requirement. These provisions proved to be out of kilter with the market and targets were eventually revised downward by the Council though the Review to enable staged implementation of higher densities. This issue was of concern to developers across the sub-region and was not an issue solely for Pye’s Pa West. However, the developer at Pye’s Pa West was actively involved because the minimum density rules proved to be particularly difficult to implement as a result of the sloping land form and suburban location of the development.

Content of structure plan

The structure plans provide for a wide range of future land uses, including:

  • Future residential areas for up to 3,000 households with target minimum densities to meet regional intensification goals;
  • 180ha of industrial land;
  • 15ha of commercial land, including provision for a 45,000m2 regional commercial centre;
  • Integrated transport network including public transport walking and cycling;
  • Neighbourhood centres for local service, including walkable “convenience centres” for workers in the business estate;
  • Areas for environmental protection, including future recreation and conservation reserves, stream corridor enhancement, and high amenity stormwater lakes;
  • Extensive revegetation of steep escarpments in former rural land use;
  • Tailored buffer treatments at interfaces between residential and business use, major roads and residential use, and rural and business use;
  • A strong tree-lined street network in residential and industrial areas.

Staging is clearly defined through maps and text with prerequisites established for the delivery of services and other elements at each stage.

As part of the SmartGrowth Strategy, urban growth areas were generally directed away from significant natural hazards. The main natural hazard affecting the growth area is confined to flooding along the banks of the Kopurererua Stream which flows centrally along the valley floor. Large detention ponds are used to mitigate increased stormwater runoff and a 100-150m wide stream and floodplain corridor is set aside as a stormwater management area to be managed by the Council. The ponds and stormwater management area are used as passive recreational assets and include walk and cycle ways. Localised geotechnical constraints were also identified from the presence of peat in low lying areas and the proximity of steep escarpments. However, these site specific issues are addressed at subdivision consent stage rather than in the structure plan itself.

The strong network of tree-lined roads is a distinctive feature of the business estate. This is aimed at not only providing a pleasant environment for businesses, but also to integrate the development with the surrounding environment. Special purpose planted buffers will also protect important amenity values.

The development of the road network required an adaptive approach that took into account future arterial improvements that were highly uncertain.

Cultural recognition has been achieved through installation of poū as gateway features, funded via development contributions. Street names reflect characteristics of the ancestress and taniwha ‘Taurikura’ in the Kopurererua Stream that bisects the area. Long term restoration of this important waterway is a central theme for cultural recognition.

Methods of implementation

The Structure Plans were implemented through private plan changes to the District Plan alongside the introduction of rezoning and place-specific plan rules. This process was agreed with Council as it meant that costs were met largely by the developer. Council collaborated closely with the developers as part of the project team.

In the District Plan, the structure plans also serve to guide land use and subdivision via place specific plan rules. Development that complies with the prescribed structure plan outcomes is generally a permitted or controlled activity. There is simplified consenting and a high level of certainty about compliance is provided.

Infrastructural elements of the structure plans were incorporated into the Councils LTP and Development Contributions policy. Structure planning promoted certainty in assessing levels of service and units of demand.

Comprehensive stormwater management planning established an overall framework that addressed long term cumulative effects. This has enabled discharge consents to be obtained on a more certain footing.

Policy changes overlapped between two Council (Tauranga and Western Bay) areas requiring joint processes, and ultimately a boundary change took place to bring the growth area entirely with city boundaries and under a single controlling body.

What has happened on the ground

The development of both Pye’s Pa West and Tauriko Structure Plans were initially quite rapid with the early construction of major infrastructure developed with capacity to accommodate the development. 

On Pye’s Pa West Structure Plan (The Lakes), this included:

  • Creating 8Ha of lakes on low-lying ground;
  • Building 20km of cycle tracks and walkways;
  • Retention of landforms and creation of reserves; and
  • Re-vegetating hillsides and existing roads with 200,000 plants and trees.

On Tauriko Structure Plan (Tauriko Business Estate), this included:

  • Moving 2 million cubic meters of earth;
  • Planting 50Ha of reserves, trees and vegetation;
  • Establishment of an imposing carved pouwhenua ‘Taurikura’;
  • Funding and constructing the Pye’s Pa Bypass Road; and
  • Completing roading, lighting and waters/sewerage services in Stage 1 (55Ha), servicing 110 sections.

