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5. Learning from the Experience

5.1 Success factors

The survey sought to identify the factors that had either contributed to the success of actions or hindered their implementation. Respondents who had not submitted an action plan were also asked to identify factors that had made it difficult for them to do this.

(a) Contributors to achievement of actions

A checklist of possible success factors was provided for signatories to respond to (see Individual Actions form, Appendix 1). There was also opportunity to identify factors that were not included in the list. Respondents were also asked to rank the three most important success factors.

Figure 6 shows the total number of actions to which each success factor contributed. Support from managers was identified as contributing to the achievement of two thirds of actions reported on. While inclusion of resources in the organisation’s budget was not identified as a contributor to so many actions, it was ranked as most important by more people than any other factor. Support from the Ministry for the Environment contributed to less than a third of actions and received the smallest number of importance rankings. However, central government respondents identified this support as important in achievement of nearly three quarters of the actions they reported on.

All the factors except for support from the Ministry appear most significant for design projects. This is particularly so for managerial support, which was identified as important in contributing to achievement of 80 percent of these actions. There are few distinctions between other types of actions in terms of their requirements for success, although actions concerned with raising awareness are less dependent on political support than other actions.

Support from managers was identified as contributing to the achievement of two thirds of actions reported on. Resources in budget and access to internal skills was also seen as important. Support from MfE was seen as the least important success factor.

Figure 6: Factors contributing to achievement of actions

Several other factors were identified by respondents as important in achieving actions. Of these, the factor mentioned most often was statutory requirements. Others included:

  • commitments in annual and strategic plans

  • awareness and support in the wider organisation

  • a supportive and creative communications team

  • good working relationships with key organisations (including territorial authorities)

  • input and support from stakeholders and the community

  • information sharing and networks

  • resolution of Environment Court appeals

  • “pure determination”.

(b) Factors hindering achievement of actions

The survey also included a checklist of potential hindrances to achievement of actions (see Appendix 1). Figure 7 shows the overall pattern of responses to this. The total number of times factors were identified as hindrances was much less that in the list of contributors to achievement. Only insufficient time and insufficient resources in the budget were identified for a significant number of actions. Lack of time because of other work priorities, as well as being cited most often, was ranked as a more important factor than lack of resources. Lack of time was most significant for actions concerned with urban design processes and developing guidelines, whereas design projects and actions aiming to increase awareness and understanding were most likely to be hindered by lack of resources in the budget.

The main factor hindering the achievement of actions was insufficient time.

Figure 7: Factors hindering achievement of actions

While the numbers of listed factors identified by people as hindrances was low, many respondents identified other factors.

Several people identified factors to do with the nature of the action being implemented. These included complexity of issues, changes in the scope of the action while it is being implemented, and requirements for related policies or strategies to be put in place before the action can be implemented.

Hindrances related to organisational structures and processes were also identified. These ranged from internal communication problems and a lack of integrated approach across teams to delay pending restructuring. Some actions had also been deferred due to changing work patterns and priorities.

A lack of interest or commitment by clients or other organisations hindered some actions. Two respondents referred to the absence of a common understanding of urban design, with one commenting: “Everyone agrees to the idea, but everyone is allowed a different interpretation of how to do it”.

One signatory identified economic drivers for development as a factor hindering design-led development: “The built form, in the context of a new residential ‘average’ subdivision is very difficult to control without discouraging the spec builder market and threatening the economics of the development”.

Other factors mentioned included:

  • regulatory requirements and Environment Court appeals

  • lengthy consultation processes

  • the absence of New Zealand models for comparison (in the case of new approaches to subdivision design)

  • project delays beyond the control of the respondent

  • vandalism.

(b) Factors hindering development of action plans

As noted earlier in this report, there were nine survey respondents who had not yet submitted action plans. These signatories were asked to identify factors that had made it difficult for them to develop their plans. All identified insufficient time to spend on the plan as a factor, with five also identifying it as the most significant. Three respondents also identified that insufficient resources were included in the organisation’s budget, and two were not able to access resources even though they had been included in the budget. As well as the listed factors, two people said that changes in staff had hindered progress.

