It is apparent from this research that there is a wide range of options available to local authorities to undertake urban design assessment at various stages of the application process. These options include:
- assessment by a panel of external experts
- assessment by an in-house panel, which may include external experts
- assessment by in-house staff
- external peer review of individual applications
- use of pre-application meetings for initial advice.
It is also evident from the survey that the greatest value of urban design review is at an early stage, preferably before a full design is developed.
Given the large range of local authority types and demographics, and the equally wide variety in the content of district plans, it would seem that allowing each authority to choose a method of urban design assessment that suits them best is, for the moment, a practical approach. There also seems to be merit in adopting a flexible approach: using different assessment methods, or a combination of the above methods, to ensure robust advice that meets Resource Management Act timeliness requirements.
In a number of areas the Ministry for the Environment could offer support and/or coordination to those local authorities wishing to improve or increase their capacity for urban design assessment. The main area of need is the ability of smaller provincial and rural authorities to access urban design advice when needed, such as in large or significant urban projects which they would not normally review. A national pool of local council urban design advisors to which authorities could refer, as and when needed, would be beneficial. This could be similar to how regional council building consent officers with specialist knowledge (eg, on dams) are available nationwide.
Projects of national significance may also benefit from a nationwide urban design approach and the advice of a pool of expert advisors. This may be particularly useful for large infrastructure projects or projects with a large amount of central government money, or for developments that cross two or more local authority boundaries. This is a separate area of investigation and research, which is listed in the recommendations.
From the survey it has become evident that there are a number of ways in which urban design assessment, and the operation of urban design panels, could be improved and supported and therefore given more weight in the decision-making process. These are encapsulated in the following recommendations.
- Provide best practice guidance for local authorities wishing to set up an urban design panel: this guidance would create greater consistency nationwide on how urban design panels operate and are monitored, and would provide standard terms of reference.
- Provide support for nationwide training for those sitting on urban design panels, to create a consistent decision-making process.
- Investigate ways to assist provincial and rural councils to give urban design advice, particularly for projects in their area that are large or significant.
- Continue to provide research, guidance and training on urban design issues, objectives, policies and rules in district plans to ensure these are written to give effectiveness and weight to urban design matters where relevant: this will give decision makers the tools to make robust decisions that can include consideration of urban design matters.