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3. Options for change: Planning and urban design

The independent Urban Technical Advisory Group’s (UTAG) report to the Minister for the Environment, published alongside this discussion document, identifies and analyses a number of issues with the urban planning system and recommends changes to address them.

The 20 options in this chapter reflect the UTAG’s main recommendations, along with additional options to address the problems identified by officials (set out in chapter 2). A full list of the UTAG’s recommendations is available in its report to the Minister.

The options for planning and urban design are grouped into four categories that broadly match the problem issues in chapter 2:

  • 3.1 Recognise urban environment in the RMA framework
  • 3.2 Greater national direction and clarity
  • 3.3 Spatial planning – enhancing it for Auckland and implementing it for other regions
  • 3.4 Improve tools.

The options are numbered consecutively, from 1 to 20. Where an option specifically reflects the UTAG’s recommendations, this is indicated in brackets after the description of the option. Government has not yet identified its preferred option or package of options from the range presented in this discussion document. Your submissions will help inform this decision

Playground, Oriental Bay, Wellington – PhotoNZ

3.1 Recognise urban environment in the RMA framework

Two options have been identified to provide increased recognition for the urban environment within the RMA. These are:

  1. Broaden definitions to include the urban environment to strengthen the ability of the RMA to adequately recognise the urban environment. Specific options include:
    1. modifying the definition of ‘environment’ to specifically include the urban environment [UTAG recommendation]
    2. extending the definition of ‘amenity values’ so that it addresses the quality of the urban environment to a greater extent [UTAG recommendation].
  1. Amend the RMA to recognise the benefits of a quality urban environment by making specific reference to it in:
    1. section 6 (matters of national importance to recognise and provide for) [UTAG recommendation] and/or
    2. section 7 (other matters for which to have particular regard) [UTAG recommendation].

There is debate as to whether amending sections 6 or 7 is the most effective or appropriate way to ensure a stronger focus on the urban environment. Including reference to the quality of the urban environment in sections 6 or 7 would ensure explicit consideration was given to this. However, there are potential costs and limitations to this approach, including:

  • adding to the long lists already contained in sections 6 and 7 may reduce the impact of being on the list
  • an unclear intent for any amendment could attract litigation to interpret its meaning.

There is also some evidence from recent experience that inclusion in sections 6 or 7 is not sufficient by itself. An analysis of case law suggests that the recent addition of ‘renewable electricity generation’ to section 7 was not enough to improve consistency and certainty. 33 Therefore an NPS is now under development for renewable electricity generation in order to establish the national significance of benefits associated with it in decision-making under the RMA.

3.2 Greater national direction and clarity

Previous consideration has been given to providing greater national direction and clarity to the priority that central government places on the urban environment. In 2008, an NPS on Urban Design was proposed. Public feedback confirmed that an NPS would help ensure that the quality of the urban environment was recognised in RMA decision-making. 34

The feedback suggested that:

  • the NPS include high-level principles of good planning and urban design that result in a quality urban environment and related benefits
  • that those principles should apply to a range of scales of urban environment – ie, regional, metropolitan areas, cities, towns, neighbourhoods, individual spaces and buildings.

The UTAG supported the scope of such an NPS to complement the existing RMA focus on the natural environment. The UTAG also recommended that it include high-level issues, such as providing land supply and addressing housing affordability. It also considered that the NPS be renamed ‘built environment’, as the term ‘urban design’ is ambiguous, being both an outcome and an activity.

Based on those recommendations, the following options are put forward to rename and/or extend the scope of the proposed NPS to provide greater direction and clarity about the significance central government places on competitive and successful cities:

  1. Provide for the scope of the NPS to:
    1. include policies to require local authorities to provide an adequate supply of land to meet future urban growth demands – ie, at least a 20-year period [UTAG recommendation]
    2. include policies requiring the consideration of housing affordability in decision-making, and regional and district plans under the RMA [UTAG recommendation].
  2. Rename the NPS from ‘urban design’ to the ‘built’ or ‘urban environment’ [UTAG recommendation].

3.3 Spatial planning – enhancing it for Auckland and implementing it for other regions

Government’s programme to further New Zealand’s economic objectives consists of six policy drivers including regulatory reform and investment in infrastructure. Government is interested in improving our planning system by reducing regulatory red tape, improving the use of incentives and getting better value for money from infrastructure investment. This involves looking at the ability to reduce the current levels of litigation, prescription, and long protracted processes; moving from a rules based and compliance heavy system to one that uses incentives to drive changes; more timely implementation; and improved co-ordination in decision-making.

