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Contemporary Urban Affairs

2018, Volume 2, Number 2, pages 12– 23

Urban Growth, Liveability and Quality Urban Design:


Questions about the efficacy of urban planning
systems in Auckland, New Zealand
* Lee Beattie1, Errol Haarhoff2
1 & 2 School of Architecture and Planning, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

A R T I C L E I N F O: ABSTRACT
Article history: Preventing sprawl and concentrating future urban growth at transit centres, typifies
Received 30 September 2017 many urban planning strategies in a number of Australian, New Zealand and North
Accepted 8 October 2017 America cities. Newer iterations of these strategies also argue that compact
Available online 15 October development delivers public benefits by enhancing urban ‘liveability’ through good
2017 urban design outcomes. Where neoliberal economic conditions prevail, achieving
Keywords: these aims is largely dependent on market-driven development actions requiring the
Urban design; appropriate urban planning responses to ensure these outcomes. However, there are
Intensification, growing concerns that urban planning approaches currently used are not effectively
Urban consolidation; delivering the quality urban design outcomes expected and enhancing residents’
urban planning tools liveability. This paper reports on an evaluation of three medium density housing
and methods; developments located in areas designated for intensification in Auckland, New
Liveability. Zealand. Examined is the extent to which the development outcomes are aligned with
the statutory urban planning requirements for quality urban design. The results
indicated contradictions and points to limitations of the statutory planning system to
positively influence quality outcomes, leading to enhanced residents’ experiences.
CONTEMPORARY URBAN AFFAIRS (2018) 2(2), 12-23. Doi: 10.25034/ijcua.2018.3667

www.ijcua.com
Copyright © 2017 Contemporary Urban Affairs. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction evidence that a more compact urban form


Among others, an important goal of urban reduces fossil fuel consumption and noxious
planning is directing future development emissions, and leads to enhanced sustainability
towards outcomes that will deliver enhanced (Newman and Kenworthy, 1989; 1999).
social, environmental, cultural and economic Characterised by Quastel et al (2012) in their
benefits. A number of urban planning study of Vancouver as ‘sustainability as density’,
approaches that restricted urban sprawl were the outcome is also argued to deliver benefits to
thus initially promoted on the argument that this urban dwellers.
would preserve the natural environment and These arguments are key to underpinning urban
rural character surrounding cities as a necessary growth management plans in many cities across
amenity for urban dwellers (Ingram, et al, 2009; Australia, New Zealand and North America
Haarhoff, et al, 2012). The higher density
*Corresponding Authors:
development that is a consequence of University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
containing urban growth within an urban E-mail address: l.beattie@auckland.ac.nz
boundary was subsequently justified by
JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY URBAN AFFAIRS, 2(2), 12-23 / 2018

