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Irvine, Jessica --- "A changing climate for urban design: an examination of the New Zealand regulatory approach" [2008] NZJlEnvLaw 9; (2008) 12 NZJEL 277

Last Updated: 16 February 2023


A Changing Climate for Urban Design: An Examination of the New Zealand Regulatory Approach

Jessica Irvine*

The majority of the world’s population now live in urban environments and so the planning and management of these environments has become increasingly important. Addressing global environmental issues, like climate change, requires proactive, sustainable urban management and structure. The vehicle for providing this direction is the practice of urban design. Urban design is concerned with the shape and form of cities, how they look, feel, function, and grow. It encompasses numer- ous disciplines, spans the various components of a city, and covers social, cultural, economic, and environmental viewpoints and concerns. The integration of all these elements inevitably makes urban design a complex activity. Achieving good-quality urban design therefore requires strong leadership and a “big picture”, forward-thinking approach. This paper appraises New Zealand’s implementation of this approach. It looks at the regulation of urban design in New Zealand and considers the potential efficacy of a National Policy Statement in this framework. Some comparisons are drawn with English and Australian urban design regulation and, finally, suggestions made regarding the role of national policy in the future of urban design in New Zealand.

*LLB (Hull); Paralegal, Chapman Tripp Barristers and Solicitors. This paper was submitted as part of the author’s LLM completed at The University of Auckland in 2008. The author is grateful to Dr Kenneth Palmer for his helpful comments on the outline of this paper.


“It is particularly ironic that the battle to save the world’s remaining healthy ecosystems will be won or lost not in tropical forests or coral reefs that are threatened, but on the streets of the most unnatural landscapes on the planet.”1

Cities conjure up images of dramatic skylines and bright lights, a feeling of excitement and energy, the promise of opportunity and fulfilment. There are cities which are celebrated and hold a certain kudos: the romantic avenues of Paris, the Renaissance architecture of Florence, the hills and trams of San Francisco, and even the dramatic skyscrapers of New York. Cities famed for their artists, musicians and playwrights, their iconic buildings and archaeological significance. Cities are unequivocally the birthplace of civilisation; the cultural and intellectual hubs of our society. Why then do cities receive so much bad press?

The growth of cities has for centuries been an organic process in which design forms and boundaries have been set by demand and necessity. There are the grid plan cities of the Roman Empire, the medieval Tuscan linear plans, and even the radial patterns of cities like Amsterdam or Moscow. Cities evolve for a number of different reasons: religion, territorial protection, proximity to particular landscape features, interaction and trade. The prevalent reasons are economic, meeting places where people could exchange goods, ports where goods were brought to trade, and centres for industry and commerce. The performance of this economic function is what continues to make cities valuable in modern society. Cities are, after all, the economic engine rooms of countries.2 They play a vital role in building wealth, increasing development, and so raising living standards. Indeed, “no country in the industrialised age has ever achieved significant economic growth without urbanisation”.3

The “bad press” results from the traditional externalities of this economic and cultural prosperity; the social inequality and environmental degradation associated with urban habitation and large populations. Population growth inevitably leads to overcrowding, higher demand for resources, and increased consumption. Ultimately, resources become overextended, cities sprawl into the countryside, and food demand is beyond the ability of the locality to support. This increase in consumption means higher waste production, poor sanitation,

  1. World Watch Institute, State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future, W.W. Norton and Company, New York & London, 2007, Preface, xxiv.
  2. OECD Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development website: <http://,3343,en_2649_34413_36886003_1_1_1_1,00.html> .
  3. UNFPA, State of the World Population 2007: Unleashing the potential of urban growth

(2007) 1, at <> .

and air, water and noise pollution. Large numbers of people living in close proximity increases the likelihood of disease and crime, while specialisation of labour markets accentuates social divides. City living is, by definition, a disconnection from nature and natural ecosystems.

The growth of cities is reflective of global population growth and is in itself a significant concern for the global community.

In 2008, the world reaches an invisible but momentous milestone: For the first time in history, more than half its human population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in urban areas. By 2030, this is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. Many of the new urbanites will be poor. Their future, the future of cities in developing countries, the future of humanity itself, all depend very much on decisions made now in preparation for this growth.4

In addition to creating the side effects of economic prosperity mentioned above, this extensive global growth also highlights and intensifies other global issues like the need to focus on sustainable development, climate change, and biodiversity conservation. Cities are largely responsible for creating these issues and it follows that their results can be moderated in cities.

The challenge is clearly finding a balance. Identifying a way to maintain the economic and cultural benefits of cities without the associated environmental degradation and social polarisation, and whilst achieving sustainable develop- ment goals and reducing carbon emissions. Is this an achievable objective or are all cities inherently destructive? It would seem that this search for the middle ground is not just a pipe dream — far from being innately harmful, cities are being hailed as the key to achieving sustainable societies.5 The close proximity of people in itself offers a solution. Resources are easier to provide and by- products like waste are easier to control when people are closer together. The key is to ensure that cities are well managed and structured to take advantage of these economies of scale.

Urban settlements, properly planned and managed, hold the promise for human development and the protection of the world’s natural resources through their ability to support large numbers of people while limiting their impact on the natural environment.6

  1. Ibid.
  2. UN Human Settlements Programme, “The Habitat Agenda Goals and Principles, Commitments and the Global Plan of Action”, UN Habitat, May 2003, Preamble, para 7, at

<> (2 of 109) (11/13/2003 12:50:09 PM).

  1. Ibid.

The management, or governance, of cities occurs at various levels; nationally through central government and regionally and locally through territorial authorities. For strong governance these channels must be mutually reinforcing, ensuring that clear objectives are provided and can be translated into practical criteria for the structuring of urban environments. The operative level of the structuring of cities is encompassed in the enterprise of urban design.

Urban design is a crucial element in the success of cities themselves. Good, high-quality urban design can create positive, desirable cities which not only provide opportunities and are pivotal to economic progress, but are also less detrimental to their immediate environments and the overall planetary ecosystem. Urban design can provide the vibrancy and aesthetic appeal which entices people to cities. It helps to maximise the cultural and social effectiveness of cities and it can ensure that well-managed resources, housing and infrastructure make people want to remain in urban environments. It is pivotal to the intensity of a city’s impact on the environment through provision for waste and pollution control and setting city boundaries. However, despite the potential advantages of urban design, the sheer magnitude of concerns which are involved in the subject can lead to amalgamation issues: “urban design is a complex activity as it aims to simultaneously integrate the multiple dimensions of the city into a coherent whole”.7

The mounting concern in relation to climate change and the failure to meet sustainability goals inevitably brings new challenges for urban design and is propelling urban design to the forefront of global policy. It is clear that old Euclidean planning practices are no longer appropriate. Sprawling, automobile- dependent cities have become ineffective and are counterproductive to the realisation of social, economic, and environmental objectives. Urban design is fundamental in changing the face of our cities to deal with these global challenges.

Despite the global extent of these challenges, the implementation of effective urban design is largely a local task. It is for each country to find urban design strategies that create economically strong, sustainable cities within their very distinctive natural environments. After all, urban design is just the tool with which governments can provide structure and in doing so shape the future of their cities. Governments have to pick up the tool and put it to good use.

As a relatively young country, New Zealand’s cities are perhaps lacking in some of the city planning which characterises European settlements. The restrictions of historic buildings and century-old street plans have not had the same influence on New Zealand city designs. Furthermore, New Zealand has a relatively small population for its land area and so has escaped the corollaries of overcrowding, like smog and chronic pollution. Despite this, urban design

  1. D Popova, “Emerging Urban Strategies”, Planning Quarterly (December 1996) 15.

is just as relevant and important in New Zealand as in other heavily populated parts of the world. Not only does New Zealand have a responsibility to the rest of the world and future generations to create sustainable cities, it also has a responsibility to its citizens to create healthy, successful urban environments. Moreover, the task of reducing carbon emissions for a country like New Zealand, which already has a large proportion of renewable energy and vast areas of forest, could be greatly assisted by effective urban design. Given that “the GHG intensity of the New Zealand economy is the fourth highest in the OECD”,8 quality urban design could have a crucial impact on New Zealand’s environmental reputation.

The recent proposal for a draft National Policy Statement on Urban Design shows that New Zealand has the problem of improving urban design on its radar. But does this show that New Zealand has realised how critical a tool urban design is to ensuring the success and sustainability of its cities and economy? Has New Zealand grasped the need to design its cities to help manage global issues like climate change? Ultimately, and most importantly, has New Zealand fathomed how to effectively utilise this complex tool?

The aim of this paper is to look at how New Zealand is creating sustainable cities. This will focus on how good governance and the planning framework have been used to balance the demands of urbanisation. A good measure of the nexus between management and structure is the way regulation is used to achieve quality urban design. Therefore, examination will centre on the New Zealand regulatory approach to urban design — considering whether this pro- vides strong governance and structure, and whether it succeeds in providing a multidisciplinary, integrated approach which is sensitive to the needs of New Zealand as a whole as well as the various regions and localities. Consideration will also be given to the proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Design, whether it would be beneficial, and what it would include. Some comparisons will be drawn with other jurisdictions to see how New Zealand measures up in the effort to achieve sustainable cities and in preventing anthropogenic global warming, and whether any inspiration or guidance can be purloined from countries like England and Australia.

