The Greater Christchurch Urban Limits

November 2011

Please click here for a PDF of the full article, including map.

As of 17 October 2011, Greater Christchurch now has fixed urban limits that restrict where new Greenfield development can occur over the next 30 years. This event has been somewhat overshadowed by the myriad of other changes being made in name of earthquake recovery. However it is a change that has significant implications for the future development of the Greater Christchurch region.  

This article provides a brief history of how this change came about, the effect of the urban limits, and what it means for landowners with development aspirations.

Where did the urban limits come from?

The urban limits were originally proposed by Environment Canterbury in July 2007 as a key component of Proposed Change No.1 to the Canterbury Regional Policy Statement (PC1). PC1 proposed a fixed line around Christchurch City and the nearby settlements, outside of which urban development was precluded. This included separate limits around the main towns in the Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts such as Rolleston, Lincoln, Rangiora and Kaiapoi.

PC1 was subject to several variations and attracted a large number of submissions from a range of parties. This culminated in a hearing in 2009 before independent Commissioners, with a decision released in December 2009. This decision confirmed the urban limits (with several modifications from the original version) and set out a range of objectives, policies and methods to manage future urban development. 

The decision was subsequently appealed to the Environment Court by 50 separate parties. Due to the number of appeals and the complexity of the issues, the hearing was divided into a number of stages and was part way through when the Canterbury earthquakes struck. After a short delay, the hearing resumed with the Court determining that it was appropriate to continue the process. However the appeals came to an abrupt end in October of this year due to the intervention of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.

The Minister determined that the appeal process needed to be sped up and modified to accommodate the consequences of the earthquake. As such, using his powers under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act, the Minister withdrew PC1 and inserted a new chapter into the Regional Policy Statement (Chapter 12A). This chapter is a modified version of PC1 and gave immediate effect to the urban limits, a map of which is included with this article. This action overrode all of the outstanding appeals and effectively brought the Environment Court process to an end.

What is the effect of the urban limits?

For those involved in the appeal process, the Minister’s intervention had significant consequences and created clear winners and losers. The winners were those that had already managed to persuade Environment Canterbury as to the suitability of their land, which was then included in the urban limits without further challenge. However, the losers were those that had yet to have their day in Court and who lost the opportunity to present their case for the suitability of their land. 

The basic effect of the urban limits is that land within the line may be rezoned and developed for urban use before 2041. However there is more land included in the urban limit than what is


considered necessary to accommodate predicted growth. As such, the territorial authorities (Christchurch City Council, Selwyn District Council and Waimakariri District Council) retain control over which of the new areas identified for urban development will be preferred. There are separate areas identified for residential and business development.

For those left outside the urban limits, rezoning and development of their land is effectively precluded. The main exception to this is lower density rural residential development (one or two lots per hectare), which can occur outside the urban limits in limited circumstances.

Additional requirements introduced by Chapter 12A are the need for Outline Development Plans for each new Greenfield area demonstrating how the development will integrate with other areas. New density requirements also mean that residential development in Christchurch must achieve a net density of at least 15 lots per hectare, with a minimum of 10 lots per hectare in Selwyn and Waimakariri.

What does this mean for landowners?

For those landowners inside the urban limits, the new Chapter 12A significantly increases their chances of rezoning and developing their land. However development rights are not guaranteed. As mentioned above, the territorial authorities retain some discretion as to which areas to allow for development. This will largely depend on location, including how well the land integrates with existing and proposed infrastructure.

Before physical development can commence, most areas will require a plan change to rezone the land and a separate subdivision consent application. Given the “oversupply” of land in the urban limits, this may create an element of first in first served, with those landowners or developers that act swiftly gaining an advantage over those who are less proactive.

For those outside the urban limits, the prospect of developing their land for residential or business use in the next 30 years is very low. The Minister has signalled that the urban limits now included in Chapter 12A will be reviewed as part of the Land, Building and Infrastructure Recovery Plan currently being developed by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority. However the opportunity to influence the location of the urban limits through this Recovery Plan remains uncertain.


The Minister’s intervention in PC1 has confirmed urban limits that will control urban development in Greater Christchurch for the next 30 years. However, whether this intervention was strictly necessary for earthquake recovery is debatable given the extent of the urban limits and the long term planning horizon of PC1.

For individual landowners, the development potential of their land is directly affected by which side of the line their land is located. There have undoubtedly been some winners and losers as a result of this process. However the Minister’s intervention has provided greater certainty and made urban limits a reality for Greater Christchurch.  



Disclaimer: This is a brief summary for information purposes only and is not legal advice.



Posted on Wednesday 23rd November, 2011 at 11:33 am