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Ideas for action - central government

Championing urban design and raising awareness

An important component of achieving good design is raising awareness of the benefits and challenging existing approaches where they do not result in good outcomes. Individual champions at a senior level within an organisation can be a very effective mechanism for bringing about change.


  1. Appoint a 'Design Champion' at a senior influential level to promote and champion quality design and to challenge existing approaches throughout a department.
  2. Commission a scoping review of all departmental programmes and projects to identify the opportunities and implications for urban design.
  3. Communicate urban design initiatives to stakeholders and sector groups.
  4. Develop an urban design demonstration project.

Developing strategy and policy

A range of government legislation, strategies and policies have an important influence on urban design. These include:

  • indirect impacts of national policy eg, immigration policies that affect where migrants live and work and therefore affect growth pressures in our cities; import policies that affect the number of second-hand cars on our roads and therefore traffic growth in towns and cities
  • direct impacts from policy that sets directions for the provision of significant urban infrastructure eg, transport policies that set the direction for provision of roads and public transport; health policies that set the direction for provision of hospitals; housing strategies that set priorities for housing provision
  • legislation setting the framework for aspects of urban management eg, Resource Management Act 1991, Local Government Act 2002, Land Transport Management Act 2003.

All of these have a significant influence on the form of the built environment at a national and local level. The implications of all these policies for the overall urban design of our cities and towns must be considered at the policy formulation stage.


  1. Ensure that urban design implications of any proposed new legislation, strategy or policy affecting the built environment are considered at the policy formulation stage.
  2. Prepare national policy advice on urban issues that demonstrates the Government's leadership role and encourages a co-ordinated approach.

Planning futures

Government departments and Crown entities play a major role in providing and funding urban infrastructure. Adequate forward planning is essential to ensure that infrastructure meets local and regional needs, that planning and provision is co-ordinated with regional and local government, and that its development contributes positively to the form of the town or city.


  1. Include urban design issues in any rolling reviews of infrastructure needs.
  2. Co-ordinate planning of infrastructure with local and regional government through the long term council community plan and district plan processes, taking account of projected growth and land uses.
  3. Develop a proactive acquisition strategy that uses urban design principles to identify and purchase/designate suitable sites for major infrastructure.
  4. Co-ordinate planning and provision of infrastructure between government, local government and other infrastructure providers to achieve greater integration and efficiencies in urban areas.

Being a good client

Some government departments and Crown entities undertake direct design and construction of buildings (eg, departmental offices) and infrastructure (eg, roads, hospitals, schools, courts, prisons, police stations); others take out long term leases on buildings or provide funding to other agencies to manage construction activities. In all these situations, the departments act as clients. They have a significant influence on the outcomes, including urban design issues. The design of every new building or piece of infrastructure should consider quality, adaptability, sustainability and functionality, as well as its potential contribution to the urban area it serves.

Client influence for directly managed projects is especially effective at the tender stage, particularly the brief for the consultant or contractor and the tender evaluation criteria. For indirectly managed projects, clients can influence the policies and guidelines that apply to the managing agencies. These should include achieving quality urban design as a key outcome and provide guidance and assistance to meet this objective. It is important that the public sector lead by example and insist on quality design in all physical construction projects.


  1. Commit to achieving high quality urban design in all government construction projects, whether directly or indirectly managed.
  2. Ensure tenders for construction are judged against value for money (including quality, adaptability, sustainability and functionality), rather than just least cost.
  3. Develop clear urban design guidelines and procedures for managing construction and infrastructure projects from inception to completion, including guidelines on technical information, writing a brief, tender procedures, assessment criteria, choosing a team, partnership and project management.
  4. Develop a 'partnering' approach between client, designer and contractor to ensure quality urban design at all stages of the project, as an alternative to a standard contractor relationship.
  5. Set a clear and realistic budget that reflects capital costs and whole life costs (including putting an economic value on the added benefits of design quality).

Making decisions

Although a department may have no statutory consent functions, their decisions can still affect urban areas. Such decisions include:

  • designations of land for public purposes under the Resource Management Act
  • funding of major infrastructure projects
  • urban related programmes and projects
  • governance structures.

It is important that the urban design implications of any decisions are explicitly considered.


  1. Consider ways of incorporating urban design guidance in decision-making and develop departmental guidelines on best practice procedures.
  2. Submit major development schemes to an urban design advisory group or design panel.
  3. Consider the urban design implications before making a decision on a designation, or the provision of funding of major infrastructure.

Exchanging information and research

To make better decisions and get better outcomes, we need better information about how our towns and cities are faring and how effective interventions have been. To make the best use of scarce resources, government departments need to share their research with other departments, with local government and other organisations.

Learning from past experience, including other organisation's experience, increases effectiveness and results in better outcomes. Each department can document and make available its own information and experiences. Departments that have a dedicated research capacity have an important role in providing valuable research findings to less resourced organisations.


  1. Provide training and advice on how to achieve quality urban design to managing agents (eg, school trustee boards, or district health boards).
  2. Document and publish any urban related research undertaken on behalf of your department and make it available to others, including through publication on your website.
  3. Develop joint programmes of research with other departments, local government, universities and research agencies to maximise efficiency and increase co-ordination.
  4. Document examples of urban design best practice procedures and processes and make this information available on your website and other suitable websites eg, the Quality Planning (QP) website.
  5. Before starting a major development project or policy development process research existing examples of urban design best practice.
  6. Make a commitment to effective consultation with local government as part of the development of major policies and major decisions.
  7. Document case studies of good urban design practice, including demonstration projects.

Integrating management

Urban areas are complex systems that require integrated management on a geographical basis eg, a region. Government departments have traditionally approached issues from a narrower sectoral basis, often at a national level. This can result in policies or programmes being put in place that are not effectively co-ordinated and integrated with urban management at the local level, and which may have unintended consequences in other aspects of the urban system, including urban design. Departments need to recognise their role as contributors to urban management and develop more integrated ways of working.


  1. Develop a multi-disciplinary team approach to urban management issues and break down sectoral or professional boundaries.
  2. Develop cross-cutting teams to co-ordinate policy and programmes for urban areas.
  3. Undertake strategic planning exercises and major policy development in co-operation with other relevant government departments, sector groups and territorial authorities.

Building capacity

Government departments need to build sufficient capacity to provide policy advice on complex urban issues and achieve good urban design outcomes. This includes people, funding and structures. All staff with a role in urban management need some understanding of their role in shaping and influencing the urban design of a region, city, building or space.


  1. Offer training and education programmes to all staff involved in any aspect of urban management to increase their understanding of urban design issues.
  2. Make specialist urban design advice available to decision-makers and policy-makers, perhaps by employing a specialist officer, using consultants, through secondments, or through joint initiatives with other government departments.
  3. Work with universities, professional institutes and other training providers to provide effective training and education programmes on urban design at a range of levels for all disciplines involved in managing the urban environment.