The global financial crisis, coupled with the PSA Kiwifruit virus’ impact on regional GDP, led to a significant slow-down in demand for land. With improving economic conditions, development has recommenced.  As at June 2013, approximately half of the Pye’s Pa West Residential area has been subdivided with half of these sites built on. Approximately 1/3 of the Tauriko Business Estate has been subdivided with work on Stage 2 progressing with Stage 3 yet to come.

For the latest information see and

Lessons Learnt

Key lessons learnt include:

  • Certainty provided via the SmartGrowth settlement strategy and RPS meant private sector investment in structure planning, with significant savings (in excess of $3 million) in public expenditure;
  • Prescriptive levels of service for land use determined at a district level must be reviewed and manipulated at the structure plan level to allow for the specific features to tailor the outcomes. In the case of the Pye’s Pa Structure Plan:
    • The topography manipulated the manner in which the collector roads provided the desired connectivity;
    • The Council's active reserve requirements resulted in provision being made off-site on more desirable land; and
    • The business quota was not met due to the difficult ground conditions in the obvious locations and the knowledge that additional prospects were located in close proximity but off-site;
  • Completion of the Stormwater Management Plan for the Pye’s Pa Structure Plan gave an early and clear understanding of the location and management regimes to be applied, thus enabling the Structure Plan to be accurate in terms of the land available for development and consequently the yield of household equivalents for servicing analysis;
  • Regular, structured collaboration with council and NZTA staff as part of the Tauriko structure planning project team allowed community interests to be anticipated and fully addressed;
  • Building a good relationship based on trust, expertise, sharing and mutual benefit assisted a comprehensive memorandum of understanding between the developer and tangata whenua. This in turn provided certainty throughout the Tauriko Structure Plan process and facilitated the implementation of specific and meaningful mitigation and remedial measures;
  • Careful consideration and time is often required to achieve Māori aspirations for re-introducing traditional names for places and streets;
  • Investment as a part of the Tauriko structure planning process has bought substantial payback during implementation, with high certainty and reduced compliance costs for consenting;
  • It is important to check goals for higher housing density with the actual market as these needed to be revised to enable a staged implementation.

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Rolleston Structure Plan

Fast facts

Location: Selwyn District.

Area: 2,241 Ha.

Prepared by: Selwyn District Council, Boffa Miskell and AECOM.

Timeframe: 2008 – 2009.

Description: The Rolleston Structure Plan is a strategic framework to guide rapid growth that has, and will continue to, occur in the town, and at the same time address the historical consequences of a poorly planned layout. The plan was largely design-led with input from consulting engineers and involved an extensive community consultation process.


Rolleston is located approximately 23km south west of central Christchurch on State Highway 1. It is the largest and most significant town in the Selwyn District, due to its central location, links to other townships, the role it plays in servicing the rural communities of the District, and proposed long term size. The town is set within the alluvial Canterbury Plains and largely surrounded by pastoral land and peri-urban land uses. It predominantly comprises residential subdivisions with a small town centre and a growing industrial zone.  

The Rolleston Structure Plan was initiated by Selwyn District Council as part of delivering the Greater Christchurch Development Strategy and subsequent Chapter 6 of the Regional Policy Statement, which seeks to manage growth throughout the Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts and Christchurch City over the next 15 years. Rolleston is planned to grow from its current population of approximately 7,000 to 20,000 people by 2041. The Rolleston Structure Plan is a non-statutory document and was adopted by Council in September 2009.

Key issues addressed in the Structure Plan included:

  • Poor cohesion in historical town development;
  • Vehicle centric nature of existing settlement;
  • Uncoordinated town centre growth;
  • Lack of housing choice;
  • Pressure on community and recreation facilities; and
  • Lack of infrastructure capacity, and need for more sustainable infrastructure solutions.

