Land development and subdivision engineering review of NZS 4404

Brett Gawn, Chair of the Standards New Zealand committee that is revising Land development and subdivision engineering, NZS 4404:2004, outlines the current thinking of the committee.

Standards New Zealand is reviewing the New Zealand Standard for Land development and subdivision engineering, NZS 4404:2004. NZS 4404 is widely used as the base document by territorial authorities (TAs) and designers for technical compliance for the subdivision and development of land where these activities are subject to the Resource Management Act (RMA) 1991. Some TAs adopt it entirely, others use it with more or less amendment, and others have their own documents for this purpose.

The Standard covers earthworks, roads, drainage, water supply, services, and landscaping, and is a guide to good practice. It sets out design objectives to be achieved and standards that can be used as a means to comply with those objectives.

Many would say that the current Standard gets in the way of modern thinking in sustainable urban design and is responsible for what many consider to be our 'soulless' suburban landscape. In analysing the document most of the objectives appear to be reasonable and permissive of alternative solutions. In practice many TAs consider the complying standards as the only solution and treat alternatives differently in the RMA consent process, and some simply obstruct different design solutions. Innovation is thereby discouraged.

The review committee has challenged itself to develop an amended document that:

  • encourages sustainable and modern design
  • provides some certainty for designers and TAs, and
  • prevents the bad outcomes that come when the sole focus is cost minimisation.

The revised draft Standard will be notified for public comment later this year and will contain some quite different ideas for design guidelines in the road and stormwater sections. I urge practitioners in land development to test these proposals and make submissions both in support or otherwise so we get a balanced view of public opinion.

Review purpose – scope limited but significant change required

The impetus for the review of NZS 4404 came from requests for changes from Ministry for the Environment (MfE), New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), pipe manufacturers, some TAs, and a few individuals. As a result, NZTA and LGNZ agreed to sponsor a review, with the scope to:

  • make editorial corrections
  • make changes suggested by users
  • update terminology for consistency with the National Road Classification
  • develop an informative appendix for general urban design and future-proofing of subdivision plans.

Full-scale revision of the Standard is not in the scope.

In the course of our first committee meeting it quickly became evident that to achieve the intent of the last objective, there would need to be significant changes to the road and stormwater sections of the document.

The current 2004 Standard was reviewed about the time new thinking in urban design was finding its way into the consciousness of planners, surveyors, and engineers involved in land development, but was not developed sufficiently in the New Zealand context to be able to be incorporated at that time.

Sustainable urban design is now a goal of reputable developers, and forward-thinking surveyors, engineers, planners, TAs, and the review committee all agree that the Standard needs to strongly encourage that aspiration and remove roadblocks to it.

This review has therefore become more than simply an update to the 2004 version and will significantly change the way roads are classified and designed, and will change the emphasis on how we manage stormwater.

Who is on the review committee?

The expert committee formed to conduct the review is made up of representatives selected by interested organisations. It is pleasing to see that New Zealand Institute of Surveyors is still recognised as a key organisation in this field and on seeing the request for someone to represent our Institute, I put up my hand to contribute.

There is wide representation and the people and the organisations they represent are listed in the table below.



Association of Consulting Engineers New Zealand

Brian Kouvelis

Cement & Concrete Assn of NZ

Ralf Kessel


Chris Pepper

Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand

Mark Apeldoorn

Local Government New Zealand

Dale Wills

Ministry for the Environment

Miriam Eagle

Ministry for the Environment

Yvonne Weeber

New Zealand Institute of Surveyors

Brett Gawn, Chair

New Zealand Planning Institute

Keith Hall

New Zealand Transport Agency

Bill Greenwood

Plastics New Zealand

Frank O'Callaghan

Road Controlling Authorities Forum NZ

Neil Johnstone

Standards New Zealand

Bruce Taylor, Project Manager and Rachel Mahony, Project Administrator

University of Auckland

Naresh Singhal

Urban Design Forum

Greg McBride

Water New Zealand

John Palmer

I thought I would be on a committee dominated by TA engineers with a focus on the roads or drains as ends in themselves. I was expecting that I would need to advocate strongly for a more flexible design approach to accommodate 'place', 'end user needs', and low impact urban design (LIUD). I was pleasantly surprised that all committee members had views similar to mine and even more surprised when Standards New Zealand project manager, Bruce Taylor, invited me to chair the committee.

Participation in this process is not paid and we all need to be amazed and grateful for the hours and effort committee members are contributing. Some will have spent well in excess of 100 hours plus the costs of airfares and other expenses on this by the time the committee has completed its work.

A new way to design roads

Most of you familiar with NZS 4404 or the TA variants will know that the road design standards table (Table 3.1 in the current standards) has a key role in road design. This table has a high level of intelligence built into it and can be used to produce good road design. However, it is mostly used as a minimum standard by designers and TAs and has become something of a straitjacket. It encourages highly uniform outcomes and does not allow 'context' or 'place' to be considered easily. It is road centric – not place centric.

The review committee has decided that road design needs to be focused on:

  • achieving safe operating speeds, and
  • addressing the land use of the adjacent places.

A new emphasis on managing and treating storm water 'before it gets into a pipe' will be a major conceptual change to the stormwater section of the Standard. This, together with a requirement that new systems consider climate change and potential sea level rise will place the onus on designers to consider different strategies for design.

What happens next?

The draft Standard will be publicly notified later this year. There will be a two-month period for submissions that the committee will consider in detail with an open mind. Provided the committee is able to reach a consensus after considering submissions, the new Standard will come into effect sometime in early 2010.

Express your views

I urge all those practising in subdivision and land development to study the draft when it is notified and make a submission. I hope that the Institute's branches will encourage and facilitate local discussion to help achieve this. Your input into NZS 4404 will show that our profession is serious about remaining a key player in subdivision and land development design.

Summarised from an article 'NZS 4404 – Engineering Standard or urban design guide' written by Brett Gawn, for the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors' Survey Quarterly journal,

Short profile – Brett Gawn

Brett is a surveyor and the urban development market sector leader for CPG New Zealand. He is a qualified Commissioner for RMA hearings, and one of the Urban Design Champions for CPG Consultants under MfE's Urban Design Protocol. He has 30 years extensive experience in all aspects of land development in NZ and Borneo.

Published in business and ICT.