This group was also asked whether the Ministry for the Environment or their own organisation could have done anything to help develop the action plan. One respondent suggested that provision of a template by the Ministry could have helped, although another commented that the Ministry had helped by providing a copy of another signatory’s action plan. Two respondents felt that their organisation could have dedicated more resources to the task.

5.2 Lessons learnt

Signatories highlighted a variety of lessons that have been learnt through their involvement with the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol.

For some, developing the action plan has allowed their organisation to better maintain focus on urban design issues, increasing the likelihood of action being taken on these. A greater sense of design cohesion and direction has also resulted in more innovation. One respondent who admitted to being sceptical about the broad framework of the Protocol to start with, now sees the value of such an overarching policy document in raising the profile of urban design, providing a framework for discussion and a basis for arguing the case for urban design.

While involvement has increased awareness and understanding of the importance of urban design, a number of signatories have learnt that it is not always easy to embed this throughout the organisation. Time needs to be allowed for this to happen, and it can take constant effort to challenge ways of doing things and to establish new processes. Achieving visible success in early projects was seen as important in promoting urban design approaches and influencing wider organisational policy. Getting buy-in from key people and from the organisation as a whole was identified as critical in achieving success. For one signatory, it was important that the action plan was not seen as extra work, but rather part of the way this work is done. Recognising the Protocol and action plan in strategic plans can be helpful in this.

Some signatories commented on the resourcing needed to develop and implement action plans – including both financial and human resources. It was noted that if the role of developing the plan is additional to existing roles, it needs to be recognised that it will take longer for effective action to occur. The need to maintain resourcing over time was also mentioned. Several respondents commented on the need for development of skills in urban design, and one noted that it can sometimes be difficult to link conceptual principles to everyday work environments and decisions.

The importance of dialogue and collaboration was emphasised by several respondents, and one commented: “Don’t underestimate the importance of creating a forum for urban design issues to be discussed from a national perspective”.

5.3 Future direction

(a) The role of the Ministry for the Environment

Respondents were very positive about the proactive role that the Ministry for the Environment has played in initiating the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol and supporting signatories in implementing it. Survey respondents stressed the need for this support to continue in order to ensure implementation and ongoing renewal of commitments on the part of signatories. One respondent suggested that direct presentations to councillors and other key decision-makers, with a focus on marketing the benefits to the city or organisation of good urban design, would assist with this.

As part of its support role, some signatories would also like the Ministry to provide feedback to them on their action plans so they can be more confident they are working in the right direction. One suggested that an urban design peer review service would be helpful for organisations without easy access to urban design expertise.

As discussed earlier in this report, many people found the urban design resources made available by the Ministry helpful. Consideration could be given to extending the range of resources to provide for some of the additional needs identified. These include:

  • guidance at the technical design level

  • More research into the value of good urban design and information to help signatories decide what actions will be cost-effective

  • research, or compilation of existing research, into social and economic issues contributing to poor urban design (for example, affordability, poor construction design, transportation issues, and social ghettoing)

  • documentation of a wider range of case studies (for example small residential subdivisions).

Some respondents suggested that a web-based forum for signatories (beyond the champions’ network) would be valuable in improving communication and sharing of experience between signatories. This could also be used as a vehicle by the Ministry to disseminate information.

Respondents identified problems faced in accessing resources to fund training, cross-disciplinary dialogue, local awareness-raising initiatives and audit or review of their actions. It is not clear what role the Ministry could have in relation to some of these matters, but there may be opportunities for facilitating access to funding or identifying cost-effective ways to address these needs.