including the cities of Auckland, Melbourne, urban growth management plans requiring
Brisbane, Portland and Vancouver (cf. Auckland concentration of new development at activity
Council, 2012; Department of Transport, Planning centres, there is evidence of slippage in meeting
and Local Infrastructure, 2002; Department of this goal (Bunker et al, 2002; Buxon and Tieman,
Infrastructure and Planning, 2009; Metro 2004; 2005; Woodcock et al, 2011; Haarhoff et al,
Portland, 2012; Nikoofam, & Mobaraki; Metro 2012). Phan et al. (2009), in their study of the
Vancouver, 2010). They all establish urban spatial distribution of new residential construction
growth boundaries to contain urban sprawl, and between 2001-2006 in the City of Clayton in the
concentrate the greater part of future Melbourne metropolitan region, found that the
development to designated areas within goal of directing development to activity
walking distances of public transport, as transit- centres has not yet been achieved. Much of the
oriented development (TOD’s). These transit residential development occurred as urban
centres (activity centres in Australia, sprawl beyond an 800-metre walking distance of
town/metropolitan centres in Auckland, station activity centres. For Melbourne as a whole,
communities in Portland) as points of Woodcock et al. argue that ‘seven years into the
concentration also play a role by providing local implementation of Melbourne 2030 … not only
employment, services and a range of retail and has there been very little intensification of activity
public amenities. The concentration of future centres in established suburbs, but there have
development in, and around, transit centres been few urban design visions that might
requires the deployment of multi-unit housing engage the public imagination or that of the
typologies to achieve the higher densities, development industry’ (2011, p. 95). Indeed,
contrasting with lower density detached housing they assert that higher density housing is being
that has, and indeed still does, dominate most approved ‘almost anywhere’ despite
cities in these countries. This intention to concentration being mandated within walking
concentrate growth is made explicit in the distances of ‘activity’ centres (Woodcock et al,
Victoria State government’s growth plan for 2011).
metropolitan Melbourne where it is seen as ‘… This suggests a weakness in the urban planning
the lynch-pins of a multi-centred structure system to fully deliver outcomes that are well
…where people can enjoy the benefits of living aligned with the urban growth management
closer to work with less congestion on the roads plans. This point is also made by the Victoria
and public transport networks’ (Department of State government’s own 2007 audit of
Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure, Melbourne 2030, that found a lack of specific
2010, p. 5). There is now sufficient evidence to urban planning tools to direct development into
demonstrate that these policies are being the designated ‘activity centres’ (Woodcock et
successful in terms of increasing the number and al, 2011). On this issue, Buxton and Tieman (2005)
proportion of higher density, multi-unit housing suggest that the ‘urban consolidation of
options in Australian and New Zealand cities Melbourne 2030 will be undermined where there
(Bunker et al, 2002; Buxton and Tieman, 2005; is policy confusion involving some signals which
Randolph, 2006; CHRANZ, 2011). Indeed, in seek urban consolidation and other signals
Australian cities this change is seen by Randolph which allow urban dispersal’ (Buxton and
as ‘a revolution’ where ‘little over a generation Tieman, 2005, p.155).
ago living in flats (apartments) was a minority These assessments are related to a perceived
pastime’ (2006, p. 473). failure on the part of the relevant urban planning
Despite this apparent success in delivering higher systems to comprehensively direct new
density options, critics argue that this is not development towards areas within walking
necessarily delivering fully on the aims of the distances of designated activity centres. In part,
associated urban growth management plans for shortcomings also result from a failure to provide
a number of reasons. This include resistance to the infrastructure on which transit-oriented
living at, and with, higher density, market development depends, especially on the urban
reluctance to invest in the higher density housing peripheries (Buxton & Tieman, 2005; Jain and
typologies, and argument that this form of urban Courvisanon, 2008). To add to these issues, more
growth management negatively impacts recent iterations of urban growth management
housing affordability (Haarhoff et al, 2012). A strategies have raised expectations further. To
newer area of critique suggests that the urban counter arguments that higher density
planning system and current approaches development negatively impacts on the urban
themselves may be faulty. For example, despite experience, more recent iterations of urban