Background to spatial planning

As part of its March 2009 report, the Royal Commission recommended that a new unitary council for the Auckland region — since called the Auckland Council – should develop a spatial plan to provide an overarching vision for Auckland, guide growth management, better align land-use and infrastructure investment, and simplify and streamline the regional and district planning framework.

The Government recognised that the spatial plan would be a key factor in realising a successful outcome from the governance reforms, and so confirmed it as part of its policy response to the Royal Commission’s recommendations. The subsequent Local Government (Auckland Council)

Aerial view of Auckland city – PhotoNZ

Amendment Act 2010 was drafted to both confirm the spatial plan requirement, and provide some high-level direction about what the Auckland spatial plan should contain.

Given the importance of Auckland’s economy to New Zealand, and the potential of the spatial plan tool, it has been a key focus of the planning and urban design reform. The potential of the spatial plan tool to be applied more widely outside of Auckland is also being considered,

The Government recognised that a spatial plan is a tool that will help the Auckland Council deliver on its regional aspirations, and also help central government deliver on national objectives. More importantly, it is a tool that can help ensure that central and local government objectives are well aligned.

The Government is also keen to reduce the number of planning documents whilst avoiding a cumbersome, overly prescriptive process. Ensuring this occurs will require careful consideration of how the Auckland spatial plan fits in with, and relates to, New Zealand’s broader planning and infrastructure investment framework. Matters that require future consideration include:

  • whether the spatial plan should supplement or replace existing regional strategic planning instruments (such as the Regional Land Transport Strategy and Regional Policy Statement) to simplify the planning system
  • the strength of the relationship between the spatial plan and other regulatory instruments (such as district plans) to make it more effective
  • the relationship between the spatial plan and national-level planning and strategic documents (such as the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), Transport Government Policy Statement (GPS), and national policy statements under the RMA) to provide clearer direction
  • the role that central government will play in developing and implementing the spatial plan in Auckland to improve co-ordination between central and local government
  • appeal rights on the spatial plan to reduce costly litigation and drawn out processes
  • the applicability of spatial planning to other areas of New Zealand.

Box 5: Spatial planning – a generic definition

A spatial plan is a high-level strategy for developing a region that relates to its geography, and seeks to achieve desired broad outcomes. Developed and implemented via collaboration between multiple parties, it provides a mechanism for agreeing joint priorities, actions and investment.

Spatial planning is:

  • multi-party – a tool for collaboration between the key decision-makers.
  • focused on the long-term development of cities and regions and improving investment certainty
  • a guide to the location and timing of future infrastructure, services and investment that can be used to provide for the co-location of infrastructure where this is appropriate
  • evidence based
  • integrated across sectors – eg, transport, land use, housing, education, funding policy and regulatory policy – to achieve broad outcomes (economic, social, environmental, cultural)
  • strategic – provides direction to regional funding policy, regulation and other implementation plans (eg, transport, economic development).

Spatial planning is not:

  • prescriptive regulation
  • only about land use.

The UTAG considered spatial planning and made specific recommendations for achieving an effective higher-level planning framework for New Zealand, with a focus on Auckland in the first instance.

Options for Auckland spatial planning are outlined below, followed by options for how spatial planning can apply to other regions.

Options for spatial planning in Auckland

Seven options have been identified to enhance spatial planning in Auckland, including streamlining and simplifying the planning system:

  1. Retain the current spatial planning legislation, which provides flexibility for the Auckland Council in developing and implementing the spatial plan.


  1. Simplify the planning framework for Auckland by:
    1. using the Auckland spatial plan to incorporate either the:
      1. the Regional Land Transport Strategy and Auckland Regional Policy Statement or
      2. the Regional Land Transport Strategy [UTAG recommendation]
  2. replacing RMA plans (ie, regional policy statement, regional and district plans) for Auckland with a requirement for a single unitary plan [UTAG recommendation].
    1. Improve the effectiveness of the Auckland Spatial Plan by giving it an appropriate level of statutory influence 35 on regional and local RMA, 36 LGA 37 and LTMA 38 plans by requiring these to either:
    2. ‘give effect to’ 39 the Auckland spatial plan or
    3. be consistent with’ 40 the Auckland spatial plan [UTAG recommendation] or
    4. ‘having regard for’ 41 the Auckland spatial plan
    5. consider the Auckland spatial plan on a voluntary basis.

