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1. Introduction

1.1 Project objectives

A number of urban design panels of varying structures and operational methods have been established in New Zealand with the aim of improving the quality of urban design. These have mainly been set up by metropolitan councils and in areas of rapid urban growth. The Ministry for the Environment wanted to gain a nationwide picture of urban design panels to inform policy proposals, enhance the use and effectiveness of this tool, and improve the quality of urban design in New Zealand. The project brief required a ‘stocktake’ of local authority urban design panels in New Zealand to establish their number and the processes they use, and to canvass views on their effectiveness.

1.2 Project methodology

This project was undertaken in May and June 2010, and involved a survey of all local authorities in New Zealand by email and phone. This was supplemented by desktop research on case study examples, both in New Zealand and overseas. The research was conducted in two stages.

In stage 1 local authorities were asked whether they operated an urban design panel (or similar) for resource consent assessment. The description of ‘urban design panel’ was purposefully kept broad to allow local authorities the scope to further expand on the mechanisms used. If they responded ‘yes’ to the stage 1 question, further follow-up questions were asked about the panel’s function, scope, terms of reference, management and operation, either by a phone interview or by sending a written list of questions by email. (The scope of these questions can be seen in Appendix 1.)

In stage 2, local authorities who answered ‘no’ to the question of having an urban design panel were asked the following questions:

  • Does your district plan contain objectives, policies or rules relating to urban design?
  • If yes, who assesses development proposals that have urban design content?
  • Has your authority ever considered operating an urban design panel?
  • If yes, why was one not established? If no, why not?

1.3 Responses

A total of 72 local authorities were surveyed across the country. These comprised:

  • 16 city councils
  • 56 district councils, including four unitary authorities.

(Note that regional councils were not surveyed.) Table 1 provides a summary of the responses received.

Table 1: Summary of responses
  Number Percentage
Local authorities surveyed 72 100
Yes – we operate a panel 10 14
No – we do not operate a panel 42 58
No, and answered follow-up stage 2 questions 37 51
No response to any questions, and no evidence of urban design panel from web search 20 28
Overall response rate 52 72

By the end of the study an overall response rate of 72 per cent was achieved, which suggests there was a good representation of local authority views.