The second section will examine urban design in today’s world — consid- ering what the issues are that are particularly relevant to creating sustainable cities and how urban design can be used to address these. It will focus on the beneficial effect that quality urban design can have on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

The third section will consider the current New Zealand approach to the regulation of urban design. What urban design initiatives are in place? What are

  1. OECD, Environmental Performance Review: New Zealand (2007), at <http://www.oecd. org/dataoecd/6/6/37915514.pdf> .

the objectives and how effective are they proving? Are there any obstacles or deficiencies in the New Zealand approach to urban design? This will inevitably involve consideration of the Resource Management Act 1991 (“RMA”). The focus of this section will be on whether New Zealand has managed to create the right conditions in which to nurture quality urban design; whether there is good governance and structure.

Overseas approaches to the regulation of urban design will be covered in the fourth section. This will involve a broad overview of the urban design framework in the UK and Australia and will provide some basis for analysis of the New Zealand system. Particular attention will be paid to the role of national policy in shaping the approach of these jurisdictions to urban design issues.

Finally, the fifth section will contain some conclusions regarding possible improvements for the future. It will draw some conclusions as to the effective- ness of the management and structure of New Zealand urban environments through urban design regulation and suggest possible amendments. It will also provide a view on the necessity of a National Policy Statement on Urban Design and what is likely to be in this or, in light of overseas examples, what this should contain in order to be effective.


Urban design is the shaping and direction of form and spaces in cities, “the art of making places for people”9. “Simply defined, urban design is the composition of architectural form and open space in a community context.”10 It involves consideration of the social elements that give a city its life and vibrancy, aesthetic and conservation issues which preserve cultural heritage and create pleasant, inspiring environments, and functional factors which determine the successful performance of city life.11

Society is in a constant state of flux and consequently cities are continu- ously changing as they become subject to varying demands and increased pressures. Urban settlements have been managing the consequences of this development and these pressures since time immemorial; population growth, demographic change, cultural diversity, the cost of infrastructure, and the strain on transport networks constantly dictate changes to city structure.12 It is because

  1. CABE & DETR, By Design: Urban Design in the Planning System: Towards better practices, Thomas Telford, London, 2000, 8.
  2. R Tseung-Yu Lai, Law in Urban Design and Planning: The Invisible Web, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co Inc, New York, 1988, 1.
  3. Ibid.
  4. DIA, Setting the Scene — the background and context to sustainable urban development in New Zealand (Wellington, 2008). The accompanying document to the 1 September 2008

of its pivotal role in shaping a city — defining its boundaries, dictating its form, and establishing its infrastructure — that urban design has the potential to be the strongest tool to help relieve some of these pressures on cities and to meet the changing demands of society.

In addition to traditional problems associated with urban living, society is now encountering further difficulties which result from years of environmental exploitation. These difficulties are compounded by the necessity to compete in a global marketplace, with increased emphasis being placed on global com- petitiveness and international reputation. These global issues are intensifying traditional difficulties with urban design and are propelling planning and design issues to the forefront of international and domestic policy. OECD Secretary- General Angel Gurría has cautioned: “Improvements in urban design, housing stock, traffic congestion and accessibility, and waste management are crucial components of a strategy to combat global warming. If cities fail to deal effectively with environmental challenges, our planet is in serious trouble.”13

We therefore need to accept that growth and the associated pressures are inevitable. What is important is how growth occurs and how well it is managed. In this context, urban design has a significant role to play in the success of our cities and indeed of our planet. It is the practical resource for the management function Agenda 21 envisaged would make cities sustainable and successful.

By the turn of the century, the majority of the world’s population will be living in cities. While urban settlements ... are showing many of the symptoms of the global environment and development crisis, they nevertheless generate 60 per cent of gross national product and, if properly managed, can develop the capacity to sustain productivity, improve the living conditions of their residents and manage natural resources in a sustainable way.14

One of the objectives for achieving sustainable human settlements put forward in the UN’s Habitat Agenda was a commitment to “integrating urban planning and management in relation to housing, transport, employment opportunities, environmental conditions and community facilities”15. The practice of quality urban design is the control mechanism for determining the form of cities; it

discussion document on building sustainable communities is at < diawebsite.nsf/wpg_URL/Resource-material-Sustainable-Urban-Development-Setting-the- Scene?OpenDocument> .

  1. OECD, Environmental Performance Review: New Zealand, supra note 8.
  2. UNCED, Agenda 21: Programme of Action for Sustainable Development, UN GAOR, 46th Sess, Agenda Item 21, UN Doc A/Conf.151/26 (1992), para 7.13, at < esa/sustdev/documents/agenda21/english/Agenda21.pdf> (emphasis added).
  3. UN Habitat, “The Habitat Agenda Goals and Principles, Commitments and the Global Plan of Action”, UN, May 2003, Chapter III: Commitments, para 43(c), at <http://www .> (1 of 109) (11/13/2003 12:50:09 PM).

allows governments to set ideals and standards, thereby shaping and dictating the growth and structure of their cities. It is a multidisciplinary approach which incorporates architects, planners and engineers, whilst also requiring the coalescence of the composite elements of a city, its transport, utilities and land use. All this must be brought together with due consideration of the economic, social, environmental, and cultural context. Used properly, this all- encompassing, multidisciplinary approach can encourage forward-thinking, integrated urban development.

To see how urban design can shape a city in practice, it is probably easiest to think of its role in terms of the issues and how, if used properly, it can provide sustainable solutions to the problems. After all, the global challenges of climate change and sustainable development “are a consequence of where things are located and how they’re designed: how resources and energy are consumed; land developed; buildings and infrastructure constructed; services supplied, and places connected”.16 If we look at the issue of climate change and the goal of sustainable development we get an idea of how quality urban design can have a positive impact.

2.1 Climate Change

Climate change is a major issue for modern society. Radical weather patterns, temperature changes, and rising sea levels will change the face of the planet dra- matically and will not only generate extreme events like cyclones, tsunamis and earthquakes, but will have a significant impact on ecosystems, water resources and food security.17 It is therefore in the interests of all nations to commit to reducing greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions and mitigating climate change. Given the percentage of the global population living in urban environments, cities have a significant role to play in managing GHG emissions.

Quality urban design can help to reduce GHG emissions by supporting the building of zero-carbon homes, reducing the need to travel, encouraging carbon-free transport, advocating integrated public transport systems, and assisting the shift to renewable energy. In addition to preventing climate change, urban design can help to ensure cities are impervious to the effects of climate change, ensuring that rising sea levels and temperature changes do not have a detrimental impact on urban environments.18

  1. Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, Briefing Paper: Sustainable Design, Climate Change and the Built Environment, CABE, London, 2007, 3.
  2. IPCC, Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report: An Assessment of the InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change, adopted section by section at IPCC Plenary XXVII (Valencia, Spain, 12–17 November 2007) 30, at < ar4_syr.pdf> .
  3. HM Government, White Paper: Planning for a Sustainable Future, HMSO, London, 2007, 11.

The built environment makes a colossal contribution to global environmental issues, placing huge demands on resources: water use (20%); energy use (25– 40%); and creating a significant proportion of the waste and pollutants: solid waste generation (30–40%); global GHG emissions (30–40%).19 The intensity of construction activity is only going to increase with the growing population, and therefore the management of these issues is becoming increasingly important.

Urban design can be used to control construction practices in terms of the types of buildings that are constructed and the positioning of these buildings. Construction processes impact on climate change through the GHG emissions of the products used — for instance, cement production alone is responsible for between 5 and 7 per cent of global GHG emissions — and from the energy expended during the process. In addition, using local products and recycling building products is not only a more sustainable approach but it also reduces the effect on the climate.

The impact of construction on the climate is not just from the building process but also from the sustainability of the buildings once constructed. Urban design can be influential in the positioning of buildings to make the most of natural resources, like solar gains and the insulative effect of high-density building. Similarly, ensuring that the buildings themselves are constructed to have a minimal impact on the environment, like zero-carbon homes, is crucial. This can be done through the use of renewable energy sources, good insulation and ventilation, and ensuring that energy conservation is encouraged.

Amongst the most important greenhouse gas-reducing effects of urban design is management of land use. Changing land use is in itself a contributing factor to climate change. In cities the modification of land use towards urban forms is such a significant contributor to temperature changes it is often described as the “heat island effect”, where the temperature in the city is considerably higher than in the surrounding countryside.20 Urban design can be used to moderate GHG emissions and unsustainable land use by determining the density of development, the uses of the land itself, and how access to that land is created through transport networks.

  1. Figures provided by the United Nations Environment Programme: Division of Technology, Industry, and Economics: Sustainable Consumption & Production Branch, Sustainable Building and Construction Forum 2002–2004, at < htm> .
  2. UNEP, Kick the Habit: A guide to carbon neutrality (June 2008), at < publications/ebooks/kick-the-habit/Default.aspx?bid=ID0E5IAE> .

The density of development has a very obvious effect on the overall look and feel of a city. High-density, compact development creates a very different shape to that of low-density, widely spread development. An increasingly popular design approach in developed countries is for cities to opt for this low-density development, spreading out over large areas of land. “Modern patterns of city growth are increasingly land-intensive. Average urban densities ... have been declining for the past two centuries. As transportation continues to improve, the tendency is for cities to use up more and more land per person.”21 A classic example of this is the typically American concept of suburbia.

Unfortunately, this low-density city pattern is not the most efficient use of space or resources. “Urban populations are major energy users, especially in low- density, sprawling cities, making them major contributors to global warming.”22 Low-density, decentralised development is more energy-consumptive. The fact that development is more spread out makes it less efficient in terms of the supply of energy, whilst the spaces between buildings do not have the energy conservation benefits of high-density living. Changing the density patterns is therefore fundamental to creating low-carbon, sustainable cities. Higher-density living means that more people can live closer to the city centre, and that sprawl, which is conducive to automobile dependence, is reduced. In fact, it is argued that changing the layout of our cities to more compact forms can substantially reduce the need to drive and thereby reduce GHG emissions: “the weight of evidence shows that, with more compact development, people drive 20 to 40% less”.23 This also has ancillary benefits like reduced dependence on oil and increased health advantages.

