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3. Implementing Action Plans

3.1 Overview of action plans

The scale of actions and the approach taken in action plans varies widely, reflecting the diversity of signatories to the Protocol. A few respondents commented on the limitations of the action plan as a tool to accommodate some types of actions. For example, one signatory found it difficult to fit some projects, particularly physical design works, into the categories provided. This signatory also felt that the action plan approach does not provide an adequate means of measuring achievements in ongoing, complex processes – particularly where the way the process is carried out, rather than its outputs, is most important. Another respondent felt that the approach does not easily fit the role of some sector organisations who are involved in advocacy on specific matters related to urban design rather than directly affecting current practice.

While there is a wide range of actions included in action plans, signatories appeared to take one of two key approaches to developing the plans. In the first approach, signatories see their commitment to the Protocol as providing a framework and stronger focus for work they are already carrying out and have used the action plan to pull together and enhance existing projects and processes. With the second approach, signatories view the commitment to the Protocol as a challenge to try new ways of doing work. Organisations adopting the second approach have developed action plans that include new projects and new approaches to existing processes. Responses to the survey indicate that the second approach carries the potential for both greater difficulties and greater benefits.

Half of the plans reported on by respondents contain fewer than 10 actions. However, five respondents are each working towards implementing more than 20, with one respondent having a plan that includes 31 actions. Some respondents only completed the part of the survey on the overall action plan, but individual survey forms were completed for 310 actions. This represents 52 percent of all the respondents’ actions and 37 percent of the total number of actions included in action plans submitted by the time of the survey.

It is difficult to get a full picture of progress made in implementing actions, as some respondents did not submit questionnaires on actions which have not yet been started. However, an indication of progress made can be obtained from the anticipated completion dates reported for individual actions. Figure 2 indicates the anticipated time for completion of the 310 actions reported on. A quarter of these actions (77) have been completed. Of the others, a further 73 are expected to be completed by the end of 2007. Ninety actions (29 percent) were recorded as being ongoing; these included half of the actions which have been commenced but not completed.

Figure 2: Timeframes for completion of actions

A quarter of all actions reported on (310 in total) had been completed at the time of the survey. Of the others, a further 73 were expected to be completed by the end of 2007 and 90 were recorded as ongoing.

For all actions they had started to implement, signatories were asked to assess the overall success of the action. Two thirds of the actions were rated as having “good” or “excellent” outcomes, with 31 percent assessed as “fair” and only 4 percent as “poor”. A breakdown of the way respondents in each sector rated their actions is shown in Figure 3 (for sectors reporting on more than one action).

Two thirds of the actions were rated as having "good" or "excellent" outcomes, with 31 percent assessed as "fair" and only 4 percent as "poor".

Figure 3: Rating by respondents of success of individual actions

Respondents provided some tips for making action plans successful. Several stressed the need to keep the plan small, simple and achievable within the resources available to the organisation; however, one signatory felt that it is important to be ambitious and raise expectations in developing the plan and then seek to get the resources to make sure expectations can be met. The need to choose actions that can be monitored, and to include qualitative assessment of outcomes as well as completion of actions, was also identified. Some signatories also urged that action plans should be viewed as an ongoing, open-ended programme rather than a group of finite actions to be “ticked off”.

An integrated approach to developing a successful plan

A central government agency, faced with the need to develop a plan reflecting and integrating both its policy and provider roles, decided to involve people from across the organisation in developing its action plan. A cross-disciplinary team was drawn together, including policy, operational and human resources staff. The extra time required to develop the plan in this way has paid off in obtaining buy-in across the organisation. To further embed the action plan and ensure successful implementation, incorporation of urban design has been made a performance indicator for relevant staff. Education has been provided throughout the organisation to support this approach.

3.2 The range of actions

Respondents were asked to categorise each action in relation to one or more of the action types described in the Action Pack1 provided by the Ministry for the Environment to all signatories. The categorisation of actions by signatories is shown in Figure 4, and differs in several ways from the breakdown provided in the Urban Design Action Plan Review2 carried out by the Ministry in March 2006. Differences include the following:

  • The breakdown only includes actions reported on specifically in the survey, rather than all actions of all signatories.

  • The breakdown shows the proportion of actions in each category, rather than the proportion of signatories submitting actions in each category.

  • The categorisation of actions in Figure 4 reflects the perception of signatories as to the appropriate categories for actions.

  • Signatories were given the option of identifying more than one category for each action, and many actions were assigned multiple categories.

Actions aimed at championing urban design and raising awareness have a strong emphasis similar to that apparent in the Urban Design Action Plan Review breakdown. However, actions aimed at developing strategy to increase the quality of the built environment and those concerned with being a good client have less prominence. Conversely, actions aimed at making better urban design decisions are given much greater emphasis. This emphasis, as well as the strong focus on awareness-raising actions, is apparent in comments made by respondents about changes they have seen in their organisations as a result of involvement with the Protocol.

