Opinion: Urban Design and fast-track legislation

Andrew Lamb, General Manager Development of Infratil and Property Council Auckland Regional Committee member shares his view on urban design in Auckland as the city continues to grow and evolve, plus the implications of the proposed Fast-track Approvals Bill.

Reflecting on the current economic climate and recent march down Queen Street over fast-track legislation and the challenges these present for our sector, it is crucial that we maintain the pathway to a quality ‘built environment’ rather than “dumbing down” projects to overcome feasibility hurdles.

Instead, we need to be smarter about our delivery, work in partnership with the entire development supply chain, and strive for excellence in the built environment. Ensuring that Auckland remains vibrant and continues to be one of the best cities in the world to live and work in is essential.

In the past, some of the monstrosities that rose around the city paid little, if any, consideration to the urban landscape and future occupiers. The Auckland Urban Design Panel (UDP) plays a crucial role in shaping the architectural and urban landscape of the city. Established in 2003 as part of Auckland City Council’s initiatives to enhance the quality of urban design, its formation stemmed from a growing recognition of the importance of well-designed buildings and urban spaces in fostering community well-being, economic vitality, and environmental sustainability.

The Auckland UDP is an independent review panel with representation by Property Council New Zealand, New Zealand Institute of Architects, New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects, New Zealand Planning Institute, and urban designers advising the city on the best possible outcomes. Property Council’s representation on the panel brings design and development expertise, feasibility and economic judgement and investor knowledge to the panel discussions.

In its early years, the panel focused on reviewing and providing recommendations on major development projects, including residential, commercial, and public infrastructure projects. These reviews aimed to ensure that proposed developments aligned with the city’s urban design principles and contributed positively to the cityscape. The panel also reviews workspaces, liveability, retail and active frontage viability, best practices, and servicing (locations of car parking, refuse, cores, and amenities), which Property Council representation greatly assists. Its reviews and recommendations have helped raise the standard of urban design across Auckland and have garnered recognition both nationally and internationally.

As Auckland continues to grow and evolve, the UDP needs to remain adaptable, continuously refining its processes and strategies to address emerging challenges and opportunities in urban development. While no system is without its challenges, the overall success of the Auckland UDP can be seen in its contributions to shaping Auckland.

The potential impact of the proposed Fast-track Approvals Bill, particularly Schedule 2, and the eligibility of projects alongside the role of UDPs is a point of concern. Some infrastructure projects do not benefit from review, but others appear to be seeking a fast track to minimise design review. Having recently reviewed a fast-track planning application (as a trial), I have concerns that a number of these projects will not receive the same level of detailed urban design review and scrutiny as they would under normal consenting processes.

I question whether a panel led by a High or Environmental Court Judge will understand these finer intricacies and whether the fast-tracking will preclude them from seeking suitable advice. There should be mechanisms for UDPs or similar bodies to provide input or advice within the context of fast-track processes, albeit with shorter timeframes or less formal procedures. In some cases, fast-track legislation may prioritise speed and efficiency in the consenting process, potentially bypassing or limiting the role of UDPs or similar review bodies.

While I support fast-track legislation, it will introduce changes to the planning and consenting landscape. The implications depend on the specific details of the legislation and how it is implemented in practice. Stakeholders must carefully assess the implications of fast-track measures on urban design outcomes and advocate for mechanisms to ensure that design quality and community interests are adequately addressed within fast-track processes.

The Auckland Urban Design Panel stands as a testament to the importance of proactive urban design governance in shaping the future of cities and communities. Through its expertise, collaboration, and commitment to excellence, it should continue to play a vital role in shaping Auckland’s urban fabric for generations to come.

Andrew Lamb

GM Development, Infratil

Andrew Lamb is the Co-Convenor of the Auckland Urban Design Panel and a Panel Chair having served as a PCNZ representative since the early years of inception. Andrew, with over 30 years in the Property sector, has been the GM of Development and Real Estate for Infratil for the last 16 years and has recently founded Galaxy Property Limited, a Real Estate advisory consultancy focused on advising and assisting clients through the complexities of real estate investments and the development process.

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