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growth plans are justified on the grounds that The effective implementation of urban growth
quality urban design inherently enhances urban strategies requires alignment with the local
‘liveability’ (Haarhoff et al, 2012, and 2016). Such statutory land use plans, and the support of the
goals are expressed in the UK Government’s local authorities who are normally responsible for
strategy for improving place quality in declaring implementing the higher order policy directives
that ‘good quality place should not be seen as a (Beattie and Haarhoff, 2014; Waldner, 2008). This
luxury but a vital element in our drive to make requires the local statutory plans to have the
Britain a safer, healthier, prosperous, more appropriate urban planning and design policy
inclusive and sustainable place’ (UK responses, and the right mix of statutory tools and
Government, 2009, p. 2). The idea that methods to achieve the quality urban design
development focused on the primacy of street outcomes sought. The New Zealand urban
life, a sense of urbanity, walkable planning system, not unlike those found in
neighbourhoods, and connected communities Australia, Canada and United States, uses a
promotes urban ‘lliveability’ is well argued in rational conformance based approach that links
current practices (Calthorp, 1993; Ditmar and the local statutory plan (district plans) to
Ohland, 2004; Condon, 2010; Arenibafo, 2016 intended policy outcomes to the built outcomes
Campoli, 2012). (Beattie, 2013; Laurian et al, 2010; Ericksen et al,
The emphasis on ‘liveability’ also underpins calls 2003). Based on land use zoning designations,
for the replication of ‘traditional’ town forms in these methods usually take the form of zone
which these urban qualities are embedded, codes setting out permitted uses supported by a
particularly in the practice of New Urbanism range of performance-based rules. These
(Barnett, 2003). Critics of this approach have include controls over building height set back
questioned whether such traditional qualities from boundaries, that development proposals
can be achieved solely through design actions are required to meet. In this way, the district plan
and manifestos (Dixon and Dupuis, 2003), and provides a range of methods for district plan
doubts can be raised about whether users and developers to follow, which if adhered
manifestations of New Urbanism in the form of to, should achieve the intended policy
gated communities result in the urban public life outcomes in the in the physical development
envisaged. Despite these doubts, The Auckland (Beattie, 2013; Ericksen et al, 2003).
Plan, is Auckland non-statutory spatial plan is The paper aims to test the extent to which the
promoted as a strategy to ‘create the world’s application of high-level policies for urban
most liveable city’ (Auckland Council, 2012), and intensification are effectively applied at the local
to promote: level to positively influence development
‘more compact neighbourhoods, supported by towards good urban design outcomes. This is
quality networked infrastructure offers assessed through three case studies of medium
opportunities to create healthy, stimulating and density housing development located in two
beautiful urban environments…that enhance suburban town/metropolitan centres in
social cohesion and interaction by attracting Auckland designated for higher density
people…to a mix of cafes, restaurants, shops, development in the Auckland Plan and
services and well design public spaces’ (2012, p. Auckland’s statutory land use plan adopted in
42). 2017; the Auckland Unitary Plan (Auckland
This paper adds to a small but growing number Council, 2012 and 2016). Auckland is New
of studies reporting on efficacy of the urban Zealand’s largest city, containing a third of the
planning systems to deliver outcomes well national population and is facing significant
aligned to aims of the urban growth growth pressure. Current predictions estimate
management plans. This paper questions the that the current population of 1.5 million will
ability of urban planning methods and tools to increase a further 1 million by 2030 (New Zealand
deliver the enhanced liveability and quality Government, 2010; Auckland Council, 2016).
urban design outcomes being promoted in It should also be noted that in 2010, new unitary
recent iterations of urban growth management governance arrangements were establishment
plans. Any failure to deliver the quality urban for the Auckland region. The new Auckland
design promised not only potentially brings Council replaced a regional authority and seven
disappointment to city residents, but might also previous local authorities that had responsibility
bring into question the efficacy of this form of for a range of urban planning functions in their
urban growth management. districts. The case study locations of Albany and
Onehunga were previously under the jurisdiction

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of the North Shore City Council and the studies in their neighbourhood contexts, the
Auckland City Council respectively. Planning elements of which are set out in Table 1.
consent for the case study developments
reported in this paper predate the release of the Table 1. Urban design assessment criteria
Source: Ministry for the Environment’s Medium-Density
Auckland Plan and the newly adopted Unitary
Housing: Case Study Assessment Methodology (2012)
Plan. However, the previous local authorities Key urban design areas Sub element
statutory district plans were all aligned to the Site context and layout Neighbourhood context
2005 Auckland Regional Policy Statement (ARPS) Site context
adopted by the now disestablished Auckland Landscape coverage
Regional Council (ARC), that followed the same Outdoor living spaces
Car parking and access
policy direction towards urban intensification as
Service areas and utilities
expressed in both the Auckland and Unitary
Building form and Horizontal modulation
Plans. The ARC was legally required to provide a appearance Continuous building line
regional and strategic planning overview to Building roofline
local authorities, including urban growth Façade articulation
management issues that the local authorities Material use and quality
were required to give effect to through their Street scene Street edge continuity and
district plans. This enables the three case studies enclosure
to be assessed against an earlier regional policy Building entrances
Façade opening
(the ARPS) and the two-relevant district plans
Street boundary treatment
under the jurisdiction of the previous local
Internal configuration Internal / external relationships
authorities that specifically sought to translate Visual privacy
the higher-order policies into good urban design Aspect / natural ventilation
outcomes through the development process.
The final phase involved interviewing 8 of the
2. Research Design and Methodology previous local authority’s urban planning officers
A four-phase mixed research design was who processed the resource consent
employed using quantitative and qualitative applications for the three case study
assessment techniques to examine the three developments. The interviews followed the non-
case study developments. The first phase sought standardised approach outlined by Davidson
to determine the relevant policy outcomes for and Tolich (2003, p240). This approach allowed
medium density housing from each of the for semi-structured, open-ended questions
relevant district plans to consider whether the where we guided the interviewees into the
policy responses were aligned with the strategic relevant areas related to the research to gain
regional policy direction in the ARPS. This was their perspectives. The questions covered their
achieved by examining the district plan role the in resource consent process; their
objectives and policies, and comparing these understanding of the relevant district plan’s
with the district plan’s stated expected results policy intention for urban design outcomes;
(Environment Results Expected). This follows the whether the district plan provided clear methods
policy outcome mapping technique developed for achieving those policy goals; whether the
by Beattie (2013), building on the Laurian et al final outcomes represent a good urban design
(2010) and Ericksen et al (2003) approach to plan solution for the site; whether the development
quality and evaluation. The second phase integrates into the local context, and whether
examined the relevant district plan’s methods there were any other factors in the district plan
and tools, including the zoning codes and process which may have contributed to the
performance standards designed to achieve the actual development outcome. The interviews
district plan’s urban design policy goals. The third were carried out at a place of the interviewees
phase involved an independent assessment of choosing, lasting between 45 to 60 minutes,
the developments using urban design best audio recorded under (protocols approved by
practice criteria established by the Ministry for the University of Auckland Human Ethics
the Environment (MFE) and published in their Committee), and transcribed by a third party.
guide: Medium-Density Housing: Case Study The interview transcriptions were analysed using
Assessment Methodology (Ministry for the narrative analysis to discover the key emerging
Environment, 2012). Using the MFE guide themes (Wiles et al 2005).
enabled a consistent and comparable
assessment to be undertaken of all three case

