Shifting ground: what the new Government means for urban design and development

Shifting ground: what the new Government means for urban design and development

By Anthony Vile, Technical Lead - Urban Design

Despite the many uncertainties of 2020, our new Labour-led government remains committed to building resilience in housing supply and providing infrastructure to enable the market to meet demand. For HG’s clients involved in public and private development, this means looking to the future with some real optimism. In the article below, we look at the key government ministers impacting urban development, and changes in urban design.

Who's who - Labour's Ministers influencing urban design and development

- As Minister of Housing, Minister of Energy and Resources, and Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, the Hon Dr Megan Woods looks set to influence the way our cities develop in the future, and hopefully for the better.

- The Hon Grant Robertson (Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister) is also now the Minister for Infrastructure. This is likely to be a good thing for implementing key urban design and development policy and it suggests that some key infrastructure projects may be about to get more focused attention.

- With no minister charged with urban development, the RMA review is in the hands of the Hon David Parker with associate ministers to call on, including Phil Twyford, who may be best placed to understand the urban development space and contribute to reform.

- The Hon Michael Wood's profile will be raised as the new Minister of Transport. With roots in Auckland and a history of local board involvement, he could soon become a surrogate ‘Minister of Auckland Issues’. The potential resurrection of light rail and accompanying brown field development will be worth keeping an eye on. We also hope to see a more tactical approach to transportation design as the Waka Kotahi NZTA Innovating Streets Programme becomes more mainstream.

- The appointment of the Hon James Shaw as New Zealand’s first-ever Minister for Climate Change will ensure that the Green Party has a strong voice in government across multiple ministries.

Also of note is Chloe Swarbrick's win in Central Auckland. It will be interesting to see how she manages the relationship with Auckland Council to deliver development at speed while maintaining Green policy initiatives.

Changing regulations
The regulatory environment is shifting, with the RMA under review and the building code highlighted as an opportunity for meeting more stringent sustainability requirements.

However, we do not expect these shifts to be at the expense of urban design quality or environmental outcomes.

Recent National Policy Statements and legislation support ongoing trends towards climate change action, along with consideration of urban development, productivity and innovation as critical aspects of city building.

The compact city
Covid-19 has highlighted the need for high quality housing and the importance of access to the public realm. The compact city is not going away despite some initial post-Covid contrary reactions to the idea of density. Density done well is what we consider to be the ongoing mantra, with some additional flexibility in housing design being driven by market demand post-lockdown. This means that design-led thinking, place-making and integrated development models will be increasingly in demand.

For example, in Auckland, where the Unitary Plan is already 10 years old, the shift from the single house model to acceptance and delivery of multi-unit residential typologies is already well underway. Similar trends are emerging in other cities. The graph below shows a steep climb in multi-unit housing product nationally post a monthly low of 937 in May 2012 to a high of 10,062 in August 2020 and showing no sign of abating.

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