Napier and Hastings should consider building up rather than out if the Heretaunga Plains are to be preserved, Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wayne Walford says.
Hastings District Council says the plains' soils are the powerhouse of the district's economy and its District Plan is designed to guard them from encroachment.
At the same time both Hastings District and Napier City councils are under pressure to make more land available for housing developments.
"We need to be cognisant of the productive soil that we have and I think it is probably time to take stock of spatial/social planning and have a look and see where we can intensify because, in some areas, we could probably go up two or three levels," he said
He said the needs of the population should be addressed alongside local heritage.
"I was involved in a plan in the Bay of Plenty that started with understanding what the stories were - so people could understand what the ancestry was, look at what the future could be and made a plan to fit in the middle. It meant that some places were intensified and the footprint of horticultural land, in the Bay of Plenty case, was maintained."
He said the more people living in central business districts the greater the vibrancy.
"You get some more funky spaces when intensification is on the plan. There are models in Nelson and all over the place where people have taken the space and created something better - thinking outside the square."
Homeowners should also think outside the square.
"A lot of people can't visualise when they buy a quarter acre section - they don't think about what the possibilities may be."
He said the status quo would remained unless barriers were reached.
"Sometimes it is good to be pushed so people decide what they need rather than what they want."