Respondents were asked to categorise each action in relation to one or more of the action types described in the action pack. The figure shows that actions aimed at championing urban design and raising awareness have a strong emphasis; however actions aimed at planning futures and being a good client have less prominence in signatories action plans.

Figure 4: Proportion of actions contributing to Action Pack categories

As many of the actions do not clearly fall into a single category, they have been broken down in a different way to assist analysis in this report. Objectives of the survey include assessing the influence of action plans on awareness of urban design, on urban design processes and on design outcomes. To facilitate this assessment it is useful to group the actions according to their focus on one of the following:

  • developing awareness and understanding

  • improving urban design processes

  • developing design guidelines (this group falls between actions concerned with processes and those concerned with outcomes)

  • design projects.

The actions reported on in each of these groups are described below.

(a) Developing awareness and understanding

Actions aimed at developing awareness and understanding include both those focusing on internal understanding of urban design and those seeking to increase awareness beyond the organisation.

Of the respondents who reported on individual actions, a majority are implementing at least one action aimed at increasing awareness and understanding in their organisation, and some have identified several. Most of these internally directed actions can be generally described as capacity-building initiatives. They include providing opportunities for exposure to the experience of others by way of access to urban design resources and attendance at seminars and workshops, as well as seeking opportunities for more formal training. A few signatories have restructured internal teams or employed specialist urban designers to increase the overall skills and capacity of the organisation. Some (for example, the University of Otago) are carrying out research to improve their understanding of urban design issues. In addition to capacity-building there are also some actions aimed at spreading awareness among specific parts of the organisation (for example, by holding councillor workshops) or more broadly (for example, by means of newsletters or internal seminars).

The range of actions being implemented to build awareness and understanding of urban design outside the organisation is much wider. It includes:

  • developing presentations and training for specific groups

  • holding public forums to raise general awareness

  • publicising examples of good design (including setting up awards programmes)

  • promoting and discussing urban design in existing sectoral forums

  • establishing urban design interest groups to share experience

  • encouraging other organisations to become signatories

  • advocacy by way of submissions on particular issues or projects

  • using consultation on specific projects to influence peers, clients and other agencies involved to consider alternative approaches

  • gathering information and carrying out research on urban design issues and disseminating the results

  • promoting the use of tools which are helpful in thinking about urban design (for example, health impact assessment and community street audits).

Using new tools to build understanding of development impacts

Health impact assessment is being promoted by the Ministry of Health as a tool to assist decision-making at a policy and project level in creating healthy communities through sustainable urban design. Some initiatives it has been applied to recently include Mangere’s Let’s Beat Diabetes campaign (to highlight aspects of urban design that might contribute to a reduction of obesity levels in the district), assessing the health and wellbeing impacts of the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy, the impacts of future urban intensification in Avondale, and assisting the transport sector to meet public health objectives of the New Zealand Transport Strategy 2002. A Health Impact Assessment Support Unit is to be set up within the Ministry of Health by mid-2007 to work across central and local government.

(b) Improving urban design processes

Many signatories are implementing actions that involve taking a fresh look at the strategic direction of their organisation, including the content of key strategy and policy documents, to determine whether there are ways in which urban design can be given greater weight. A few have focused on incorporating urban design into strategic plans and long-term council community plans, or securing greater provision for urban design in organisational budgets. However, most are concentrating on particular strategies which have urban design implications. As would be expected, these include strategies addressing transport, growth, urban form and heritage, but there are also actions that look at issues of social behaviour, safety and public art. While most of the signatories undertaking these actions are local authorities, some are being implemented by central government agencies.

Many local authorities are investigating whether provisions of regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans should be amended to provide a stronger direction or better guidance on urban design. Both local authorities and central government agencies, as well as a few consultants, have also identified actions to review policies, procedures and development projects across the organisation to determine whether urban design principles should be incorporated. Two central government agencies are intending to review policies for funding capital construction projects to incorporate urban design considerations.

The action plan has been used by some signatories as an impetus to re-evaluating their approach to development projects. These organisations have identified actions which aim to facilitate consideration of urban design principles much earlier in the process than has typically been the case in the past, and to ensure that consideration continues through the life of the project. Actions include:

  • increasing emphasis on forward planning and master planning

  • establishing multidisciplinary (and multi-organisation) project teams from the conceptual stage of a project

  • formal internal or external peer review processes for major projects

  • increased consultation with stakeholders and the community in development of projects

  • seeking specialist urban design advice.

Similar actions have been implemented by some local authorities in dealing with proposals that require resource consent. These include integrated “case management” approaches introduced by two councils to facilitate the process for consent applicants. Auckland and Manukau City Councils and Hastings District Council have established specialist urban design panels to assess proposals and provide advice about incorporating urban design principles, and two other councils intending to investigate doing this.