Final decisions on the strength of influence that the spatial plan has on other plans and decisions will need to be taken into account in considering how to implement these options. These could include matters such as transaction and compliance costs, and the time frame for implementing any change.

There are related options to balance the rights of individuals and Māori and to ensure that the proposed spatial plan is robust, while reducing costly litigation and improving certainty for investors and the community. The strength of the legislative influence of the spatial plan on other plans and decisions is a core consideration for these safeguard options. The following options have been identified:

  1. Reduce litigation and improve the certainty of decisions, while providing safeguards during development of the spatial plan by either:
    1. providing for:
      1. i. full appeal rights on the spatial plan or
      2. limiting appeal rights to points of law
    2. and/or providing for a statutorily prescribed consultation process instead of the Special Consultative Procedure under the LGA, that:
      1. ensures effective multi-party engagement in regional strategic direction-setting and/or
      2. improves iwi/Māori participation in resource management decision-making
    3. and/or during the development of the spatial plan, requiring an independent specialist review of the spatial plan to test its evidence base, robustness, affordability and coherence, and provide recommendations to the Auckland Council. The Auckland Council to publicly report its response to the recommendations of the review before it adopts the spatial plan.
  2. Provide for review of the spatial plan by:
    1. amending the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act to require the spatial plan to be reviewed every three years, with defined responsibilities for the Government and the Auckland Council in the review process. Neither party can force a review in between the three-year period [UTAG Recommendation]
    2. amending the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act to require statutory linkage with the LTCCP and require the spatial plan to be adopted at the same time or up to 1 year prior to adoption of the LTCCP. [UTAG Recommendations].

Figure 2: A possible spatial planning model for Auckland illustrating plans and the level of statutory influence each has on the other

This image graphically presents a possible structure of the urban planning system in Auckland. The diagram illustrates the role the Auckland Spatial Plan plays in setting the strategic direction, and its potential to replace the Regional Policy Statement and the Regional Land Transport Strategy. The level of statutory influence between the national, regional and local plans is identified as ‘to be decided’.

Key matters for consideration

  • How should central government communicate its objectives for Auckland?
  • How can central government align its spend and decisions to deliver these objectives?
  • How strong is Government’s direction to local government – what degree of influence should it have on the spatial plan?
  • Should the spatial plan replace the role of the RPS and/or the RLTS?
  • What should the consultation process and appeal rights be on the spatial plan?
  • How can Maori best participate in the development of the spatial plan?
  • What degree of influence should the spatial plan have over the designation decisions on individual projects?
  • What degree of influence should the spatial plan have over regulatory and implementation plans?

Options to clarify central government’s role in Auckland’s planning

Urban planning is most often considered a local government issue. However, central government has a major impact on cities through policy making and regulatory and funding decisions. It and its agencies also act as developers, investors, capability builders and providers and operators of infrastructure and services.

The UTAG made a number of recommendations aimed at better co-ordinating local and central government decision-making. This involves central government being much clearer about Auckland’s role within the national and international context and what central government’s specific interests are. While the Government is keen to be clearer about its interests in planning, current budgetary decision-making criteria and process will still apply to both central and local government investments proposed in the spatial plan. Specific options include:

  1. Mechanisms for central government to influence the Auckland spatial plan:
    1. a GPS that sets out the Crown (or national) objectives for Auckland [UTAG recommendation] and/or
    2. require ministerial certification that the Auckland spatial plan complies with all GPSs, before final adoption by the Auckland Council [UTAG recommendation] and/or
    3. make more effective use of existing mechanisms to express Government priorities and direction, including NPSs and NESs and/or
    4. express central government priorities and objectives in a policy mechanism, such as the National Infrastructure Plan and/or
    5. use the spatial plan as the mechanism for engagement between central government and the Auckland Council.
  2. Central government using suitable and appropriate mechanisms to direct its entities, agencies and departments, and funding agencies to:
    1. give effect to a GPS for Auckland [UTAG recommendation] and/or
    2. be consistent with the adopted Auckland spatial plan in decision-making [UTAG recommendation] and/or
    3. have regard to the adopted Auckland spatial plan in decision-making and/or
    4. reflect central government’s priorities and objectives for Auckland in their statements of intent.

"Box 6: Background: Infrastructure policy and the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP)

Infrastructure continues to be one of this Government’s key priorities. It considers that effective investment in the right infrastructure and the efficient management of infrastructure assets over their whole life can make a major contribution to achieving New Zealand’s economic growth aspirations.