Even families who sought the suburbs or were priced out of cities now have an economic imperative to find their way back closer to town. Transportation is the second-biggest household expense, after housing, and suburban families face a relatively greater gas burden.24

A related land-use initiative is mixed land use. Mixing land uses goes against traditional planning practices and means that business and residential areas are not completely segregated, again allowing people to live closer to where

  1. UNFPA, State of the World Population 2007: Unleashing the potential of urban growth, supra note 3, at 53.
  2. G Haughton & C Hunter, “Sustainable Cities”, Regional Policy and Development Series 7, Regional Studies Association, London, 1994, 10.
  3. R Ewing, Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, Urban Land Institute, Chicago, 2007, 14.
  4. J Karp, “Suburbs a Mile Too Far for Some: Demographic Changes, High Gasoline Prices May Hasten Demand for Urban Living”, Wall Street Journal, New York, 17 June 2008, at

<> .

they work and reducing reliance on automobiles. This, in turn, avoids long, counterproductive commutes and prevents the congestion of the mass exodus from the city centre to the suburbs in the evenings.

Hand in hand with land use is the provision for infrastructure. Urban design can ensure that infrastructure is planned prior to development, rather than struggling and incurring the expense both financially and environmentally of making infrastructure go to new development. “Rapid urban growth, without parallel improvement to basic urban infrastructure, can be a major contributor to environmental degradation.”25 High-density cities are easier and cheaper to accommodate with the basic infrastructure components: fresh water, sewage treatment, telecommunications, and transportation. Furthermore, reducing automobile dependence dictates that public transport should be improved to ensure that there are viable alternatives to driving and that all areas of the city are easily accessible. Improving infrastructure not only enhances quality of living and reduces carbon emissions, it also has significant economic benefits: “Poor infrastructure is believed to increase costs to businesses through congestion or a constrained labour market.”26

Related to the issue of transport are the alternatives to carbon-generating methods. It is important that cities are designed to encourage walking and cycling. Obviously, higher-density land use plays a part in this, but of equal importance is the creation of green, open spaces. People have to enjoy walking for it to be a sustainable alternative to driving or catching the bus, and therefore facilities must be provided making attractive and safe routes around the city for pedestrians and cyclists.

Green spaces have additional benefits: “improving walking infrastructure is frequently associated with tackling social exclusion”;27 while vegetation has the added benefit of cooling city temperatures and takes advantage of the carbon-absorption capacity of trees. It also has a significant impact on health and wellbeing and reducing obesity.

2.2 Sustainable Development

It is clear that some of the urban design initiatives which will mitigate the climate-changing effects of urban development will also have a positive impact on sustainable development goals. Better infrastructure and transport networks

  1. Haughton & Hunter, “Sustainable Cities”, supra note 22, at 46.
  2. Llewelyn-Davies, D Banister & P Hall, City Competitiveness and Transport, DfT, London, 2004, 16.
  3. Ibid, at 20.

increases productivity and economic performance, which in turn facilitates improvements in the standard of living. Sustainable building practices reduce the environmental burden on future generations, and creating access to affordable housing lessens social inequities. Encouraging more efficient land use is crucial to preventing the damaging effects of sprawl on the surrounding countryside and so limits the impact on ecosystems.

Similarly, a greener city facilitates better health through encouraging recreation and leisure. Improving the aesthetic appeal of a city and focusing on culture and built heritage not only has a positive impact on the wellbeing of inhabitants, but also enhances the international competitiveness of cities and increases tourism. If nothing else, inhabitants of green cities arguably have a stronger connection with the natural environment and are more concerned about their impacts on it.

Although the examples of how quality urban design can address climate change and impact sustainable development have shown that there are some basic principles for achieving quality design, the most important factor in the process is flexibility. You just need to look at the divergent locations of famous cities and how those locations have in turn defined the cities to see that a “one size fits all” approach will simply not work. Governments need to tailor their planning approaches to the very distinct needs of their cities. Although good- quality urban design looks at the whole picture and has inherent benefits, there will be differing urban design priorities for each city.

At this stage, it would be pertinent to look at the practical application of quality urban design by considering the urban design priorities of the New Zealand Government. New Zealand regulation of urban design will be explored to examine whether global challenges have influenced the New Zealand approach to urban design and whether there is room for improvement.


3.1 Urban Design in New Zealand — the Beginning

New Zealand is a relatively young country in terms of human settlement and urbanisation, with the transformation into an urban nation occurring in the last 150 years. That said, New Zealand is now one of the most urbanised countries in the world, with 87 per cent of its population living in urban areas.28 As is the case in many countries, the topography of New Zealand has had a significant

  1. DIA, Setting the Scene — the background and context to sustainable urban development in New Zealand, supra note 12.

impact on urbanisation. Its perilous coasts, swamps, rivers and mountain ranges made travel difficult and dictated particular development patterns — typically small, closely spaced villages.29 Within these urban settlements, development was spread out, in part because populations were small and so inhabitants often continued to farm as well as provide urban trades, and partially because of land- scape features.30 The design of towns was largely based on British grid plans, with the colonists emphasising the desirability of towns being like the “civilised” cities of Britain.31 However, unlike in Britain, the suburbs have always been a distinctive design feature of New Zealand urban environments.32 The design issues which New Zealand urban settlements now face have a clear historical basis: the British grid plans have led to monotony and lack of distinctiveness, and the inclination towards sprawl and suburbs has created infrastructural and ecological pressures.33

In the last 10 years there has been a significant movement in New Zealand towards managing these issues and aligning this management with the sustain- able development principle, creating sustainable cities. The 1998 report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment concluded that “the sustainability of urban development is largely being ignored in New Zealand”.34 The report went further and observed that “sustainable development of New Zealand’s urban environments has been plagued by a lack of vision, lack of concern (‘urban denial’), and a history of many (small) starts but few finishes”.35 The report suggested a number of ways in which urban management could be improved and a structure for sustainable cities achieved, in particular requiring the integration of social, economic, and environmental issues through a sustainable development strategy, together with stronger leadership from central government and better interfacing between central and local government.36

The creation of a ministerial portfolio of urban affairs in 2002 “heralded the end of their chronic neglect of cities in policy development and institutional arrangements”.37 It indicated recognition of the importance of urban issues and conveyed the Government’s intention to address the fragmentation of urban policy.38 In recent years, New Zealand’s environmental agenda has come under

  1. D Hamer, “The Making of Urban New Zealand” (1995) 22 Journal of Urban History 6, at 8. 30 Ibid, at 11.
  2. Ibid, at 29.
  3. Ibid, at 32.
  4. Ibid, at 33 on suburbs and 29 influence of colonialism.
  5. PCE, The cities and their people: New Zealand’s urban environment, Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Wellington, June 1998, 3.
  6. Ibid, at 7.
  7. Ibid, at 3–7.
  8. E Zollner, “A New Dawn for Urban Policy?”, Planning Quarterly (June 2003) 15.
  9. Greater Christchurch, Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy and Action Plan, Christchurch, NZ, 2007, 20.

closer scrutiny by the international community and by its own citizens. The focus has turned to how New Zealand will meets its Kyoto Protocol emissions targets and has put transportation and planning policies in the limelight.39 As a result, New Zealand has begun to accept that urban design has been neglected and that it needs to undergo significant reform in order to deal with the historical issues faced by its cities, and indeed to address emerging global challenges like climate change.40 Consideration is now being given to the impact urban design can have on achieving sustainable, low-carbon cities.

The New Zealand Ministry for the Environment describes urban design “as being about making the connections between people and places, between public and private space, between the natural and built environment, between movement and urban form, and between the social and economic purposes for which urban space is used”.41 The topical proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Design is a good indication that the New Zealand Government has not only realised the importance of urban design in making its cities sustainable and achieving global competitiveness, but is taking positive action. In order to consider whether this is in fact the case, some examination of the control facet of urban design will be undertaken through an analysis of the New Zealand regulatory approach. Consideration will be given to the achievement of management and structuring of urban developments, the integrative approach to issues, and the interplay between central and local government. This will be followed by an attempt to draw some conclusions as to the success of this framework and identify where the deficiencies are.

3.2 Urban Design in New Zealand — the Strategy

The recognition of population growth as an issue is not new. Sustainability has been a buzz word for some time in New Zealand, demonstrating the acknowledgement that resources are not unlimited and that growing soci- eties are putting serious strain on the environment. Acceptance that growth cannot continue unchecked is evidenced by the establishment of growth and development strategies. The earliest growth strategy was formed in Auckland and pre-dates much of the most instrumental sustainable city work in New Zealand.42

Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand with a population of 1.4 million

  1. E Zollner, “Will Urban Design Destroy Planning?”, Planning Quarterly (December 2003) 13. 40 Ministry for the Environment (“MfE”), People, Places, and Spaces (Wellington, 2002) 5, at

< 2 /front-mar02.pdf> .