As well as actions focusing on internal processes, several signatories have identified actions involving collaboration with other organisations. These include participation in whole-of-government initiatives, council planning initiatives and joint strategic projects such as the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy and the Auckland Regional Growth Forum.

Two signatories have identified monitoring and evaluation of actions as a specific action in itself, providing a useful reminder about the need to do this.

(c) Developing design guidelines

Design guidelines are an important tool for interpreting policies in a way that can be incorporated into design projects. Several signatories are undertaking, or intend to undertake, actions to prepare and implement guidelines for various types of development. Some examples of these are:

  • preparation of subdivision and development principles and requirements prepared by Kapiti Coast District Council to encourage innovative and sustainable development

  • Policy and Guidelines for Responsible Network Deployment developed by Vodafone New Zealand to minimise visual and other environmental impacts of mobile phone sites

  • public realm guidelines to be developed by Manukau City Council.

(d) Design projects

A few signatories have actions that seek broadly to deliver high quality design in all development projects, for example by applying an “urban design checklist” or streetscape requirements to all projects. Some others have focused on enhancing the quality specifications that apply to contractors engaged in a project – these provide for quality criteria in tender procedures and incorporation of urban design elements into contracts and construction briefs.

A greater proportion of actions are more directly focused on the design of projects. One group of these, identified by local government signatories, includes broad scale planning projects such as frameworks for redevelopment of particular urban areas. The other group, which is being implemented by both public and private sector signatories, includes specific physical projects ranging in scale from residential developments and public buildings to new paving and graffiti minimisation.

While most actions are concerned with design projects initiated by signatory organisations or their clients, Far North District Council also provides grant funding to assist communities to initiate community improvement projects.

A collaborative approach to design

Auckland City Council held an international competition for the design of Matiatia, the coastal and wetland gateway to Waiheke Island. Workshops were held with the community to agree the urban design principles. These were used to set the competition brief and some members of the community have been included in the judging team. The public have also had the opportunity for input on the range of designs submitted.

3.3 Support for implementation

Signatories have the scope to develop and implement action plans in the way that best suits their roles and the way their organisations work. However, there are two “foundation stones” that all signatories have in common. The first is access to urban design resources and advice from the Ministry for the Environment. The second is the appointment of a Design Champion within each signatory organisation and, through this appointment, access to a network of other Design Champions. As well as these sources of support, many signatories have made use of other resources and networks. The survey sought to gauge the degree to which these have been helpful in developing and implementing action plans.

(a) Support from the Ministry for the Environment

The majority of respondents have drawn on support from the Ministry for the Environment in developing and implementing their action plans. Overall, three quarters of those who had submitted action plans indicated that they used resources provided by the Ministry and half had discussions with Ministry staff. Table 1 shows the number of respondents from each sector who used the support available from the Ministry. Signatories in the local government sector made the most use of the resources, with 94 percent of all local government respondents referring to these. On the other hand, central government agencies were more likely than signatories in any other sector to talk directly with Ministry for the Environment staff, with 9 out of the 11 of them doing this. This may be a reflection of existing relationships between central government agencies.

Table 1: Use of support from Ministry for the Environment

Sector

Use of MfE resources Discussions with MfE staff
Yes No Unsure Total Yes No Unsure Total

Central government

8

3

0

11

9

2

0

11

Local government

15

1

0

16

9

4

2

15

Developer/investor

2

2

0

4

1

3

0

4

Consultant

14

3

0

17

4

10

1

15

Professional institute

2

1

0

3

2

1

0

3

Educational institute

1

1

0

2

1

1

0

2

Sector organisation

3

0

1

4

4

0

0

4

Total 3

45

11

1

57

30

21

3

54

Of the urban design resources made available by the Ministry, the Urban Design Toolkit and the Action Pack were used most. While two thirds of respondents used the Toolkit, people had mixed views about its value to them. Some ranked it as the most useful resource, but several felt it was pitched at too high a level for their use. In follow-up interviews, three people identified a need for more specific technical guidance about how to apply urban design principles in practice – one referred to the UK Urban Design Compendium as an example of such guidance. Two signatories also identified a need for more information about integrating urban design and transport systems.

The New Zealand Urban Design Protocol itself was also identified by a significant number of signatories as a useful resource. Two signatories in follow-up interviews highlighted the value of the document in articulating what urban design is and providing a common “language” for talking about urban design.

Besides these key documents, signatories also used a variety of other resources. These included:

  • other Protocol supporting documents (The Value of Urban Design4 and Urban Design Case Studies)

  • People, Places, Spaces5

  • champions’ network newsletters, e-mails and workshops

  • resources on the Ministry for the Environment and Quality Planning websites.

