Developing designs and getting consents

Complex seismic strengthening projects are likely to involve several stages in the design process.

Structural and architectural design is an important part of your application for resource and building consents. They will need to include all consent requirements, including those from the district plan and building code. Special heritage requirements can apply if the building is listed as a heritage structure.

Your architect or engineer can provide advice on the best process to follow for your project.


Concept designs

Your architect or engineer will consider all the options for your project and give you possible solutions. These will be provided as concept drawings (plans, cross sections or perspective sketches), or could be described in words. Concept designs should take into account factors such as the proposed use of the building, town planning regulations and heritage values. You should also receive a preliminary indication of costs.

At this stage it is useful to contact Heritage New Zealand. They can offer expert assistance (often free of charge) on heritage conservation issues relating to strengthening. They can help you choose the solution that best maintains and enhances your building’s heritage significance.

Some councils have heritage advisors who can also offer feedback on solutions for your building. Their advice is also often free.

Seek help from heritage advisors

Next steps​

  • Once you have concept designs, an indication of costs, and discussed the options with Heritage New Zealand and your council, you should be able to rule out inappropriate solutions.
  • Select your best one or two concepts to develop further.

Preliminary designs

Preliminary designs refine the concept designs. They should include scaled plans, elevations and cross sections. The extent of the documentation will be adjusted to the size and complexity of your project.

If a seismic upgrade is part of the proposed work, you’ll need a structural engineer to provide calculations and advice for appropriate strengthening methods. The engineer should work with the architect to co-ordinate structural solutions with any new use adaptations that may be are required. Architectural drawings must take engineering requirements into account. 

You may want to get indicative costs at this stage from a quantity surveyor. These will be based on average costs of construction for similar buildings and similar types of work. The estimated costs are likely to change as your project develops and more detail of the work is documented. The more information that is provided to a quantity surveyor, the more reliable the estimate will be.

Some building owners may skip this step to save money, and wait until the next design stage to get estimates.

Next steps

  • You should be able to use this information to narrow your options to the one best suited to your requirements, and proceed to developed design.

Developed design

Your architect and engineer will refine your preferred option by developing the design. In some cases you may develop designs for multiple options, but usually with completion of this stage you are working on your preferred solution. 

The developed design provides a scope of works which you can use to apply for resource consent. Further detailed design and documentation will be required before you apply for building consent.

You will need a cost estimate from a quantity surveyor. With a developed design, the estimate can now be based on a more certain schedule of work and materials, and on preliminary construction details. You should choose a quantity surveyor who has experience in the type of building and work that you are proposing. You can expect this estimate to be more accurate than those provided earlier.

Costs may change after the resource consent process is completed. One reason could be that variations to the design are required. Another could be change in the cost of materials and resources, if there has been a time delay.

Next steps 

  • Consider getting the designs peer-reviewed by another engineer. They may see other ways the project could meet the upgrade objectives, ways of saving money, or other ways to improve the outcome.
  • Agree on finalised developed design.
  • Contact Heritage New Zealand to apply for an archaeological authority if your work affects an archaeological site.
  • Investigate the planning approval and resource consent process required for your project, and the costs involved with obtaining them.
  • Before applying to the council for resource consent, ensure the core funder of your project has committed to covering the costs for planning approval and resource consent. Find out more about funding your project.
  • Contact your council to apply for resource consent.

Getting an archaeological authority

Heritage New Zealand regulate the modification of archaeological sites. If your work affects an archaeological site you must get an authority from Heritage New Zealand before you begin.

An archaeological site is defined in the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 as any place in New Zealand (including buildings, structures or shipwrecks) that was associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there is evidence relating to the history of New Zealand that can be investigated using archaeological methods.

This regulation applies regardless of whether the work is permitted under a district or regional plan or a resource or building consent has been granted. You can face substantial penalties for unauthorised destruction or modification of an archaeological site.

Getting an a archaeological authority - Heritage New Zealand website

Getting resource consent

Your project may need resource consent to confirm it’s permitted under your council’s district or regional plan. 

Resource consent is formal approval from your council to do something that they haven't clearly identified in their plan as either permitted or prohibited. Sometimes consent comes with conditions — such as requiring design modifications to meet requirements — which might add cost or time to the project. 

Resource consent – Building Performance website

Contact your local council to check whether resource consent is required for your project and how to apply. Or let your architect, engineer or project manager handle the application. Councils must typically make a decision within 20 working days.

List of council websites – Local Government New Zealand website

Detailed design

At this stage, your architect or designer will modify the design to meet any requirements or conditions identified in the planning approval and resource consent process.

The result is the detailed design consisting of a full set of architectural and engineering drawings. It will also include a specification covering materials, methods and processes to be followed when implementing the work.

You may need a revised estimate from your quantity surveyor at this stage if there have been significant changes. This estimate will be more accurate since the work will be fully specified. Building owners may skip this stage and rely on the results of a tendering process to give costs. 

Next steps 

  • Consider getting the design peer-reviewed by another engineer. They may see other ways the project could meet the upgrade objectives, ways of saving money, or other ways to improve the outcome. You’d need to get this second opinion before seeking a building consent. A peer review could also be done at the developed design stage.
  • Secure any major grant funding sources. Some funding sources have time limits on the draw-down and use of funds. Fundraising campaigns must take all of this into account so funding applications can be submitted in the right order. Find out more about funding your project.
  • Contact your council to apply for a building consent.
  • Once funds are in place, and consents have been given, you can go to tender to engage building professionals to carry out the work. Read our advice on finding building professionals.

Getting a building consent

Most earthquake strengthening projects will require a building consent to confirm that the proposed work complies with the Building Code. You must get a consent from your council before you can begin any physical work on your building.

Your architect, engineer or project manager can tell you if your project requires a building consent. They can apply for a consent on your behalf. Talk to your council if there is any doubt about the need for a consent.

As a building owner, you are responsible for:

  • deciding whether or not your building work is exempt 
  • making sure that any exempt building work complies with the Building Code.

You could face heavy penalties if you carry out building work that required a consent, without one. 

Applying for building consents – Building Performance website

List of council websites – Local Government New Zealand website

You’ll need to present the full contract documentation to your local council. They can approve the application and issue a building consent for the works — or they may ask for more information. Typically, they must make a decision within 20 working days.

Once they have issued the building consent, your council will provide an approved set of instructions and rules that cover the consent requirements, for your builder and project professionals to follow. There will typically be a schedule of stages at which a council inspection of the works will be required, and your building contractor will inform the council when these stages have been reached.


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