  1. Ibid.
  2. Auckland Regional Council, Auckland Regional Growth Strategy (Auckland, 1999), at

< ckland%20regional%20growth%20strategy.pdf> .

people, approximately a third of the entire New Zealand population. It therefore bears witness to an amplification of the usual issues associated with cities and population growth, and urban problems will be more evident in Auckland quicker. The Auckland Regional Growth Strategy was adopted by all councils in the Auckland region to reflect the unique growth requirements of the region. This strategy sets out a 50-year vision for managing growth which is to sustain: strong supportive communities; a high-quality living environment; a region that is easy to get around; and protection of the coast and surrounding natural environment.43 The strategy earmarks specific areas for growth and promotes compact urban development, all within the framework of sustainability.44

More recently, other regions have also developed growth strategies.45 The Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy which was implemented in 2007 is a good example. “With a long-term outlook to 2041, the Strategy provides a comprehensive context for making decisions now for present and future generations.”46 Good urban design is an essential element of implementing this strategy, with recognition that at higher densities “not only are the effects of poor quality design significantly greater, but they are also more likely to negatively impact on neighbours and adjacent public spaces”.47 It therefore focuses quite heavily on the importance of quality urban design. This strategy is defined as a “broad scale, long-term, land-use strategy” which was prepared under the Local Government Act 2002 (“LGA”).48 Like the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy, Christchurch’s strategy will be implemented through tools such as the Regional Policy Statement under the RMA, amendments to the Regional Land Transport Strategy as mandated by the Land Transport Management Act 2003, and long-term council community plans (“LTCCPs”) prepared under the LGA.

Growth strategies have not been the only device developed by the Gov- ernment which relate to urban design. After the acceptance of sustainable urban development as a priority, there followed a suite of government strategies which focus on sustainability and are relevant to urban design, namely: the Regional Development Strategy and Programme (2000), National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy (2001), New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2010 (2001), Growing an Innovative New Zealand (2002), the New Zealand Transport Strategy (2002), and the New Zealand Housing Strategy (2005). These strat- egies are a key central government tool to help guide local government in

  1. Ibid, at 2.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Other examples include the Wellington Regional Strategy, Internationally Competitive Wellington (June 2007) and the Bay of Plenty SmartGrowth Strategy 2004 (revised 2007).
  4. Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy and Action Plan, supra note 38, at 4. 47 Ibid, at 10.

48 Ibid, at 12.

implementing the RMA and they each form part of an all-encompassing, bigger- picture approach to urban development.

Urban design was addressed more directly in 2003 in the Sustainable Devel- opment for New Zealand Programme of Action. The Programme is primarily a statement of government objectives which provides guidance on how the New Zealand Government views sustainable development and how it envisions the incorporation of sustainable development objectives will be facilitated at a local level.49 “It builds on recent strategies for biodiversity, energy, waste and other issues, as well as the new local government legislation, which gives local authorities a mandate to take the lead in achieving sustainable development locally.”50

“Sustainable cities” is one of four priority issues focused on in the Pro- gramme.51 The goal is to ensure that New Zealand’s cities are healthy, safe and attractive places where business, social and cultural life can flourish.52 The coverage of sustainable cities is broadly aimed at ensuring that New Zealand’s cities are not just centres for economic growth and innovation but also provide a good quality of life to inhabitants.53 It covers competitiveness and economic growth, infrastructure, improved urban design and social wellbeing, cultural identity, and the quality of the environment. The improvements to urban design focus on designing in harmony with the natural landscape and on the impor- tance of cultural values and development. The Programme recognises the impact urban design has on the various areas of urban policy like infrastructure and economic efficiency and highlights the role of urban design for sustainable development, particularly in relation to the intergenerational effect of design.54 Forming an integral part of the urban affairs portfolio and working in unison with the Programme is the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol and the related Toolkit and Case Studies. The Protocol is a voluntary commitment to specific urban design initiatives which aims to use quality urban design to build on the success of New Zealand’s towns and cities to ensure that they are competitive, healthy, distinctive urban environments.55 The Protocol goes a long way to emphasising the importance of quality urban design and the influence it could

  1. An example of it being addressed at regional level is the Auckland Sustainable Cities Programme pilot which ran from 2003–2006.
  2. DPMC, “Sustainable Development for New Zealand Programme of Action” (Wellington, 2003) 12, at < pdf> .
  3. The other three areas are quality and allocation of fresh water, energy, and child and youth development.
  4. DPMC, “Sustainable Development for New Zealand Programme of Action”, supra note 50, at 9.
  5. Ibid, at 22.
  6. Ibid, at 20.
  7. MfE, New Zealand Urban Design Protocol (Wellington, 2005) 4.

have on New Zealand’s urban environments, providing seven “essential design qualities” which together create well-designed urban environments. The first is “Context”, providing the spatial function of the Protocol: “seeing buildings, places and spaces as part of whole towns and cities”. It essentially provides a “bigger picture” approach to urban design. Related to this is “Connections”, which also incorporates a broader view of planning and design, focusing on the linkages and networks which operate in people’s lives. The “Character” quality encourages sensitive design which focuses on “reflecting and enhanc- ing the distinctive character, heritage and identity” of the New Zealand urban environment. Similarly, “Creativity” is a quality to encourage distinctive, imaginative design solutions. The quality “Choice” is clearly a reflection of a participatory, good-governance model and goes hand in hand with the “Collabo- ration” quality, which involves an integrated, cross-sector approach to design. Finally, “Custodianship” provides a strong sustainability element, ensuring that design is not just ecologically sensitive, but that it takes into account the needs of all society’s participants both today and in the future.56 The Protocol is touted as the “platform to make New Zealand towns and cities more successful”,57 and provides the visionary basis for good urban design practices.

In addition, the Urban Design Protocol is supported by a number of docu- ments which demonstrate how this vision works in reality. The Urban Design Case Studies are concrete examples of successful urban design throughout New Zealand and provide an indication of how the “essential design qualities” function in practice. The Urban Design Toolkit provides a “compendium of tools and mechanisms to help create quality urban design” — for example, it suggests a number of research and analysis tools like accessibility audits and health impact assessments.58 The Action Pack supports the implementation of the Protocol by supplying practical ideas for signatories to integrate quality urban design into their activities. Finally, the Value Case provides the context for changing urban design thinking, supplying “evidence of the link between quality urban design and economic, environmental, social and cultural value”.59

The Protocol and its related documents are certainly a step in the right direction. The Protocol fosters some strong guiding principles which can then be interpreted in a specific manner in various regional contexts. It includes notions of sustainability and allows for consideration of wider issues like climate change through its impacts on health and the wider global context.

A final element of the Urban Design Portfolio is a proposed National Policy Statement on Urban Design. The Government considers that “national

56 Ibid, at 10–11.

  1. Information on the Protocol, at < protocol-mar05/index.html> .
  2. MfE, New Zealand Urban Design Protocol, supra note 55, at 28. 59 Ibid.

guidance will help to improve the quality of urban design in New Zealand, and will complement existing voluntary, non-statutory initiatives like the Protocol”.60 This proposed document is currently in the drafting process and will be considered in more detail at a later stage in this paper.

The urban design principles espoused in the Protocol are reflected in regional and local urban design strategies.61 For instance, the release of the Protocol prompted an Auckland Mayoral Task Force on Urban Design “convened to find ways to accelerate Auckland toward being a design-led city, where all the people involved in building the city work together to springboard Auckland into becoming a genuinely resilient and attractive city”.62 The report of the Task Force and the Protocol led to the creation of the Auckland City Urban Design Framework entitled Designing Great Places for Our People, released in December 2007. It aims to incorporate the “seven Cs” of the Protocol into Auckland City’s urban design practices and provides a comprehensive list of objectives for design in Auckland.63 The Framework establishes the link between various urban strategies: the Protocol, the Auckland Regional and Auckland City Growth Strategies, the vision for Auckland contained within the council’s LTCCP, and the Mayoral Task Force on Urban Design and on Sustainable Development.64

It is clear that these strategies show positive acceptance of the utility of urban design. Many of the strategies focus on specific changes advocated in the previous section as improving sustainability and mitigating climate change — for instance, compact development. The growth strategies are a key instrument for achieving quality urban design, encompassing a forward-thinking approach which aims to manage the structure of this growth. Consideration of urban boundaries, infrastructure design, and the location of new development is a key component of quality urban design. Furthermore, many of the strategies specifically base their success on the quality of urban design.

A key characteristic of all these strategies is that they require statutory enforcement and corroboration. The Protocol will be reinforced with a National Policy Statement under the RMA and the implementation of growth and urban strategies is operated under the LGA or the Land Transport Management Act 2003 (“LTMA”). Before we go any further then, it is clear that there are a number of statutes which govern the implementation of these strategies and the

  1. See <> .
  2. Regional design strategies have accompanied district plans and urban policy for some time.

An early example is the 1994 Wellington Urban Design Strategy.

  1. Mayoral Task Force on Urban Design, Designing Auckland: A springboard for action (May 2005) 1.
  2. Auckland City Council, Designing Great Places for Our People: A Framework for Achieving High Quality Urban Design in Auckland (December 2007) 5.
  3. Ibid, at 3.

policy aspect of urban design approaches. The statutory framework will therefore be considered before it is possible to frame a view on the core components of the New Zealand approach and the possible causes for concern.

3.3 Statutory Approaches to Urban Design Issues

We have seen that the government strategies in operation are fundamental to the implementation of urban design principles in New Zealand. We have also seen that achieving quality urban design requires good governance, structure, and integration. Key to supporting both of these features are statutes. The key statutes relating to growth management, building, and planning, and which therefore impact on urban design in New Zealand, are the Resource Management Act 1991, Building Act 2004, Local Government Act 2002, and Land Transport Management Act 2003.

One of the primary difficulties with urban design is that it encompasses numerous disciplines and spans a wide range of policy areas. Therefore, in order to incorporate quality urban design into government policy and legislation there needs to be a collaborative, integrated practice, not only of the various areas and disciplines involved in the planning process but also of the different sustain- ability considerations and of the various levels of government. The LGA goes some way towards achieving this integrated, multidisciplinary approach.