The Government’s approach to infrastructure has three parts:

  • a step change in the level of Government investment, with expenditure targeted at key infrastructure priorities
  • improving decision-making and management of the Government’s infrastructure assets
  • improving the regulatory environment to facilitate greater private sector investment in infrastructure.

To these ends, the Government is undertaking a range of actions, including the resource management-related policy and regulatory issues that are being explored by the Infrastructure TAG and Urban TAG. Other actions are being undertaken by the National Infrastructure Unit, with guidance from the National Infrastructure Advisory Board, and in capital-intensive agencies across the wider public sector.

The National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) has been established as the key vehicle for developing and communicating the Government’s infrastructure vision and approach. A first edition was published in early 2010. The NIP signalled that ‘urban form’ and the performance of New Zealand’s cities, and the level of alignment between central and local government infrastructure investment and planning, are important factors in realising the Government’s infrastructure objectives and economic growth aspirations. The NIP points to ways that these longer-term issues might be addressed in the context of Government’s infrastructure policy, and highlights the development of a spatial plan for Auckland as a key opportunity.

Over successive revisions, the aim of the National Infrastructure Plan is to create a nationally-consistent infrastructure planning and investment framework that clearly articulates the Government’s objectives, and its overall strategic direction. The Plan will clearly communicate how central government agencies are expected to invest in and manage infrastructure, the decision-making processes involved (including how they are expected to work effectively with local government), and the constraints – fiscal or otherwise – that Government faces.

Options to consider extending spatial planning with legislative influence to areas outside of Auckland

Various forms of spatial planning occur across New Zealand on a voluntary basis. There are a number of options for extending spatial planning with legislative influence 42 to areas outside of Auckland. As is the case with the Auckland region, any extension of spatial planning to other regions would apply to urban, rural and the coastal marine areas within that region.

Box 7: CASE STUDY: Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy

In 2004 the Urban Development Strategy Partnership was formed on a voluntary basis by Christchurch City Council, Environment Canterbury, Waimakariri District Council, Selwyn District Council and Transit NZ (now NZTA). A memorandum of agreement bound the parties to support and endorse the strategy and its cooperative approach. The resulting strategy was designed to accommodate projected growth of 75,000 households to 2041 and address:

  • dispersal of urban growth with disconnection between residential and employment centres
  • loss of high quality open space
  • increasing traffic and congestion
  • loss of community identity and neighbourhood character
  • threat to quality and quantity of groundwater from development
  • infrastructure required to address profound aging of the population

For the parties involved in the strategy the voluntary approach provides flexibility, avoids prescriptive processes and enables the parties to tailor the strategy to their needs and preferences. However, there are significant time and monetary costs in maintaining relationships and reaching agreements between parties on a voluntary basis.


The strategy is being implemented through existing tools such as the Regional Policy Statement, Regional Land Transport Strategy, Long-term Council Community Plans, and district plans. Area plans are being developed in accordance with the Strategy, and the new chapter of the RPS is nearing Commissioners’ recommendations to Environment Canterbury. Structure plans are underway in Selwyn and Waimakariri District Councils. These will accommodate the growth planned for these areas to 2041 and guide rezoning according to the strategy.

We are interested in feedback on how spatial planning with legislative influence could apply outside Auckland. The options are:

  1. Regional spatial planning with legislative influence to be:
    1. limited to Auckland only or
    2. implemented on a voluntary basis by regions, but only available for those regions facing growth pressures and subject to significant levels of local and central government investment in infrastructure and services or
    3. mandatory in all regions facing growth pressures and subject to significant levels of local and central government investment in infrastructure and services or
    4. implemented on a voluntary basis by regions, for all regions or
    5. mandatory for all regions.

If spatial plans were to be extended outside of Auckland, the timing for adoption would need to take account of the timing of planned review of planning documents, such as regional policy statements and district plans, to minimise the disruption and additional costs.

3.4 Improve tools

Seven options are identified to improve the effectiveness of the tools available to develop, support and maintain quality environments.

Options to improve plans

  1. Introduce a national template for local and regional plans.

    This would be developed by central government. A standardised template would provide a common structure for plans, include a set of common definitions and enable national provisions set through NPSs and NESs to be clear and consistent. Because local government needs to remain responsive to local issues, the national plan template would only contain provisions for matters of national importance, where national direction is required, or where it has been agreed that there is a need or benefit for national consistency; for example, providing for infrastructure.

    New provisions could be incorporated into the RMA to allow a local authority to request an exemption from provisions in the NTP from the Minister for the Environment (or EPA) where provisions in the NTP are not applicable, unreasonable, or impractical in the jurisdiction of the local authority.