One respondent was frustrated that The Value of Urban Design was not available in hard copy for distribution to interested people (although a summary of this document was produced in hard copy). This signatory and one other thought it would also be helpful to have further resources evaluating the costs and benefits of approaches to urban design.

(b) The role of the Design Champion

The one action required of all signatories is to appoint a Design Champion at a senior level in the organisation to promote and champion urban design and challenge existing approaches in the organisation. Champions are given support and encouragement to carry out this role through the Urban Design Champions’ Network.

A large majority of survey respondents felt that their Design Champions have been effective in helping to promote urban design both within and beyond the signatory organisations, and in networking with others through the champions’ network. For example, champions in local government have persuaded councillors and managers of the importance of urban design. They have also supported staff in seeking improvements in urban design. Outside the organisation, champions have been active in leading forums, making presentations to their peers and advocating for good urban design in relation to specific issues. Champions in the private sector have also worked to encourage clients to seek specialist advice on urban design to improve the quality of their projects. One local government respondent stated that the champion’s strong leadership “is enabling significant and fundamental changes to occur both internally and externally in the city”.

Views on the effectiveness of champions in challenging the way their organisations approach urban design were more mixed; however, 60 percent felt they had had some effect. Examples of the way this role has been carried out include advocating for design review on major projects, identifying opportunities for the organisation to become more involved in urban design issues and promoting strong relationships with agencies who can contribute their experience.

Overall, the role was seen as most helpful in promoting urban design within the organisation, with less achieved through networking and challenging existing approaches. Some signatories commented that the ability for their champions to be effective was hindered by a lack of resources to support their role. While most champions have participated in the champions’ network, involvement of some has been limited by competing demands on their time. The lack of both time and other resources (including resources to provide adequate staff support) has also hindered some champions’ ability to promote urban design externally.

In general, signatories see the champions’ network as an important forum for maintaining the profile of urban design and building understanding of what it means. However, some felt that there is a need to spread the benefits more widely, both geographically and throughout signatory organisations. Because of other demands on their time, some champions find it difficult to get the opportunity to disseminate what they have learnt in champions’ workshops throughout their organisations. Several from outside the main centres, and in the South Island generally, were also frustrated by the lack of workshop opportunities close to where they work. The time required to get to and from workshops in distant centres was seen as a significant obstacle to their participation. Two respondents, one from the central government and one from the private sector, commented that they would benefit from more opportunities in workshops to hear the experience of others working in their sectors.

Some signatories commented on the influence that the level of seniority of champions within their organisations has had on their effectiveness. Most comments supported the need to have signatories at a leadership level, and two were taking steps to appoint champions at a higher level. However, some respondents noted that such people often have multiple responsibilities and that this can limit the time they are able to devote to the champion role. A solution that some signatories, particularly in the local government sector, have adopted is to have two champions – one at a leadership level and one involved in management or implementation. One respondent commented that the variety of levels at which different champions operate is not easily catered for by the champions network. This respondent suggested there is a need for workshops pitched at each level, with “big picture” workshops on promoting the benefits of urban design for the leadership level and technical workshops for the management/ operational level.

(c) Working with others

While the support available from the Ministry for the Environment and the champions’ network were important, discussion and collaboration with other organisations and resources obtained from outside the network of signatories were generally seen as more significant in developing and implementing the action plans.

The way in which respondents are working with others takes many forms. Some are working with others in the same sector to share information, promote urban design more widely and learn together. Many are also using their involvement with organisations in other sectors in relation to specific projects as an opportunity for shared learning. Urban design interest groups have been initiated in some sectors and localities to provide additional forums for discussion and advocacy – for example, Land Transport New Zealand has established a transport sector urban design group with other central government agencies. A few signatories are also building relationships with international experts and networks to benefit from their experience.

There are also many examples of more intensive collaboration. These include developing joint seminars and training programmes, and joint initiatives to develop research and guidance or achieve particular design outcomes. Some organisations have gone further and developed mechanisms and structures for collaborative input into decision-making. One mechanism being used by several respondents is the formation of specialist urban design panels or review committees, drawing in experts from outside the organisation to help make decisions about design projects. The best known of these forums are the urban design panels established by some local authorities to guide decisions on resource consents. However, similar peer review groups are also being used in other settings. For example, the University of Otago has set up a Campus Planning and Design Subcommittee involving architects from local government and the private sector to review its development proposals. Another signatory uses multi-agency design teams to ensure other organisations involved in a project can contribute from the design phase.


1 Action Pack. Ministry for the Environment, March 2005.

2 Urban Design Action Plan Review. Ministry for the Environment, March 2006.

3 Totals vary because not all respondents answered each question.

4 The Value of Urban Design: The economic, environmental and social benefits of urban design. Ministry for the Environment, June 2005.

5 People, Places, Spaces: A design guide for urban New Zealand. Ministry for the Environment, June 2001.