Firstly, at the government integration level, the LGA provides a framework for government interaction. It sets out the roles of local government.65 This framework for interaction is all the more important as, being a highly urbanised nation, New Zealand “cannot afford to manage its cities through policies that are not integrated or coordinated at the local level”.66 Secondly, the LGA provides a new purpose for all local authorities which is based on sustainable development.67 The purpose of local government includes democratically promoting the social, economic, environmental, and cultural wellbeing of com- munities now and in the future.68 Finally, the LGA provides for integration of the various policy areas which require planning and of the various disciplines involved in urban design. Schedule 10 determines the use of LTCCPs, ensuring that local government has a good understanding of the impact of future growth on its infrastructure.

The Local Government (Auckland) Amendment Act 2004 also supports this all-encompassing, bigger-picture approach to planning. The purpose of the Act was to require Auckland local authorities to change their policy statement and plans prepared under the RMA to integrate land transport and land use and make

  1. Local Government Act 2002 (“LGA”), Part 2.
  2. Zollner, “A New Dawn for Urban Policy?”, supra note 37, at 15. 67 LGA, s 3(d).

68 LGA, s 10.

those provisions consistent with the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy.69 A separate schedule to the Act (Schedule 5) details how integration between land use and transportation is to occur. This is primarily through regulatory certainty; integrated and multi-modal transport management; supporting a compact sustainable urban form, and sustainable land-use intensification (including location, timing and sequencing issues and associated quality, character and values of urban form and design); and integrating transport and land-use policies to reinforce the Auckland Regional Policy Statement, the development of a competitive and efficient economy, and a high quality of life, underpinned by a quality environment and amenity.70

The transportation element of urban design is covered in the Land Transport Act 1998 (“LTA”) which relates to road safety and land transport. It is relevant to urban design implementation given the interconnectedness of infrastruc- ture and land use. Part 13 and particularly s 175(2) of the LTA require every Regional Land Transport Strategy to ensure environmental sustainability as well as implementation being supported by a 10-year funding strategy. This part has since been repealed by the Land Transport Management Amendment Act 2008 (“LTMAA”) which came into force on 1 August 2008.

The primary role of the LTMAA is to amend the LTMA, which was created to “contribute to the aim of achieving an [affordable,] integrated, safe, responsive, and sustainable land transport system”.71 Amongst other things, the LTMA aims to improve social and environmental responsibility in land transport funding, planning, and management and advocates long-term transport planning.72 It outlines the requirements for national and regional land transport programmes and strategies which must take into account national policy statements.73

The transportation legislation is supported by building and land-use statutes. The Building Act 2004 has a strong sustainability focus. The purpose of the Act ensures that along with being safe “buildings have attributes that contribute appropriately to the health, physical independence, and well-being of the people who use them” and that “buildings are designed, constructed, and able to be used in ways that promote sustainable development”.74 The Act focuses on minimising waste, ensuring water and energy efficiency and conservation,75

69 Local Government Auckland Amendment Act 2004 (“LGAAA”), s 3(b). 70 LGAAA, Schedule 5.

71 Land Transport Management Act 2003 (“LTMA”), s 3(1).

72 LTMA, s 3(2).

  1. LTMA, s 14(b)(iii).
  2. Building Act 2004, s 3(b) & (d). 75 Ibid, s 4(2)(o) & (m).

and highlights the importance of ensuring a building is durable.76 It creates a Building Code which sets out the practical requirement for building design.

Land use is covered by the RMA. This Act was revolutionary at the time of its inception, New Zealand being “one of the first countries to attempt to integrate the concept of sustainability into an enforceable domestic environmental and resource management regime”.77 The incorporation of the concept of sustainable management was not the only innovative factor of the RMA. The Act adopted an integrated approach to resource management encompassing land, air and water,78 and advocated an effects-based planning approach.79 Although urban design is not referred to specifically in the RMA, the aesthetic value of design is included in the definition of “environment” in the Act,80 and is protected under Part II.81 Indeed, in a recent case Keane J argued that “the need for coherent and pleasing aesthetics is a prime value in the Act’s defining purpose”.82 In addition, some aspects of urban design are provided for in the design principles which take effect in regional and district plans, dictating matters of form; the size and height of buildings in particular locations.

Perhaps the most significant way in which the RMA interfaces with urban design is currently merely a prospective one. The proposed draft National Policy Statement on Urban Design would be created under the statutory ambit of the RMA. The Act defines the purpose of a National Policy Statement (“NPS”) as being to “state objectives and policies for matters of national significance that are relevant to achieving the purpose of the Act”.83 An NPS does not set rules or standards, but provides visionary guidance. The practical significance of an NPS is that RMA local authorities are required to give effect to National Policy Statements in Regional Policy Statements, plans, and when assessing applications for resource consents84 — meaning that urban design would be incorporated consistently at local level.

It is suggested that an NPS on urban design would “reinforce that urban design is a legitimate pursuit under the RMA and encourage a more integrated and coordinated approach to such matters”.85 An NPS would focus government

76 Ibid, s 4(2)(c).

  1. D Grinlinton, “Contemporary Environmental Law in New Zealand” in K Bosselmann & D Grinlinton, Environmental Law for a Sustainable Society, NZCEL Monograph Series 1, Auckland, 2002, at 30.
  2. Resource Management Act 1991 (“RMA”), Preamble. 79 RMA, s 3.

80 Ibid, s 2.

81 Ibid, s 5(2).

82 Urban Auckland — Society for the Protection of Auckland City and Waterfront Inc v Auckland City Council [2005] NZRMA 155, at 158.

83 RMA, s 45(1).

  1. Ibid, s 55 (as amended 2003).
  2. MfE, Scope of an NPS on urban design (Wellington, August 2008) 1.

thinking on how other policy decisions impact on urban issues, confirming that they are not legislating in a vacuum but that “nearly every government decision, from immigration to education curriculums, impacts on urban structure, form and function”.86 Whilst this all sounds ideal in theory, there have been a number of issues with the RMA which could cause problems.

There is a general perception that the RMA is ineffective at addressing cumulative effects and dealing with projects on a national scale.87 For some urban design features, like infrastructure, a national perspective is essential to create an effective, viable solution. A particularly relevant concern is that central leadership has not been provided under the RMA. Although policy is a key driver of the RMA, the Act “is underpinned by a grand vision of devolution”.88 This vision has a significant effect on perceptions of the desirability of National Policy Statements, and the lack of such policy statements primarily results from this focus on devolution of powers to local authorities who are best placed to provide local solutions. This is exacerbated by the complications associated with achieving a balance between the prescriptiveness necessary to make an NPS worthwhile and the flexibility which is desirable at the local level.89

The 2004 review of the RMA highlighted numerous deficiencies: “delays, costs, inconsistencies, uncertainty in local decision making and lack of central government leadership”.90 The Resource Management Amendment Act 2005 tried to remedy some of these shortcomings. In particular, it strengthened the NPS formula, streamlined the consent procedures, and reinforced the effec- tiveness of local government.91 Despite these amendments, the Sustainable Urban Development Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs recently published a report which advocated a place-based approach to urban planning.92 In the report local authorities and developers identified barriers to sustainable urban development which extend to all levels of government, including capacity and capability issues, limited coordination of planning, and ineffective integration of planning for land use, infrastructure and utilities.93 The document advocates

  1. Zollner, “A New Dawn for Urban Policy?”, supra note 37.
  2. R Peart, “Environmental Defence Society Opinion Piece: Is the RMA Past its Use By Date?” (29 May 2007).
  3. G Willis, “New Zealand’s First National Policy Statement?”, Resource Management Journal 30.
  4. J Rosier, “Towards better national policy statements: NZCPS Review”, Planning Quarterly

(March 2005) 26, at 27.

  1. R Devine, “The Resource Management Act 2005: Room to Improve?”, Butterworths Resource Management Bulletin (September 2005) 6.
  2. Resource Management Amendment Act 2005.
  3. Sustainable Urban Development Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs, Building Sustainable Urban Communities: A discussion document exploring place-based approaches to sustainable urban development in New Zealand (Wellington, 2008).
  4. Ibid, at 9.

a central government policy which explicitly addresses urban design at national level and introduces a systematic “whole of government” approach.94

3.4 Summing Up — Where Does New Zealand Stand?

The Resource Management Amendment Act 2005 made it easier to implement National Policy Statements, and a large-scale issue like urban design would seem to be a perfect candidate for an NPS. But is an NPS the right approach to achieving quality urban design in New Zealand? Is the need for National Policy Statements redundant given the existence of soft documents like the Protocol which already provide specific design guidance? After all, an NPS does not necessarily provide guidance but instead states the overarching principles that government considers important; definite guidance is provided at a local level. In a recent environmental performance review of New Zealand the OECD highlighted the fragility of New Zealand’s strategic approach to environmental issues: “recent success in issuing national strategies concerning elements of environmental management is tempered by their non-binding nature, which makes their implementation vulnerable to changes in government”.95 It went on to emphasise that although these strategies have brought some of these neglected issues to the forefront of policy and have been effective at improving public understanding of RMA processes,96 they are non-binding and so lack the

necessary power.

Without strong guidance “differences in technical capacity, knowledge, skills and issues among local authorities translate into differences in environ- mental management”.97 This leads to a lack of certainty and consistency, causing difficulties for developers and investors who “complain that the regulatory playing field within the country is not level”.98

It is unquestionable that New Zealand is making significant progress in the quest for quality urban design and successful, sustainable cities. But there is clearly some debate about the best way to achieve quality urban design. There are obvious discrepancies between the best endeavours of the plentiful strat- egies in place and the accomplishment of some of these urban design targets. Similarly, there are concerns about central government setting objectives which have significant consequences at a local level.

