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2. Methodology

2.1 Pilot Study Methodology

The Phase 1 pilot study involved the following steps:

  1. Selecting a sample of five RMA planning documents to assess
  2. Developing a proposed questionnaire to assist with the interrogation of RMA planning documents;
  3. Testing the proposed questionnaire by applying it to the five selected RMA planning documents, and preparing a report on the pilot study
  4. Following consideration of the report by the MfE, refine the methodology as required.

Testing the methodology against a representative sample of RMA planning documents was important to ensure that the methodology was appropriate for both district and regional planning documents, and the planning documents prepared by both small and large councils. The five planning documents selected for the pilot study were chosen to meet requirements from the MfE that the selection include the following:

  1. A district plan prepared by a metropolitan council (populations exceeding 90,000)
  2. A district plan prepared by a provincial council (populations between 20,000 and 90,000)
  3. A district plan prepared by a rural council (populations under 20,000)
  4. A regional policy statement prepared by a regional council
  5. A regional plan prepared by a regional council.

A regional approach was adopted in selecting the RMA planning documents, to allow for the identification of any links between regional and district planning documents. The planning documents selected were, with one exception, from the Wellington Region. The selected planning documents were:

  1. Wellington City District Plan (metropolitan district plan)
  2. Kapiti Coast District Plan (provincial district plan)
  3. Rangitikei District Plan (rural district plan)
  4. Wellington Regional Policy Statement
  5. Wellington Regional Coastal Plan.

Details on the development of the questionnaire, the assessment methods, and changes to the methodology are detailed throughout the following sections.

2.2 Selection of RMA Planning Documents for Phases 2 and 3

Reviewing every district plan and regional policy statement, and relevant plan changes, in New Zealand was considered unnecessary for providing a representative overview of the nature and extent of urban design provisions in RMA planning documents. Therefore, it was decided to select a representative sample of planning documents from throughout New Zealand.

A regional approach was taken to selecting the planning documents for assessment. To ensure a full range of planning documents were selected, regions chosen included areas that are under significant development pressure as well as those that are in decline. In total seven regions were selected for the full research, four of which are facing growth pressures, and three of which experience minimal or low growth. 

From the chosen regions it was initially anticipated to assess the regional policy statement and regional plan with most influence over urban development, and a range of district plans. Following completion of the pilot methodology it was clear that there was little benefit in assessing regional plans, as their urban design content is likely to be low, and reflect that which is in the regional policy statement. 

The regional policy statements within each chosen region were assessed, along with the district plans for four metropolitan, five provincial, and three rural councils, and three combined regional and district plans from unitary authorities.

The selected councils for Phase 2 and 3 of the research included:

  • Auckland Regional Council,
    • Manukau District Council (metropolitan)
    • Papakura District Council (provincial)
    • Rodney District Council (metropolitan)
    • Waitakere City Council (metropolitan)
  • Environment Bay of Plenty
    • Opotiki District Council (rural)
    • Tauranga City Council (metropolitan)
    • Western Bay of Plenty District Council (provincial)
  • Gisborne District Council (unitary authority: provincial)
  • Tasman District Council (unitary authority: provincial)
  • Nelson City Council (unitary authority: provincial)
  • Canterbury Regional Council
    • Timaru District Council (provincial)
    • Mackenzie District Council (rural)
  • Otago Regional Council
    • Dunedin City Council (metropolitan)
    • Queenstown-Lakes District Council (provincial)
    • Waitaki District Council (provincial)
  • West Coast Regional Council
    • Buller District Council (rural).

2. 3 Assessment Methodology

Following the selection of RMA planning documents to be assessed in the pilot study, the next step was to develop a methodology to assess the level of inclusion of urban design provisions in RMA planning documents.

MWH determined that the most appropriate method for assessing the inclusion of urban design provisions in the selected RMA planning documents would be to develop a questionnaire or matrix to provide for a consistent assessment of each document.

2.3.1 Development of the Questionnaire

In developing a questionnaire it was assumed that RMA planning documents that would result in or encourage quality urban design would be those documents that included provisions that embodied or would help to realise and promote urban design principles in development. Therefore, it was determined that the questionnaire should be based on established urban design principles.

So there was consistency between the review of urban design provisions in RMA planning documents and the Review of Urban Design Case Law, the ‘Urban Design Outcomes’ identified in the case law review, were broadly used to form the initial basis for the questionnaire. These were chosen as they characterise the key elements that comprise quality urban design. Two further matters, collaboration and custodianship, were also selected to ensure the review covered the key urban design principles contained in the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol. These 10 outcomes formed the headline criteria for the questionnaire.

