Urban Development Act

The Urban Development Act, alongside the Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities Act, sets up a framework for transformational urban development to contribute to sustainable, inclusive and thriving communities.


The Urban Development Act 2020 and the The Kāinga Ora - Homes and Communities Act 2019 is available on the Legislation website.

Urban Development FAQs

Transformative urban development has faced a series of barriers in New Zealand

New Zealand’s urban areas are facing unprecedented pressure. While urban areas are growing, they are experiencing several challenges. These include unaffordable housing, rising urban land prices, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, lack of transport choice, flattening productivity, increasing homelessness and pressure on the public housing register.

The urban development system has not effectively facilitated comprehensive, large-scale, timely urban development that delivers a range of economic, social and environmental outcomes. This is because the system has not provided developers the tools, certainty or coordination required.

The Urban Development Act provides a new way of doing urban development in order to transform our urban areas, lift living standards, and enable New Zealanders to live in homes that are well connected to the jobs, transport, community facilities and green spaces that they want and need. Policy work on urban development authorities in New Zealand dates back to 2008. There have been several government discussion documents and Productivity Commission reports over this period that have directly informed the policy in the Act.

The Urban Development Act overcomes longstanding barriers to urban development by providing the necessary tools, certainty and coordination

The Urban Development Act tackles long-term barriers to urban development by providing access to:

  • a streamlined approval process for special types of complex and transformative development projects - called specified development projects (SDPs)
  • a tool-kit of development powers when undertaking SDPs
  • land acquisition powers for Kāinga Ora, for when it is carrying out urban development projects (including SDPs).

The Act provides access to the tools, certainty and coordination needed to enable complex, transformational development that will improve the social and economic performance of New Zealand’s urban areas.

The Act is not intended to address wider issues in the urban development and planning system, for example, those issues that are being managed by the comprehensive review of the resource management system.

The Urban Development Act outcomes

Specified Development Projects provide a new way to undertake transformative urban development

The Urban Development Act has established a process to progress a new type of urban development project – called a specified development project (SDP). These are the kinds of projects that have historically struggled to progress due to the barriers they face. These barriers include fragmented land parcels, uncoordinated decision-making processes, poor and aging infrastructure, and restrictive planning.

SDPs are able to deliver improved urban development outcomes, including a mix of housing types, transport connections, employment and business opportunities, key infrastructure, community facilities, and green spaces.

The value of the SDP process is that it brings together multiple, disconnected processes required for urban development and enables them to be accessed through a single, more streamlined process - without losing important checks and balances. This results in the planning, infrastructure and funding for a project being agreed up front, providing greater certainty and coordination for developers and investors.

The Urban Development Act sets out a rigorous process that must be completed before the delivery of a specified development project can begin. This will mean that projects can be shaped by local needs and aspirations, and the benefits of urban development are balanced against environmental, cultural and heritage considerations.

Key features of this process include early engagement with Māori and key stakeholders, and full public consultation on the development plan.

Specified Development Project process

The Urban Development Act provides a tool-kit of development powers for specified development projects

When an SDP’s development plan is approved Kāinga Ora and its partners will have access to a tool-kit of development powers that currently exist across numerous and separate pieces of legislation. Each power included in the Urban Development Act addresses a specific barrier to complex, transformational urban development.

These powers include:

  • the ability to modify, add to, or suspend provisions in RMA regional or district plans or policy statements within the project area
  • the power for Kāinga Ora to act as a resource consent authority and requiring authority under the RMA
  • the ability to create, reconfigure and reclassify reserves
  • the ability to build, change, and move infrastructure
  • tools to fund infrastructure and development activities, including the ability to levy targeted rates.

Used together, the powers enable multiple aspects of the urban environment to be changed with greater certainty, integration and speed.

None of the powers can be used in respect of Māori customary land, Māori reserves and reservations, or any parts of the common marine and coastal area in which customary marine title or protected customary rights have been recognised.

Summary of Powers available to Kāinga Ora

The Urban Development Bill gives Kāinga Ora access to a tool-box of development powers that it can use when undertaking specified development projects.

Summary of Powers available to Kāinga Ora.pdf [PDF, 738 KB]

Kāinga Ora will have land acquisition powers

The Urban Development Act allows Kāinga Ora to acquire land when it is undertaking urban development, including SDPs.

These land acquisition powers enable Kāinga Ora to bring together different parcels of land to help support and progress urban development. This supports Kāinga Ora to undertake smaller-scale developments that are not specified development projects, and to acquire land for future development areas prior to the uplift in land values following

a project’s announcement. For example, this could include acquiring land along a transport corridor before the route is made public.

These powers are largely equivalent to the existing powers in the Public Works Act 1981 (PWA). However, the Urban Development Act provides greater specificity than the PWA around what works Kāinga Ora can acquire land compulsorily for.

There are several safeguards that have been built into the Act to ensure the land acquisition powers are used appropriately. In particular, the Act recognises that land is a taonga for Māori and must be protected. Protections for land in which Māori have interests have been built into the land acquisition provisions.

The Urban Development Act will protect Māori interests and support Māori aspirations in urban development

The broad framework established through the Kāinga Ora–Homes and Communities Act 2019 includes an expectation that Kāinga Ora will engage early and meaningfully with Māori when undertaking any urban development. This framework also includes offering Māori opportunities to participate in urban development and identifying and protecting Māori interests in land and other natural resources.

The Urban Development Act complements the Kāinga Ora–Homes and Communities Act by setting out in more detail the obligations of Kāinga Ora to Māori in urban development.

The Urban Development Act establishes a strong expectation that Māori aspirations are identified and supported in urban development, including throughout the SDP process. The SDP process puts Māori at the heart of projects, enabling them to be active participants - as initiators, leaders, partners, and shapers - to ensure that the best outcomes for Māori are delivered.

The Urban Development Act includes protections for land in which Māori have an interest, including land received as redress or by the exercise of rights under Treaty Settlements. The Act maintains and supplements existing protections and provides protections for types of Māori land not previously protected in law.

The Urban Development Act must be read subject to anything in a Treaty settlement Act or deed, Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993, and the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011. This ensures that the Crown meets its obligations.

Published: January 22, 2021