Several councils responded that they had formally considered the option of creating an external urban design panel but had decided not to proceed with establishment. Five of these are discussed below as examples of why panels are often considered but not created.
3.1 North Shore City Council
In October 2008, North Shore City Council (NSCC) called for local experts to submit expressions of interest to sit on a voluntary local urban design assessment panel. This was one of NSCC’s actions as an Urban Design Protocol signatory to investigate having an urban design panel. Twenty-three expressions of interest were received, of which five were from people with formal architecture qualifications.
A decision was made not to form a panel, primarily due to a lack of expertise available on a voluntary basis. This decision was supported by councillors. Afterwards a review of the exercise highlighted the following issues:
- councillors wanted a good-quality panel but expected voluntary involvement, which no doubt limited interest
- the breadth and depth of interest attracted was not sufficient
- there was a lack of specific urban design skills among those who showed an interest
- there was insufficient funding available to pay members. Administrative support could be provided from within existing budgets, but there was no extra funding available.
The Council’s Urban Design Protocol action plan also recommended investigating the development of a design clinic, but this has not been pursued. The uncertainty created by the proposed amalgamation of the Auckland councils has also meant that creating a panel and a clinic was put aside; it was felt there were more important issues for the council to focus on. Urban design assessment at NSCC is undertaken by council staff, including an in-house urban designer.
3.2 Wellington City Council
The Wellington City District Plan contains urban design objectives and policies, and has for many years included statutory design guides. Wellington City Council (WCC) also continues to introduce further measures to embed urban design quality in its regulatory regime, mainly through plan changes. There has been at least one urban designer on the staff for over 18 years, providing urban design assessment advice on resource consents. WCC is a signatory to the Urban Design Protocol.
A separate urban design team was formed in 1992. This team has been responsible for both resource consent assessment and urban design advice across the wider Council, and has contained between 1.5 and four qualified urban designers in recent times. External experts have also been used in overflow situations to bump up assessment capacity and to undertake peer review.
WCC considered the option of an external urban design review panel in 2006, and a full assessment was undertaken of this option by an external consultant. Following this review, the decision was made to continue to use in-house assessment due to the strength and success of this approach. This report was followed in 2007 by another study of potential process enhancements, with suggestions made to streamline urban design advice.
One of the more significant proposed enhancements implemented was a weekly in-house meeting to discuss significant applications with urban design aspects. This meeting involved all urban design staff processing consents, the relevant planners, and a paid external expert to provide balance and peer review. This process was discontinued at the end of 2009, and in-house assessment is now undertaken by internal team members, without external peer review, unless requested by the applicant.
3.3 Kaikoura District Council
Kaikoura District is a signatory to the Urban Design Protocol. Their district plan contains no specific urban design objectives and policies, but it does contain landscape, amenity and energy efficiency guidelines. These were formulated before the Urban Design Protocol but are along the same lines. The subdivision chapter has objectives and policies relating to subdivision amenity and design. The Planning team assesses proposals, and seeks external expert urban design advice when required.
The establishment of an urban design assessment panel has been considered. Currently the Hearings and Applications Committee considers resource consent and designation decisions. It is made up of elected members, rūnanga members and community representatives. The Council considers there is a positive mix of membership and expert input, which results in sound decision making and removes the need to create a specific urban design panel at this stage.
3.4 Grey District Council
Consideration has been given to creating an external panel, but the idea has not been progressed due to the current lack of support in the district plan for specific urban design assessment. Low-level emphasis put on urban design issues due to lack of urban design focus in the district plan was a common reason given by several smaller local authorities. Grey District was not a signatory to the Urban Design Protocol at the time of writing this report.
3.5 Hutt City Council
There are design guides in the district plan for two specific areas of the city. At the time of writing this report there was one urban designer on the staff. The focus of this person’s work is generally on policy and strategic outcomes, with urban design assessment for consents usually done by an external consultant. An external panel has been considered, but there was resistance to establishing a panel based on the perceived administrative burden it would place on the Council. Hutt City is a signatory to the Urban Design Protocol.