Before attempting to reach conclusions about the best tools for addressing these issues and concerns and achieving quality urban design in New Zealand,

  1. Ibid, at 12.
  2. OECD, Environmental Performance Review: New Zealand, supra note 8. 96 Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.

or looking at what an NPS on urban design would include, it would be pertinent to consider the role of urban design in overseas jurisdictions.


4.1 United Kingdom

In contrast to New Zealand’s early legislating to include sustainability, the UK’s initial approach to the sustainable development agenda was largely non-legislative. Indeed, in 2000 the Government dismissed the need for legislation, stating that “sustainable development could be placed at the heart of an organisation by policy directions from the executive or by the inclusion of non-statutory aims and objectives”.99 However, in recent years sustainable development has been incorporated into numerous statutes, and following a government White Paper in 2000 entitled Our Towns and Cities: The Future

— Delivering an Urban Renaissance, sustainable cities and urban growth have also been on the agenda.

Given the prioritisation of sustainable development and urban issues in the UK, it comes as no surprise that urban design plays a prominent role in national policy and planning regulation. The activity of urban design has been given a great deal of attention in the UK in the last decade or so. Examples include the Urban Design Compendium established by the national regeneration agency English Partnerships,100 the Urban Task Force established on invitation by the Deputy Prime Minister to “identify the causes of urban decline and establish a vision for our cities”,101 and the work of The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, an educational charity which “exists to improve the quality of people’s lives by teaching and practising timeless and ecological ways of planning, designing and building”.102 The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (“CABE”) is a good indication of the Government’s commitment to securing good urban design. Created in 2006, CABE is the Government’s advisor on architecture, urban design and public space, and has

  1. HM Government, White Paper: Our Towns and Cities: The Future — Delivering an Urban Renaissance, HMSO, London, 2000.
  2. <> .
  3. Urban Task Force, Towards a Strong Urban Renaissance: An independent report by members of the Urban Task Force chaired by Lord Rogers of Riverside (London, 2005) 2, at

<> .

  1. The Prince’s Foundation, Valuing Sustainable Urbanism (London, 2007), at <http://www .> .

been given the task of taking the campaign for design quality to the heart of government and the outside world alike.103

Urban design has been covered to some extent in legislation in the UK. Although there is no integrated “resource management” Act as in New Zealand, instead there are an array of statutes to manage resources — the Environment Act 1995, Water Act 2003, Energy Act 2004, and Housing Act 2004, to name a few; and more again to implement sustainability and good governance — the Local Government Act 2000, Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, and Sustainable Communities Act 2007. However, the statute which is most relevant to urban design relates to planning — the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Essentially directing and managing development, this Act establishes planning authorities and sets out the need for development controls and plans,104 in particular unitary development plans and local plans which provide design aims and criteria.105

Recent reform of the planning agenda has created new planning legisla- tion — the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. The Act has a strong sustainability focus: “the person or body [exercising a development planning function] must exercise the function with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development”.106 The primary purpose of the Act is to introduce a new two-tiered planning system made up of regional spatial strategies, which set out a broad spatial planning strategy for how a region should look in 15 to 20 years’ time, and local development frameworks, which are essentially a portfolio of local development documents prepared by district councils outlining the spatial planning strategy for the local area. These documents include development plan documents, like a core strategy, together with a statement of community involvement and a local development scheme.107 Together the two tiers determine how the planning system shapes com- munities and, through the use of detailed spatial strategies, provide vision for growth. Spatial strategies encompass all aspects of planning and are therefore a significant urban design tool.

There are some significant planning reforms currently under way in the UK. In July 2006 Kate Barker published her interim report on land-use planning.108 Barker was appointed in December 2005 by the Chancellor of the Exchequer

  1. <>.
  2. Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Parts I, II & III.
  3. In the recent Sainsbury’s case it was argued that the buildings could not have been of the highest standard of urban design and were therefore not in accordance with the UDP policy: Sainsbury’s Supermarket Limited v First Secretary of State [2007] EWCA Civ 200; [2007] ALL ER (D) 213 (Nov).
  4. Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, s 39(2).
  5. <http://www.planningportal.go v .uk/uploads/ldf/ldfguide.html> .
  6. K Barker, Review of Land Use Planning, Interim Report-Analysis, HMSO, London, 4 July 2006.

and the Deputy Prime Minister to review the land-use planning system “to consider how, in the context of globalisation, and the reforms already put in place in England, planning policy and procedures can better deliver economic growth and prosperity alongside other sustainable development goals”.109 This report resulted in the White Paper entitled Planning for a Sustainable Future released in May 2007, which attempted to respond to the challenges of sustainable development and climate change and the criticism of the policy planning framework outlined in the Barker Report.110 The White Paper advocates a clear and up-to-date policy framework which will allow integration of economic, social, and environmental objectives.111

Many of the White Paper proposals are contained in the Planning Bill.112 The aim of this Bill is to streamline the process for assessing major infrastruc- ture projects which will be of national importance.113 To achieve this goal the Bill introduces a number of new initiatives including providing for the establishment of a new body, the Infrastructure Planning Committee (“IPC”).114 There are detailed provisions governing the IPC’s acceptance of applications and the giving of notice to, and consultation with, a wide range of parties.115 Significantly, the Bill also introduces the concept of a National Policy Statement to guide the IPC on assessing major infrastructure projects. The possible content of an NPS is set out in Part 2 of the Bill as:

the amount, type or size of development which is appropriate nationally or for a specified area; criteria to be applied in deciding whether a location is suitable or potentially suitable; the relative weight to be given to such criteria; the identification of one or more locations as suitable (or unsuitable) for specified development; the identification of one or more statutory undertakers as appropriate persons to carry out such development; and circumstances in which it is appropriate to mitigate the impact of specified development.116

It is anticipated that about a dozen National Policy Statements to cover various key infrastructure development areas — energy, transport, water, and waste

  1. DCLG, Infrastructure Delivery: Spatial Plans in Practice: Supporting the reform of local planning, HMSO, London, June 2008, para 3.6, at < documents/planningandbuilding/pdf/spatialplaninfrastructure> .
  2. HM Government, White Paper: Planning for a Sustainable Future, supra note 18. 111 Ibid, at 13.
  3. The Planning Bill is still awaiting a third reading by the House of Lords.
  4. Explanatory notes to the Planning Bill as introduced in the House of Commons on 27 November 2007 [Bill 11], DCLG, 2007.
  5. Planning Bill, s 1 & Schedule 1.
  6. Planning Bill, Chapter 1.
  7. Planning Bill, s 5(5).

— will be brought forward by the Government in the next few years.117 The Secretary of State must carry out consultation in relation to each NPS and exercise her functions with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.118 An NPS can also be challenged in the courts. The Bill creates a new form of challenge which comprises a hybrid set of rules, mixing elements of s 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 with judicial review. The challenge is to be brought within a six-week period, but in accordance with judicial review procedure.119

In the 15 July 2008 second reading of the Bill, Baroness Andrews stated that National Policy Statements “will be planning documents ‘of the highest order’ to set the primary policy framework for the planning decisions to be taken by the IPC”.120 The Government recognises that nuclear power stations and aviation and airport projects can be extremely controversial and the relevant NPS would therefore specify the locations suitable for development.121 In the debate which followed, the Bill was supported by many of the Lords, who accepted and recognised the need for reform of the current planning regime. However, there were concerns raised in relation to a number of aspects — in particular the procedure whereby National Policy Statements would be approved; the lack of democratic accountability of the proposed IPC; the efficacy of the consultation on National Policy Statements; and the fact that there was no requirement to consider climate change, heritage, or design in formulating an NPS, as there was in respect of sustainability.122

The recognition by the United Kingdom Government that infrastructure projects are important to development of the nation as a whole and require independent implementation structures is definitely commendable. The move towards National Policy Statements as a means of controlling this development is particularly interesting as it will produce very detailed statements which consider the effects of particular infrastructure projects on local areas.

The legislative framework for planning in the UK is supported by numerous significant non-statutory tools. Of particular relevance to urban design are the Planning Policy Guidance Notes and Statements. The Department of Com- munities and Local Government determines national policies on different aspects of planning and the rules that govern the operation of the system. These

  1. Lords Hansard Parliamentary Debates, 15 July 2008: Column 1162, at <http://www.> .
  2. Planning Bill, ss 5–9.
  3. Ibid, s 12.
  4. Lords Hansard Parliamentary Debates, 15 July 2008: Column 1161, at <http://www.> .
  5. Ibid, at 15 July 2008: Column 1162.
  6. Ibid, at 15 July 2008: Column 1175, The Lord Bishop of Liverpool; 15 July 2008: Column 1178, Lord Jenkin of Roding.

policies are issued as Planning Policy Guidance Notes (“PPGs”) and their replacements as Planning Policy Statements (“PPSs”), which are prepared “after public consultation to explain statutory provisions and provide guidance to local authorities and others on planning policy and the operation of the planning system”.123 In addition, these statements also explain the relationship between planning policies and other national policies which are relevant to issues of development and land use.124 The practical significance of these statements is that they must be taken into account in the preparation of regional spatial strat- egies and in the preparation of local development documents. They may also be relevant to decisions on individual planning applications.125

There are currently 25 PPGs and PPSs on topics ranging from sustainable development and climate change, housing, spatial planning, and transport to archaeology and noise. The Government has a specific policy for design in the planning system which was originally contained in Planning Policy Guidance Note 1 General Policy and Principles (“PPG1”) and has since been replaced by Planning Policy Statement 1: Delivering Sustainable Development (“PPS1”) (which now also includes climate change considerations).126 Under the key principles section of the policy, regional planning bodies and local authorities are required to ensure that development plans guarantee the pursuit of sustainable development and address the potential impact of climate change “through policies which reduce energy use, reduce emissions (for example, by encouraging patterns of development which reduce the need to travel by private car, or reduce the impact of moving freight), promote the development of renewable energy resources, and take climate change impacts into account in the location and design of development”.127 In addition, planning policies should promote “high quality inclusive design in the layout of new developments and individual buildings in terms of function and impact”.128 This design must not only be effective in the short term “but over the lifetime of the development”.129 Ultimately, “design which fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area should not be accepted”.130 The PPS focuses on the role of design in delivering sustainable development:

  1. Department for Communities and Local Government website: <http://www.communities. planningpolicyguidance/> .
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. DCLG, Planning Policy Statement 1: Delivering Sustainable Development, TSO, London, 2005.
  5. Ibid, para 13(ii), at 6.
  6. Ibid, para 13(iv), at 6.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.