To help clarify the intent of these headline criteria and guide the assessment of the nature and extent of plan provisions under each, a set of further sub-criteria were developed. The sub-criteria are based on a combination of the urban design qualities outlined in Section 3 of the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol and knowledge and experience MWH had acquired from working on projects that incorporated best practice urban design principles. Following the completion and review of the pilot study research a single sub-criterion under urban design outcome “Character” – “Encouragement of development to fit in with and enhance its surroundings” was deleted as it essentially duplicated another sub-criteria.

A table setting out the headline criteria and sub-criteria in included below:

Headline Criteria Sub-criteria
The qualities and characteristics of an [urban] place or area that contribute to people’s appreciation of its pleasantness, aesthetic coherence, and cultural and recreational attributes (from s2 RMA 1991).
  • Provisions that promote the retention of urban amenity values – i.e. pleasantness, aesthetic, coherence, cultural and recreational.
The type, location and interaction of business within an urban place or area that influences employment opportunities, viability, services and opportunities for growth.
  • Provisions of mixed-use opportunities in town and neighbourhood centres.
  • Design controls to enhance shopping/working/living experience in town and neighbourhood centres.
  • Management of large format retail (LFR).
  • Provision of home-based businesses
Quality urban design fosters diversity and offers people choice in the urban form of our towns and cities, and choice in densities, building types, transport options and activities.
  • Reward/allow increasing densities in association with provision of open space.
  • Maximum parking standards.
  • Ensures public spaces are accessible by everybody including people with disabilities.
  • Provision for variety of housing types.
  • Provision for variety of section sizes.
  • Provision of higher density subdivision and development around town centres and public transport modes.
  • Variety of permitted maximum building heights.
  • Site coverage which can affect housing density and design.
Quality urban design reduces the environmental impacts of towns and cities through environmentally sustainable and responsive solutions. Custodianship recognises the lifetime costs of buildings and infrastructure, and aims to hand on places to the next generation in as good or better condition.
  • Incorporates and encourages renewable energy sources in subdivision and development e.g. passive solar gain.
  • Incorporates water saving devices in subdivision and development.
  • Incorporates noise mitigation to reduce noise impacts from major infrastructure airports, ports, and new roads.
  • Incorporates noise mitigation to reduce noise impacts from town centres.
  • Encourages buildings, spaces, places and transport networks that are safer, with less crime and fear of crime e.g. crime prevention through environmental design.
  • Provision to consider residential building in relation to the street e.g. minimal front yard standard for living areas.
  • Avoids or mitigates natural and man-made hazards.
  • Considers the on-going care and maintenance of buildings, spaces, places and networks
  • Uses design to improve environmental performance and infrastructure.
  • Considers the impact of design on people’s health e.g. provision of outdoor living courts.
Quality urban design requires good communication and co-ordinated actions from all decision makers: central government, local government, professionals, transport operators, developers and users.
  • Uses a collaborative approach to long-term structure planning including subdivision design that acknowledges the contributions of many different disciplines and perspectives.
  • Involves communities in meaningful decision making processes for developments with high community interest e.g. through incorporation of consultative methods in design guides.
  • Forges public/private sector partnerships.
The physical qualities of an urban place or area as determined by the combination of building types, age, street pattern, open space, slope, vegetation pattern, mix of land uses, and climate.
  • Provisions that retain sense of place e.g. retaining architectural style of character areas.
  • Provisions that promote sense of place.
  • The protection and enhancement of urban water bodies.
  • The identification and protection of distinctive landforms.
  • The identification, protection and enhancement of indigenous vegetation.
Includes historic sites, structures, places and areas; archaeological sites; and sites of significance to Māori including wahi tapu and surroundings associated with natural and physical resources [in an urban area] [from s2 RMA 1991].
  • The provision of heritage place register and indication of its main focus.
  • Basis for the heritage registers.
  • Level of protection.
  • Inclusion of non-regulatory provisions.
  • Responding to heritage values of an area- reuse, maintain, enhance.
Open Space
The provision of or changes to open spaces within an urban place or area which may be for recreational, aesthetic or natural values.
  • Policy framework to provide for open spaces including the provision of a wide range of reserves.
  • Provision of policy and standards to promote better designed streets and streetscape and promote as open spaces with public surveillance e.g. landscaping/tree planting requirements, traffic calming.
  • Open space areas associated with stormwater/utilities/streets e.g. integration of stormwater and provision/retention of open space.
  • Having clear boundaries between public and private open spaces e.g. through appropriate use of fencing.
The way in which people and goods are conveyed within and to urban places and areas including by walking, motorised and self propelled means and the infrastructure required to facilitate it.
  • Provisions which promote walking, cycling and different modes of transport.
  • Constraints and opportunities to provide for connectivity of transport network connection with other streets e.g. limitations on connecting to major roads (constraint).
  • Provisions to reduce the level of vehicular traffic and/or traffic speed.
  • Provisions to encourage safe, attractive and secure pathways and links between landmarks and neighbourhoods.
  • Facilitates green networks that link public and private open space.
  • Streets and other thoroughfares are designed as positive spaces with multiple functions.
  • Provides for environments that encourage people to become physically active.
Urban Growth Management
The definition of the extent and location of new and existing urban areas including the process and mechanisms for planning the form and patterns of these areas and the implications for change in land use such as for transport.
  • Provisions that provide for the management of urban growth.
  • Inclusion of structure plans in relation to urban growth management strategies/studies.
  • Provisions that provide for the reuse of brownfield sites/reuse of buildings, and urban renewal.
  • Collaboration policy, with region and/or territorial authority/ies in relations to growth areas.

