It looks like the spatial planning stars have aligned. We are currently sitting in the perfect position to deliver change in our urban environments and following UDF’s AGM Ernst Zollner talked us through what this would mean for New Zealand.
He began his talk by explaining that the key theme to his presentation would be ‘hope’. Namely, new hope for urban design and planning, enabled by the changing political tide which took place a year ago. Having a minister responsible for Housing, Transport and Urban Development all in one, was a key step in accomplishing this. And this strongly resonated with a lot of the messages we heard at the UrbanismNZ conference from earlier in the year.
What having a new direction means, is that “Spatial Planning” is back in, it’s on trend and it’s seen as valuable. Understanding the bigger picture that unlocks urban development potential becomes a priority, and the delivery of projects should come out of this strategy. A new measure of success alongside the big picture thinking complements the efforts to improve liveability. We are no longer looking at how well the average urban dweller is fairing, but those most vulnerable in our society, which as a KPI aims to be more transformational.
So what should we expect?
In brief, the takeaways are summarised below.
What could change?
A much anticipated Urban Development Authority or UDA is coming. How exactly it would navigate all the legislative hurdles we’ve got in place is yet to be determined but it is something that this government has begun to work through. Similarly, the National Planning Standards are underway, but again with a tricky road ahead for larger centres, where coordination between existing policy statements now would have to align with them. All of this focus on urban development and planning means that once the legal framework is resolved, we should have a much simpler road to delivering liveable neighbourhoods, towns and cities.
What will stay the same?
Having just talked about legislation, one thing that won’t be immediately revised is the Resource Management Act (RMA). Whilst RMA reform is not an immediate priority, all hope should not be lost as the intention of the spatial planning is to enable development to happen in strategic locations. It will just be a matter of using the new planning tools we establish to reduce the constraints of the RMA. It will have to be about looking to spatial strategy to guide growth and intensification.
What does this mean for UDF members?
As Ernst put it - it’s hope. Hope that change is on its way.
From a cynical point of view all of this sounds great, but we did it in Christchurch and it hasn’t gone far, so why is this going to be any different? And it seems fantastic that this is being discussed at a political level but when will it make its way to all those administering the delivery of the plans? Given the recent decision for Panuku’s development on Dominion Road it still seems like there is a disconnect between planning aspirations and administration reality.
But cynicism aside, the message of hope was not lost. The presentation was about saying that the focus is now in the right place, but that this is still work in progress. We now have the mandate to deliver spatial plans that address on the long-term and align the priorities of housing, transport and economic projects, and this is a definite step in the right direction.