High quality and inclusive design should be the aim of all those involved in the development process. High quality and inclusive design should create well- mixed and integrated developments which avoid segregation and have well- planned public spaces that bring people together and provide opportunities for physical activity and recreation.131

It suggests that planning authorities should prepare “robust policies on design and access”,132 and goes some way to outline the type of approach design policies and development plans should take.133

To accompany those policy statements the Department for Communities and Local Government has created a guide entitled By Design: Urban Design in the Planning System — Towards Better Practice, published 15 May 2006. The guide is relevant to all aspects of the built environment — from the design of buildings and spaces, landscapes, to transport systems; and for planning and development at every scale — from streets and their neighbourhoods, villages and cities, to regional planning strategies.134 It reinforces the call in the Urban Task Force’s report Towards a Strong Urban Renaissance for earlier, greater, and better-informed attention to urban design.135 The guide provides some design objectives, like character, quality of the public realm, ease of movement, and diversity. It also provides comprehensive guidance on how those objectives can be incorporated into the planning process through the various mechanisms, like urban design frameworks, plans, and design guides.

A cursory examination of the United Kingdom planning system certainly gives the impression that there is comprehensive provision for quality urban design in the English legislative and policy framework. There is undoubtedly clear recognition of the interconnectedness of infrastructure and urban design. The UK seems to have accepted that its population is rapidly expanding and appears to be embracing this growth with clear spatial planning and provision for development. In addition, they have gone some way towards incorporating sustainability into their planning framework, and are addressing climate change head on with the Climate Change Bill and the incorporation of climate change into policy statements on development and planning.

  1. Ibid, para 35.
  2. Ibid, para 36.
  3. Ibid, paras 38 & 39.
  4. DCLG, By Design: Urban Design in the Planning System — Towards Better Practice, HMSO, London, 2006.
  5. Urban Task Force, Towards a Strong Urban Renaissance: An independent report by members of the Urban Task Force chaired by Lord Rogers of Riverside, supra note 101.

4.2 Australia

As in the United Kingdom, urban design is a hot topic in Australia. There are numerous charitable organisations and industry resources aimed at addressing the role of urban design in shaping Australia’s cities. For instance: the Urban Design Forum, the Urban Design Centre of Western Australia, the Urban Design Alliance of Queensland, and Urban Ecology Australia.

The Planning Institute of Australia (“PIA”) is the national body for people and organisations involved in spatial planning practice in Australia. The Institute provides policy and design guidance for the industry. For example, the position statement on urban design issued in May 2008 recognises that “[urban design] provides the tools with which the quality of our urban areas and community wellbeing can be consciously improved”, and calls for the establishment of an Urban Design Taskforce to collaboratively develop an Australian Urban Design Charter.136

The legislative framework in Australia is markedly different to New Zealand and the UK, with the separation of federal and state governments. Because of this it poses an interesting study in terms of the impact national policy has on localities. At the national level there are a number of ministerial departments which have an impact on directing planning developments: the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research through the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (“CSIRO”) sustainable cities research programme; the Department of Climate Change; the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government; and the Department for the Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts.

The Department for the Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts obviously has a conservation and ecological focus.137 However, part of its remit is human settlement and there has been a strong focus on the dissemination of infor- mation via the “Your Development” website which contains fact sheets and case studies on issues such as density, climate change, and infrastructure.138 The Department also referred the inquiry into sustainable cities to the year 2025 to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage.139 The inquiry was conducted in 2005 and produced a number of recommendations. Notably, that the Australian Government should establish an

  1. Planning Institute of Australia, Urban Design Position Statement (May 2008), at <http:// & task=view & id=291 & Itemid=279> .
  2. Responsible for managing the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
  3. <http://yourde v> .
  4. Parliament of Australia, House of Representatives, Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, Sustainable Cities, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2005, 2.

Australian Sustainability Charter that sets key national targets across a number of areas, including water, transport, energy, building design and planning, and encourage a Council of Australian Governments agreement to the charter and its key targets. Further, it recommended that all new relevant Australian government policy proposals be evaluated as to whether they would impact on urban sustainability.

In addition, Australia’s national efforts towards advancing sustainability are embodied in the Department for the Environment’s 1992 National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (“NSESD”).140 The Strategy provides broad strategic directions and frameworks for governments to direct policy and decision-making within the overall objective of “development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends”.141 It sets the objective of “pro- moting urban forms which minimise transport requirements, and improve the efficiency of land supply and infrastructure provision”.142

The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government obviously has an important role in shaping develop- ment, predominantly with the Regional Development Council and the Local Government and Planning Ministers’ Council which is responsible for establishing the National Charter for Integrated Land Use and Planning. The Charter is particularly influential as it embodies an agreement between all levels of government to “identify national aims, a range of measures available to pursue them, and highlights the need for coordination of land use and trans- port planning at and between each level of government”.143 In order to achieve efficient, integrated land use and transport, the Charter advocates shaping the pattern of development and influencing the location, scale, density, design, and mix of land uses by, for example, reducing the need to travel and making access to services easier for people.144

The Federal Government recently announced it will establish and resource a Major Cities Unit within the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, renewing the Commonwealth’s focus on the nation’s cities, and more broadly, on urban development.145 The Unit will

  1. Halsbury’s Laws of Australia, Chapter V, Land Use and Planning, Part 1, Introduction.
  2. Ecologically Sustainable Development Steering Committee, “National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD)” (December 2002) Part 1, at <http://www.> .
  3. Ibid, Objective 6.1.
  4. Local Government and Planning Ministers’ Council (“LGPMC”), National Charter for Integrated Land Use and Planning (2003) 2, at <http://www.atcouncil.go v .au/documents/ pubs/National_Charter_ATC_MAY_03.pdf> .
  5. Ibid, at 3.
  6. Announced 30/04/2008 at WESROC Conference. See <http://www.Go v au/2008/05/07/article/XOBINRKMGX.html> .

identify opportunities where federal leadership can make a difference to the prosperity of Australia’s cities and to the overall wellbeing of their residents.146 It will produce a shopping list of improvements which need to be implemented and appears to be a welcome initiative: “with the development of this Unit the Commonwealth now has the opportunity to foster integrated planning, housing, urban management and infrastructure investment systems to deliver sustainable communities across Australia”.147

There are also very recent initiatives to address urban design directly in Australia. The Planning Officials Group (“POG”) under the Local Government and Planning Ministers’ Council is currently in the process of producing a draft Australian Urban Design Protocol. The draft Protocol is to be modelled largely on the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol, describing good urban design as supporting “the social, cultural, economic and environmental well-being of communities that live in cities and towns, or that are affected by them”.148 The Australian Urban Design Protocol will highlight the role that urban design can play in achieving more sustainable cities in the context of pressures from climate change, and the POG envisages that the Protocol will provide a framework for the development of individual State/Territory Urban Design Charters much in the same way the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol functions as an exem- plary starting point for local government initiatives.149

Although improvement seems to be on the way, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects has recommended that the Australian Government needs to fund a national review of urban design policy and practice to improve understanding of how Australia’s cities and towns can increase their economic, social, and environmental sustainability.150 They have suggested that the Government establish a National Built Environment Design Policy which focuses on “national coordination of planning and urban design terms and definitions used in legislation, local government policy and urban design plans to provide consistent, comprehensible policy and to assist community engagement with the development review process”.151 They also advocate the national reform of planning and urban design controls to ensure that the focus is on the design of the public domain and provides appropriate controls that encourage high-quality architecture.152

  1. Ibid.
  2. Planning Institute Australia, Media Release: “Announcement of Major Cities Unit a Good Start”, 1 May 2008.
  3. Urban Design Forum, Draft Australian Urban Design Protocol (September 2008). 149 Ibid.
  4. The Royal Australian Institute of Architects, The RAIA policy on urban design (2007) 1 & 2, at < y .pdf> .
  5. Ibid, at 2.
  6. Ibid, at 2 & 3.

As planning is a local issue it is primarily legislated at state level. Many Australian states have taken a hard line on design issues.153 However, Victoria has certainly taken the lead in promoting good urban design. VicUrban is the Victorian Government’s sustainable urban development agency committed to delivering prosperous and successful communities in regional and metropolitan Victoria. The Victorian Government established the broad functions and respon- sibilities of VicUrban through the Victorian Urban Development Authority Act 2003 (Vic) (“VicUrban Act”). The Act states VicUrban has responsibility to: “carry out urban development, develop the Docklands area, undertake declared projects and assist in the implementation of Government urban development policies and strategies, including Melbourne 2030”.154 This is similar to the 2004 UK Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act in terms of the priorities on urban regeneration and compulsory acquisition of land where necessary to achieve the urban development vision of the Government.