Structure plan development process

A separate process defined the Metropolitan Urban Limit (MUL) for Rolleston as part of the Greater Urban Development Strategy. This sub-regional strategy set the boundaries and average residential densities for the Structure Plan early on in the process. This included accounting for present and future natural hazards (i.e. climate change, flooding, earthquake and inland migration of coastal ecosystems) to avoid and minimise risks to health, property and the environment.

The Council assembled a multi-disciplined team to prepare the Structure Plan and established a steering group, comprising councillors and key council officers, to provide an overarching governance structure. This allowed the organisation to regularly track progress and follow a ‘no surprises’ approach through to its adoption.

The location of the town centre was seen as a critical piece in the puzzle from where other land use and transportation decisions could be made. A discussion document based on retail assessments, comparisons of other New Zealand towns and potential (re)location options were prepared. A brochure and questionnaire was circulated to all local residents within the MUL, with the majority favouring to keep the existing location along with other preferences such as types of retail, community facilities and open space.

A combination of existing council studies and data analysis (using GIS as a primary tool) provided base information on land ownership, existing patterns of development, retail capacity, ecological and landscape qualities, infrastructure capacity for the team to draw on. This was summarised in a table of issues and opportunities.

Various concept design options were considered as part of the Structure Plan development, particularly those associated with town centre options, location of supporting neighbourhood centres and provision of higher density housing.

Regular input from the existing business community, key landowners, council staff and councillors was sought to enable the Structure Plan to best align with community expectations.

Local iwi, through Mahaanui Kurataiao Limited (MKT) - a resource and environmental management advisory company established by the six local Rūnanga, reviewed and commented on the draft plan prior to public release. This included stronger recognition in the development principles and infrastructure provision, particularly stormwater treatment.

The draft Structure Plan was then released for a six week consultation period and made available to the public through the SDC website, with hard copies at the Council headquarters and Community Centre. Launch of this document was accompanied by media advertising and public displays to raise awareness. Open Sessions displaying key aspects of the draft Structure Plan were held at the Rolleston Community Centre. Every submission was considered, recommendations made by officers and relevant changes documented for finalisation of the document.

Content of structure plan

An executive summary is included in the document to provide an overview of the Structure Plan and provided an opportunity to identify the Council’s key moves, including a refocused town centre, a new recreation precinct and a mix of housing types.

A vision statement at the front of the document acknowledges the end user and the qualities they look for. This was intended to inspire the community towards a common goal. Three key objectives were then set out that guided the Structure Plan, these were centred on sustainability, good design and realistic aims. Under good design, 18 tailored development principles were outlined to guide future developments and help access their outcomes.

The Context Analysis chapter sets the scene and considered the town’s integration into the broader regional and district scales; its historic development and environmental setting; the statutory and planning frameworks in which decisions are made; and any relevant strategies and guidelines that cover the town and its activities.

A summary of the community consultation process was inserted into the Structure Plan document between the draft and final document issues and is placed before the description of the structure plan itself, to transparently demonstrate the Council’s response to their views.

The Structure Plan is then presented, showing graphically how all aspects of the plan integrate together. This is accompanied by a description of its approach, key aspects and staging. Subsequent chapters then explain in more detail each of the four key layers:

  • Centre Strategy (e.g. Town Centre and use of Neighbourhood and Local Centres);
  • Land use (e.g. housing, open space and community facilities);
  • Movement networks; and
  • Infrastructure

At the end of each chapter a summary of key issues, constraints and opportunities, required actions, and a checklist against the structure plan objectives are specifically recorded.

Critically, an overall implementation plan at the end of the document summarises various ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ methods available to Council to give effect to the Structure Plan, ranging from statutory planning (e.g. RMA) to funding allocations (e.g. LGA). An action plan clearly tabulates the component layer, land requirements, timeframe, cost implications and method recommended.  

Figure 9.Methodology

Figure 9. Methodology (Draft Rolleston Structure Plan, 2009)

Figure 10. Proposed Rolleston Structure Plan Diagram

Figure 10. Proposed Rolleston Structure Plan Diagram (Draft Rolleston Structure Plan, 2009).

 Figure 13. Rolleston Structure Plan -1

Figure 13. Rolleston Structure Plan (Draft Rolleston Structure Plan, 2009).

