There’s a new pathway for complex urban development projects in New Zealand.

Key information about the Urban Development Act 2020

The Urban Development Act, alongside the Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities Act 2019, sets up a framework for transformational urban development to contribute to sustainable, inclusive and thriving communities. 

The Urban Development Act 2020(external link) (the Act) offers a new way of planning and funding complex or challenging urban development through the Specified Development Project process.  

The Act empowers Kāinga Ora to initiate, facilitate and undertake transformational, complex urban development that contribute to sustainable, inclusive and thriving communities. Kāinga Ora may use the Act for some of its own complex or challenging projects.

Some complex urban development projects being undertaken by parties other than Kāinga Ora (for example, communities, developers, iwi/rōpū Māori and other land owners) may be able to use the processes in the Act. In these cases, Kāinga Ora may take a facilitation or partnership role with the external party or parties.

To read the legislation or to find out more about the Act, visit the Ministry Of Housing and Urban Development(external link) website. If you wish to seek advice about the Urban Development Act, or discuss the possible selection of a project for assessment, you can email the team at

What is a Specified Development Project?

The Act gives Kāinga Ora the ability to lead or facilitate complex urban development projects through a Specified Development Project (SDP). 

An SDP is a defined area or areas with stated development objectives and a defined governance body (the three ‘key features’).

Once established, each SDP is subject to a two-stage process to complete a development plan to give effect to the objectives in the project area. The process of preparing and implementing the development plan makes use of the powers contained in the Act, including the ability to change regional and local planning instruments and utilise funding tools to deliver infrastructure.

The value of the SDP process is that it brings together multiple and otherwise separate processes required for urban development and enables them to be accessed through a single, integrated 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 project implementation and delivery.

The role of Kāinga Ora in selecting and assessing a proposal for a possible SDP

The Act sets out a rigorous process to be completed before the delivery of an SDP can begin. This means that projects can be shaped by local needs and aspirations, and the benefits of urban development are balanced against environmental, cultural and heritage considerations. 

The process includes early engagement with Māori and key stakeholders, full public consultation on the draft development plan and the establishment of an independent hearing panel (among other things). The obligations of Kāinga Ora, with respect to Māori when it comes to urban development, can be more fully understood by reading the Act in conjunction with the Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities Act 2019(external link).

An urban development project can be selected for a project assessment (the first significant stage of the process) by either Kāinga Ora or by the responsible government Ministers (the Minister who is responsible for the Act and the Minister of Finance).

While the Urban Development Act is prescriptive in process following project selection, it does not provide explicit guidance for the project selection decision. In terms of selection, Kāinga Ora is under no obligation to select a project for assessment, unless it has been referred by the joint Ministers (Housing and Finance). Kāinga Ora will specifically be looking for complex projects that are unable or unlikely to come forward for optimal development under existing processes. This may be because of such things as fragmented land parcels, multiple landowners, and/or specific planning, funding or infrastructure challenges.

In addition, Kāinga Ora will have particular regard to how an SDP proposal aligns with the purpose and principles in the Act and its operating principles established in the Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities Act 2019 and, in future, the Government Policy Statement on Housing & Urban Development.  


Page updated: 22 July 2021