  2. Stage the implementation of a national template plan for NPSs and NESs:

    Stage one would be the consolidation of all relevant NPS and NES provisions into a new chapter at the beginning of each plan, with cross references to these national provisions within the plans. Stage one would take two years. Stage two would occur over a five-year period and would see a standardisation of plan structure. The order of chapters common to all plans would be set out and each chapter would include the relevant national direction.

  3. Provide for the production of a combined NPS and NES as a single document to give greater certainty in the implementation of national direction and save cost and time for local authorities.

    This would enable complete national policy and rules (standards) packages to be prepared on any given topic of national importance, or where national consistency is required, and provided to local authorities as a single document. The combined NPS and NES could be used as a way of developing complete provision sets for the national plan template or could function independently if the national template plan idea did not proceed.

Options to improve the quality of urban design

  1. Establish a National Urban Design Panel: This panel, possibly supported by regional panels, could work with territorial authorities and infrastructure agencies, including private infrastructure providers, to develop projects and strategic design proposals. The panel could also provide expert review of nationally and regionally significant policy, plans and projects as and where needed. [UTAG recommendation]
  2. Establish a Government Architect: Government Architects are used in Australia at the state level (Victoria), and in the United States of America at the federal level. Their role in a New Zealand context could include:
    • providing an advocacy role for good urban design and architecture
    • providing expertise on regionally or nationally significant projects
    • assisting with the outputs required of public private partnerships (PPPs) and their design component
    • chairing a national urban design panel
    • supporting the implementation of a NPS
    • enabling Government to lead by example by requiring good quality design in the development and construction of its buildings and the buildings it leases.

Cafes in Chancery Lane, Auckland city – PhotoNZ

Options to improve land assembly

The aim of these options is to create large areas of land and scales of economy to improve the viability of quality urban redevelopment. Creating large areas of land relies on a range of tools to assemble land.

Efficient land assembly aims to improve the urban environment for communities and businesses, and contribute to the improvement of land supply, housing choice and affordability. Internationally, a range of mechanisms are used to achieve land assembly, including the use of compulsory land acquisition in specific places that require regeneration. Options for improving land assembly include:

  1. Relying on existing methods and processes to amalgamate land, including purchase, negotiation and joint ventures.
  2. Extending the scope of the Public Works Act (PWA) to ensure that local authorities are able to compulsorily acquire and amalgamate land for major urban regeneration projects provided:
    1. some form of central government oversight is required as a safeguard [UTAG recommendation] and/or
    2. the power to compulsorily acquire land for urban redevelopment should be used as a tool of last resort [UTAG recommendation] and/or
    3. power to compulsorily acquire land should be limited to specifically defined works and /or
    4. Māori land is not able to be compulsorily acquired under any circumstances.
  3. Develop new tools for land assembly, ie, development of comprehensive development plans to engage landowners previously uninterested, or unable, to develop their land; increasing the ways to share land while retaining freehold title; review of tenure options and land management models to increase methods for land-sharing.

33  Ministry for the Environment. 2008. Proposed National Policy Statement for Renewable Electricity Generation Section 32 Evaluation Report. Wellington. Ref. MF 889. p14.

34  Ministry for the Environment. 2009. Scope of a National Policy Statement on Urban Design: Report on submissions. Wellington. This report states “Most submitters thought an NPS should cover all spatial scales”.

35  For clarity, the term “statutory influence” refers to the spectrum of legal strength of relationships between plans, which provides the legal basis for the spatial plan, and its strategic direction, to influence other plans. This spectrum spans a range of legal threshold tests from high (eg, recognise and provide; give effect), medium (eg, be inconsistent with), to low (eg, have regard; take into account; be informed by).

36  Regional policy statement, regional plans, district plans.

37  Long-term council community plans.

38  Regional Land Transport Strategy, Regional Land Transport Programme.

39 ‘Give effect’ has a high level of influence, and requires implementation plans to actively implement the spatial plan without any flexibility.

40 ‘Be consistent with’ has a medium level of influence, and provides some flexibility on how implementation plans implement the spatial plan.

41 ‘Having regard for’ has a low level of influence, and provides guidance on how implementation plans implement the spatial plan.

42  Legislative/statutory influence means the ability and the level of influence that a plan or decision has on other plans and decisions as set out in legislation. Typical phrases used to convey legislative influence include ‘give effect’, ‘be consistent with’, ‘have regard to’.