Methods of implementation

Following the adoption of the structure plan, the Council quickly set about implementing it through the following methods:

  • Changes to its District Plan for initial residential development stages with area specific Outline Development Plans;
  • Design guidelines for business and medium density residential zones;
  • Commencing capital works for infrastructure and streetscape improvements;
  • Working with the Ministry of Education on new primary and high schools;
  • Purchasing the land for a large recreation precinct with an aquatic centre now operational and sports fields under construction; and
  • Preparation and adoption of a town centre masterplan.

The importance of having an implementation strategy in place has proven critical since the 2010-11 Canterbury earthquakes. Since then, growth pressures have intensified for both residential and business land uses to replace red zoned and damaged property in other parts of Greater Christchurch. Implementation has had to track more quickly than expected meaning the staged release of land and provision of infrastructure and community facilities are being brought forward in time, initially through plan changes and then the Land Use Recovery Plan. The Council are now working more closely with developers to coordinate the roll out of the structure plan.  

What has happened on the ground

  • 2010 – Clearview Primary School opens (second primary school in Rolleston);
  • 2010 – Council purchased 33 additional hectares of land to form the 42 hectare Foster Recreation Park (formally known as the Recreation Precinct in the Structure Plan);
  • 2011 – Notice of Requirement to designate the Foster Recreation Park for recreation purposes was approved by Council;
  • October 2011 – Plan Change 7 is made operative by Council rezoning 462 hectares of land for over 5400 households;
  • October 2011 – Council adopts the Subdivision and Medium Density Design Guides;
  • June 2012 – Rolleston Town Centre and Foster Recreation Park Master Plan project begins;
  • September 2012 – New Rolleston Police Station opens;
  • June 2013 – Selwyn Aquatic Centre opens (located in Foster Recreation Park);
  • June 2014 – Notice of Requirement to designate land for Rolleston West Primary School was approved by Council (third primary school);
  • April 2014 – Council adopts the Rolleston Town Centre and Foster Recreation Park Master Plans;
  • As at April 2014, in terms of residential development in land rezoned by Plan Change 7:
    • 1666 lots have had subdivision consent approved;
    • 821 lots have s224 issued
    • 521 have Building consents issued; and
  • June 2014 – As part of the Land Use Recovery Plan, Council recommended a further 123 hectares of land be rezoned to provide an additional 1230 households.

The Rolleston Structure Plan has proved an important stepping stone to translate a sub-regional strategy to a specific town context.

Lessons Learnt

Key lessons learnt include:

  • Lessons learnt from the previous Lincoln Structure Plan were incorporated into the process and outputs for Rolleston;
  • The comprehensive and logical document presentation with rich graphic illustrations made key issues more accessible to the community;
  • Community consultation was considered a success, particularly with web-based resources, open days and mail-out brochures;
  • The Structure Plan incorporates the entire town and does not just focus on the newer areas allocated for residential and business growth;
  • Getting the ‘big’ ideas right and sticking to principles and broad organising structures and relationships, allowed for flexibility at outline development stage where more site-specific information is available;
  • The plan sought to ensure through a design-led process that land use, transport, and infrastructure were well integrated, with a strategic staged release of developable land to manage growth to support council investment and the overall success of the town;
  • Sense of place and potential generators of investment were carefully considered, such as retaining rural road alignments and considering the retention of pastoral water races and shelterbelts;
  • Some existing large-lot subdivisions within the town have been difficult to subdivide further and interim development of later stages needs to be carefully managed. Some suburban communities close to the town centre have also resisted intensification;
  • The sustainability objectives were acknowledged to be aspirational at the time of adoption and are still a work in progress. However, their inclusion set a clear challenge for the Council, in area-specific ways (e.g. community wellbeing, drought ready, self-sufficient), which can be targeted over time. For instance, the Council is working more closely with Environment Canterbury on public transport provision as a result of the substantial population increase in Rolleston over the last two years;    
  • The considerations given to natural hazards and other constraints through the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy has meant Rolleston has subsequently performed reasonably well following the Canterbury Earthquakes and has provided developable areas for displaced residents to relocate; and
  • The Structure Plan continues to be the basis for many council decisions relating to Rolleston and a review has been suggested for the 2014/2015 financial year.