Victoria’s Department of Sustainability and the Environment launched their Environmental Sustainability Framework in 2005.155 The Framework focuses on the environmental impacts of development which are particularly relevant for Victoria, like climate change, stressed water resources, and population growth. It seeks to instil sustainability goals into the inhabitants of Victoria and outlines methods by which environmental degradation can be mitigated.156 The Department also works together with the Urban Design Branch of the Department of Planning and Community Development (“DPCD”), which helps to implement the “Melbourne 2030” strategy through its Urban Development Programme.157 Released in 2002, Melbourne 2030 is the Victorian Government’s strategic framework for planning and managing sustainable growth and devel- opment across the metropolitan area and surrounding regions.158

Melbourne 2030 seeks to protect the liveability of established residential areas and to concentrate major development in strategic areas (or “activity centres”) and on underdeveloped land.159 Initially a good supply of land for

  1. For instance, the South Australian Urban Design Charter 2004. This Urban Design Charter records the recognition by the South Australian Government of the benefits of good urban design. It commits government agencies to achieve good urban design when managing public places or creating the public buildings and infrastructure that contribute to the qualities of our streets, squares, parks and waterfronts.
  2. Victorian Urban Development Authority Act 2003 (Vic) (“VicUrban Act”), s 1.
  3. DSE, Our Environment, Our Future — Victoria’s Environmental Sustainability Framework

(Melbourne, 2005).

  1. Ibid.
  2. The UDP is the primary mechanism for advising the Victorian Government about the supply of and demand for residential and industrial land within metropolitan Melbourne and the Geelong region.
  3. Melbourne 2030, at <http://www.dse.vic.go v .au/melbourne2030online/> .
  4. Ibid.

development will be maintained in designated growth corridors centred around infrastructure; over time there will be a shift away from continued urban sprawl and more emphasis on increasing density in existing and inner metropolitan areas.160 It provides numerous expected policies including higher densities, setting urban boundaries, and improving transportation frameworks. The strategy also provides for maintaining Melbourne’s status as a tourist destina- tion and encouraging development to make jobs and community services more accessible.161 There is a comprehensive implementation programme which provides performance details for all the policies contained in Melbourne 2030.162 The first five-yearly audit of Melbourne 2030 concluded that:

We are convinced that the fundamental principles of Melbourne 2030 are more relevant than ever. This is because of the challenges posed by climate change, traffic congestion, the faster than expected growth of Melbourne’s population, and the fact that Melbourne is still an extremely spread-out city. Compared to five years ago, there is now an even greater urgency to implement the many initiatives of Melbourne 2030 if Melbourne’s development is to be sustainable and the city is to remain liveable.163

The most recent initiative in Victoria is the publication of Future Melbourne, a plan to grow Melbourne as one of the top 10 most liveable and sustainable cities in the world: “Future Melbourne is the community’s vision for the management, development and direction of our city to 2020 and beyond.”164 Within Future Melbourne there are six main focal points: people, creative, prosperous, knowledge, ecocity, and connected. Urban design plays a key role in the plan:

Melbourne generates a strong sense of place — we are defined by our central city grid of streets, our boulevards of elm and plane trees and our many parks. Our street activity provides much of our vibrant energy, but our heritage buildings, laneways and our pedestrian scale are essential to our municipality’s vitality. Melbourne will build on these assets and continue to “do small well”, particularly as city development intensifies.165

  1. Ibid.
  2. Ibid, Policies 5.10 & 8.3.
  3. Information on Melbourne 2030: <http://www.dse.vic.go v .au/melbourne2030online/> .
  4. DSE, Planning for all of Melbourne: The Victorian Government’s Response to the Melbourne 2030 Audit (Melbourne, May 2008).
  5. Future Melbourne, Foreword by Lord Mayor John So, at <http://www.futuremelbourne.> .
  6. Future Melbourne, People, Part 4, “Designed for People”, at <http://www.futuremelbourne.> .

The scheme is certainly innovative, with a focus on a “community plan” for Melbourne. There is a fully interactive website which seeks to involve the community in determining the growth of the city with the slogan “Future Melbourne — the city plan that anyone can edit”.166 It is certainly a novel way of getting the residents, particularly young people, involved and achieving participatory democracy. Victoria is, without doubt, a pioneer in terms of urban design. While other states have adopted urban design initiatives and some growth strategies, none have so fully embraced the utility of the activity.

Overall it would seem that Australia, like the UK and New Zealand, is alive to the role urban design will play in creating sustainable cities and dealing with climate change. The fact that Australia has so much available land makes it doubly important that urban design policies and legislation be put in place to contain cities and minimise sprawl. At the state level Australia has certainly gone some way towards implementation of urban design strategies. However, if anything, Australia is a good example of how fragmented government struc- tures can create inconsistency, with differing degrees of state application. This is exacerbated by the apparent delay in the realisation of urban design importance at national level; perhaps this is because it would seem unnecessary to set policy guidelines or legislate on something which is already entrenched at state level. This is problematic, though, as there does need to be consistency across the country, particularly from the perspective of integrating infrastructure nationally. Although the states resemble the various regional councils in terms of having a local perspective, the fact that they legislate independently can be all the more worrying in terms of achieving consistently high-quality urban design.


New Zealand is on a par with many nations in terms of the acceptance of the need for sustainable cities and buildings, for the reassessment of infrastructure priorities, and the requirement of internationally competitive cities. New Zealand, like many overseas nations, has adopted numerous urban design strategies and “soft law” documents to delineate distinct design objectives and has very much altered their urban development priorities to accommodate global challenges like sustainability. However, it is clear that New Zealand is some way behind in terms of crystallising these strategies in legislation. Furthermore, there are obvious deficiencies in terms of consistency and certainty, with the divide between central and local government still painfully clear.

The Resource Management Act 1991 is vital to implementing urban design changes. There is clear provision in the Act to create an all-encompassing

  1. The interactive website can be accessed at <>.

package of planning documents to delineate New Zealand’s approach to urban design. However, it is obvious that urban design inclusion under the RMA is somewhat lacking. Without national guidance the extent of mechanisms for controlling design outcomes varies in district plans throughout New Zealand.167 For quality design to be effective the resource consent process requires guidance on what good urban design is.

The 2007 OECD report on New Zealand concluded that it will be necessary for New Zealand to “strengthen national policy guidance, in the form of policy statements and national environmental standards, in the interest of promoting a level national playing field and improving regulatory efficiency”.168 Given this conclusion and the requirement of guidance on the meaning of urban design, perhaps strong central leadership in the form of national policy is what is needed in New Zealand. It is clear from overseas approaches that national leadership is pivotal to quality urban design. The planning policy statements utilised in the United Kingdom cover an extensive range of topics and have an entrenched role in the achievement of planning goals. In addition, the moves towards integrating further National Policy Statements on infrastructure show the faith the UK Government has in national policy providing direction. Similarly, the dangers of a lack of strong national policy guidance are clear in Australia. While cities like Melbourne have implemented their own successful policies and strategies and streak ahead, others struggle to catch up. There is a patent void created by the lack of national guidance.

In light of this evidence, it would seem that a National Policy Statement on Urban Design would not just be beneficial but is in fact necessary to the imple- mentation of quality urban design in New Zealand. If that is the case, what objectives and principles should an NPS include and what else will be needed to make urban design successful in New Zealand? In essence, what are the “must haves” for a policy statement on urban design? The consultation documents on the National Policy Statement provide a starting point for ascertaining these.

The Ministry for the Environment’s consultation elicited a number of suggestions. For instance, that the NPS could pass on some of the Protocol principles, that sustainability was a key factor, and that the NPS should be linked to national strategic priorities like climate change mitigation.169 The themes of consultation were integration between central and local government, diversity of urban environments, and strategic “bigger picture” planning. The views reflect many of the criticisms previously levelled at the New Zealand approach to National Policy Statements generally, and specifically to urban design issues.

  1. J Reeves, “Negotiating Good Urban Design Outcomes”, Planning Quarterly (June 2005) 24.
  2. OECD, Environmental Performance Review: New Zealand, supra note 8. 169 MfE, Scope of an NPS on urban design, supra note 85.

The consultation also encapsulates the varying views on the utility and necessity of an NPS. It clearly demonstrates the division regarding national involvement in issues people perceive to be local, with disagreement between those who consider that an NPS should just be high-level principles defining visions and those who feel detail is pivotal to the achievement of consistency.

The evidence from overseas suggests that some degree of detail is necessary. The UK’s newly proposed National Policy Statements on infrastructure will go to the level of specifying particular localities suitable for certain infrastructure projects. However, they also show that although some detail is required, flexi- bility in design issues is vital to ensure distinctiveness and locally relevant urban design. Overseas jurisdictions also demonstrate that good governance is crucial to the achievement of consistent, high-quality urban design application. The innovative approach of Future Melbourne demonstrates the value of public participation, whilst the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (UK) shows the interfacing between different levels of government to achieve long- term spatial plans.

In conclusion, a National Policy Statement on Urban Design is essential for providing guidance on the implementation of quality urban design and indicating to all levels of government that urban design is a priority. Central government has to take a stand and provide regional and territorial councils with some direction. The NPS needs to be sufficiently detailed so as to provide principles which enable a degree of consistency between local governments, ensuring certainty. It needs to advocate the integration of the various areas of planning to ensure that a spatially focused, bigger-picture strategy is adopted. Finally, it needs to provide for the achievement of sustainable development and to address climate change issues.

Ultimately, the crucial element in creating a useful National Policy State- ment on Urban Design is integration of the various levels of government. This integration will ensure that there is vision and guidance from central government, whilst providing for the implementation of locally relevant urban design. Only by adopting this approach can New Zealand achieve good-quality urban design, the prerequisite for sustainable cities.

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