Some suggestions were made about potential next steps in regard to taking the Protocol further and improving the effectiveness of implementation. Potential areas of focus identified are:

  • greater co-ordination of implementation between signatories to make progress less uneven

  • developing more sophisticated approaches to improving urban design

  • helping councils build urban design into “second generation” district plans to provide a solid framework for improvement.

(b) The future of the champions’ network

As discussed earlier, signatories have generally found the champions’ network a useful forum for learning and sharing experience. One commented that the champions’ workshops “keep the Protocol alive”. The Ministry for the Environment’s goal for the network is that it becomes more self-sustaining; however, some comments made by signatories suggest that support will be needed for some time. There were some suggestions that not all champions are yet clear or confident about their role into the future, and that personal follow-up might be needed with some. One respondent felt that it would add to the profile and kudos attached to the role if Ministers were involved in some way (for example, speaking at some workshops).

Consideration could also be given to ways of ensuring that workshops provide for the full range of signatory organisations, including the different sectors and organisations outside the main centres. It might be possible, for example, to make use of professional institutes to facilitate local or sectoral meetings.

(c) Building capacity

One of the biggest problems identified in building capacity to improve the quality of urban environments is a lack of training opportunities. Signatories felt it would be helpful for the Ministry for the Environment to look for ways to facilitate greater opportunities. A particular need was identified for part-time or extramural courses for people who are working with urban design issues but have not had formal training in this area. It was suggested that the Ministry could work with universities to encourage them to develop such courses.

Some respondents felt that, because there is limited urban design expertise available in New Zealand, consideration should be given to ways of drawing more on international experts. One respondent suggested this would be helpful in developing a better understanding of the science behind urban design.

One signatory was concerned that the variability in expertise in urban design among consultants carries a risk for organisations seeking input on development projects. It was suggested that an accreditation process, with a database of approved practitioners, would help reduce this risk.

Several other suggestions were made about possible approaches to building capacity, including:

  • greater focus on developing understanding of urban design principles among the general public to build support for change

  • making training available for new local authority politicians early in their first term

  • looking for creative ways to stimulate cross-disciplinary dialogue and debate.

(d) Integration across government

While the Ministry for the Environment has a highly visible role in promoting the Protocol, signatories were less clear about the role played by other central government agencies. Some people felt that there is a lack of co-ordination and consistency between agencies in the way they approach issues with urban design implications. Although a range of central government agencies are signatories to the Protocol, the profile of this is not always very high. One respondent suggested that it would be helpful to compile a summary statement of each agency’s role in relation to urban design, and how they are approaching that role.

It was suggested that the Ministry for the Environment could play a role in reminding other government agencies of their commitment to the Protocol and facilitate more interaction and development of a common strategic vision for urban design across government. Potential for integration of urban design into Govt3 programmes and better co-ordination between health, transport, climate change, building and housing, and environmental policy could also be explored.

(e) The policy framework

Respondents identified several concerns about the way in which current policy frameworks hinder achievement of good urban design.

Several people felt there is a need to make progress in developing a national policy statement to provide stronger direction for regional policy statements and regional and district plans. In particular this was seen as important to get greater national consistency in the way local authorities approach urban design. Two specific matters identified in this regard were a lack of consistency in approaches to new design solutions, and a lack of clarity about how design guidelines (as opposed to rules) should be used in the context of district plans. A need for greater statutory weight to be given to urban design was also seen by one signatory as important to avoid the frustration of Environment Court decisions overturning council decisions made on the basis of urban design effects.

Other parts of the policy framework identified as acting against the objectives of the Protocol included:

  • transportation and energy policy – one respondent commented that there needs to be more interaction between the transportation sector and urban designers

  • Building Code requirements in relation to earthquake strengthening and fire safety, and gaps in requirements concerning noise insulation, ventilation and living space

  • the designation process in the Resource Management Act – the lack of any requirement to comply with an outline plan was seen as limiting the ability to improve design of works such as airport facilities.

Some signatories also stressed the need to integrate urban design into key government strategic issues such as economic transformation, national identity, families and health.