Te Oranga o te Taiao in the Natural and Built environments

The NBE Act could position Aotearoa to efficiently respond to pressing issues of climate, population growth, housing and biodiversity.

“We have moved away from just managing the effects of activities because the existing RMA has allowed cumulative adverse effects, including degraded water, increasing climate emissions and soil loss.”

Hon David Parker Minister for the Environment setting the new direction of the Act

On my first read, I was surprised at the new approach the bill presents.

Today, I believe it has merit and will help to shape the future of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The novelty of the Act is the introduction of the Te Oranga o te Taiao concept, the Wellbeing of the Natural Environment. Māori culture holds people tightly connected to the land and to the natural world. Taiao is the natural environment and Oranga refers to its wellbeing.

This concept expresses the intergenerational importance of environmental wellbeing to Māori and centralises a relationship around decision-making over natural resources with hapū and iwi.

The draft legislation enables Te Oranga o te Taiao to support the wellbeing of present generations without compromising the wellbeing of future generations.

Let’s look at the Act’s purpose:

The purpose of this Act is to enable –

(a) Te Oranga o te Taiao to be upheld, including by protecting and enhancing the natural environment; and

b)     people and communities to use the environment in a way that supports the well-being of present generations without compromising the well-being of future generations.

Item 5 (1) The purpose of the Act- Part 2 Purpose and related provisions, NBE Bill

There is a subtle reference to the built environment via people and communities’ well-being (of present generations and future generations) in line with the Te Oranga o te Taiao concept.

Let’s take a closer look at the incorporation of Te Oranga o te Taio and what it entails.

In this section, Te Oranga o te Taiao incorporates—
(a) the health of the natural environment; and
(b) the intrinsic relationship between iwi and hapū and te taiao; and
(c) the interconnectedness of all parts of the natural environment; and
(d) the essential relationship between the health of the natural environment and its capacity to sustain all life.

Item 5 (3) The purpose of the Act- Part 2 Purpose and related provisions, NBE Bill

When thinking about a high level interpretation of the built environment are people, communities and wellbeing all that should be included?

Initially, I like the idea. The built environment is made of people and communties organized in a way to meet social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing needs. However, the built environment is also comprised of structures that meet human shelter, social and organizational needs. These structures range in scale from buildings and open spaces to urban areas, urban landscapes and their supporting infrastructure services.

Te Oranga o te Taiao, sends a clear message to protect the natural environment. If you think about it, the built environment is in essence a transformation of the natural environment.

I believe there could be a stronger reference to the built environment in the purpose of the Act.

What is the reason the interpretation of the built environment has been completely omitted from the Act?

This question alone is worth a submission to the draft bill.

The bill provides the interpretation of:

urban form

means the physical characteristics that make up an urban area, including the shape, size, density, and configuration of the urban area.


(a)     means any building, equipment, device, or other facility that is made by people and fixed to land; and

(b)     includes any raft


means the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of people and communities, and includes their health and safety.

Part 1 Preliminary provisions (3) Interpretations, NBE Bill

The definition of urban form could be enhanced by the introduction of fine grain (physical characteristic and density), property structure (shape and size), and urban tissue (configuration). Definitions such as these are closely related to urban form. Urban form is also scalable as it could refer to a city, a neighbourhood, a precinct, a heritage protected area or a row of town houses.

The NPS-UD provides an interpretation of well-functioning urban environments.

Planning decisions contribute to well-functioning urban environments, which are urban environments that, as a minimum:

(a) have or enable a variety of homes that:

(i) meet the needs, in terms of type, price, and location, of different households; and
(ii) enable Māori to express their cultural traditions and norms; and

(b) have or enable a variety of sites that are suitable for different business sectors in terms of location and site size; and

(c) have good accessibility for all people between housing, jobs, community services, natural spaces, and open spaces, including by way of public or active transport; and

(d) support, and limit as much as possible adverse impacts on, the competitive operation of land and development markets; and

(e) support reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; and

(f) are resilient to the likely current and future effects of climate change.

Policy 1: Well-functioning urban environments- item 2.2 Policies Part 2 Objectives and Policies, NPS-UD

I strongly believe “Ecosystemic urbanism“, a concept conceived by urban ecologist Salvador Rueda provides the answer to a well -functioning urban environment in its own definition.

A well-functioning urban environment is the result of a combined approach to urban and transport planning focusing on public space, urban metabolism, renewable energies, biodiversity, accessibility (to existing services, public transport networks and infrastructure), habitability (housing that meet the needs, in terms of type, price, and location, of different households) and social cohesion.

All these are built on the idea of proximity to activities and services while providing the complete urban experience (access to work, housing, food, health, education, culture and leisure) at a walking distance.

Assuming the built environment omission is not intentional, I suggest the Act provides an interpretation of the built environment with the same level of detail as the natural environment.

I suggest the below interpretation:

built environment means –

(a) the structures built for people and their communities that are clearly distinguishable from the natural environment and meet shelter, social and organizational human needs. These range in scale from buildings and open spaces to urban areas and landscapes with their supporting infrastructure services;

(b) and their habitats; and

(c) ecosystems and their constituent parts

Built environment interpretation as proposed by Urbanhub Aotearoa

I note that we are using concepts already introduced by the NBE bill.

The introduction of the word habitat(s) could be interpreted as an extension the concepts of people and communities.

I have introduced the word ecosystem , after all what is the built environment other than a human-made ecosystem.

ecosystem means –

a system of organisms (people / humans) interacting with their physical environment (the built or natural environments) and with each other

Part 1 Preliminary provisions (3) Interpretations, NBE Bill

Ivan Eiroa Santamarina

Urban Designer and orverseas registered architect

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