2.3.2 Application of Assessment Criteria

For the purpose of applying the assessment criteria it was decided that the best option would be to formulate the criteria as a table. This would offer an efficient means whereby relevant issues, objectives, policies, rules, and other measures such as design guides, in each document could be identified as fulfilling specific assessment criteria. A copy of the table is attached as Appendix A.

It was considered that a tabular format would help assessors record information when assessing each document.  It would provide a visual representation of the extent of provisions fulfilling each assessment criteria and urban design outcome, making it relatively easy for assessors and other readers to analyse the results of the document assessment. This approach/method proved to be effective in assessing plans in the pilot methodology.  It was consequently adopted for the full research phase.

2.3.3 Assessment of the Selected Planning Documents

Each of the selected RMA planning documents was assessed against the urban design assessment criteria in the table. In order to improve efficiency and reduce the time spent assessing each document, assessors went through only the chapters of each plan considered relevant to urban design outcomes (i.e. commercial/inner city, residential, rural chapters were not assessed).

Plan provisions relevant to each of the assessment criteria were entered into the table, with very brief descriptions to identify the focus of the provisions. It was decided that this would be more beneficial for analytical purposes than relying solely on the reference numbers for the relevant provisions.

Colour coding was also employed to assist with the analysis of the information entered into the questionnaire tables. For example, residential zone rules were coloured blue, and inner city provisions red. Likewise different colours were assigned to differentiate proposed plan changes.

2.3.4 Analysis of the Questionnaire Results

In assessing the extent of urban design provisions in each assessed RMA planning document, the percentage of sub-criteria under each plan, for which there was at least one relevant provision, was calculated. This provides a very basic assessment of the extent of provisions for each planning document, and allows for comparison. However, while a planning document may have one or two relevant provisions for a number of sub-criteria this does not demonstrate that the plan has a great depth of urban design provision.

In order to provide, additional useful information on the nature and extent of urban design provisions in the assessed planning documents, a weighting system was used, to determine the level, or depth, of relevant urban design provisions in a planning document.

Following the completion of the assessment table, each of the sub-criteria were given a weighting providing a basic identification of the depth of relevant urban design provisions for that sub-criterion. This weighting was based on the number of relevant provisions under a sub-criterion as follows:

  • 0          None
  • 1-4        Low
  • 5-9        Medium
  • 10+       High

The percentage of sub-criteria with none, low, medium or high weightings were then graphed for each planning document, to provide a visual representation of the general depth of the urban design provisions.

2.3.5 Council Verification Process

A copy of the relevant completed questionnaire and summary of the results was sent to each of the councils to provide them with an opportunity to comment on the findings, or make any corrections, and to validate the assessment. A copy of the letter send to the councils asking for their input is attached as Appendix A.

The majority of councils (15) reviewed and validated them with requests for some additions and amendments and three councils validated the assessments with no requested changes. Two councils were unable to provide feedback due to time constraints, and six councils opted not to review or provide comments.  Most of the requested changes were incorporated into the report’s findings.

Copies of the finalised questionnaires and summaries are provided in the supplementary document.

The following section provides a summary of the findings from the analysis of the planning documents, including the graphed results.