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3. Case study locations and context


Medium density housing case study
developments were selected that were within
suburban areas designated for density
intensification in the Auckland Plan (called
‘areas of change’) and within the previous
relevant district plans and ARPS (Auckland
Council, 2012 and 2016). Two case studies are
located in the Albany town centre 17 kilometres
north of the Auckland’s CBD, and one in the
Onehunga town centre 12 kilometres south of
the CBD (see figure 1).

Figure 2. Albany case study development locations.

The area to the east of the case studies is


dominated by detached housing, although
zoning permits multi-unit housing. Both case
study developments were zoned Area D: Varied
Residential under the North Shore City district
plan, which provides for a range of housing
typologies subject to an urban planning and
Figure 1. Auckland urban region showing the CBD (blue),
design assessment, that includes a range of
and in red, Albany to the North and Onehunga to the south.
performance standards such as density, building
Now designated as a metropolitan centre, height and car parking. Built between 2005 and
Albany has attracted considerable public 2007, the developments together have 169 units
infrastructure investment from both the previous at a net density of 67 units per hectare. The
North Shore City Council and the New Zealand single level, two-bedroom units each with a floor
government as a regional centre on Auckland’s area of 49.5 m2 are contained in a series of
North Shore (Haarhoff et al, 2012). The area is identical three storeys blocks (figure 3).
dominated by a large shopping centre
surrounded by other ‘big-box’ retailers and car
parking, where most land currently remains
vacant. Albany is served by a rapid bus service
to central Auckland via a local bus station,
largely operating as a park-and-ride facility. The
two medium density case studies developments
(The Ridge and Spencer Road) are within 800
metres of the bus station and shopping centre.
Figure 2 show the location of the two-case study
development in the Albany context, and 800
metre walking distance circles.

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(Source: Google Earth, 2016)


Figure 3. ‘The Ridge’ development (Tope) and the ‘Spencer’
(Down)

Onehunga is one of Auckland’s oldest and most


established suburban town centres designated
for intensified development with the adoption of
Figure 4. Auckland urban region showing the CBD (blue), and
the first regional planning document in 1974 in red, Albany to the North and Onehunga to the south.
(Auckland Regional Council, 1999). The
Auckland Plan is consistent with the earlier district The case study developments comprise 112
plans and identifies Onehunga as an ‘area of residential units arranged in a perimeter block
change’ able accommodate an additional with a net density of 64 units per hectare, with
3,400 residential units and 5,500 new jobs by 2040 units ranging in size from one to three bedrooms.
(Auckland Council, 2012). The town centre has There are also a few retail units at ground floor
a terminal railway station that links to Auckland’s level facing the high street. The site is zoned
CBD, and is earmarked for extension to Auckland Business 2 in the district plan and provides for a
airport. The town centre offers a wide range of range of land use activities, including residential
retail outlets, restaurants and public services and usage, subject to compliance with performance
facilities such as parks and a library, and unlike standards such as building height and car
Albany, Onehunga is pedestrian oriented. The parking controls. An aerial view of the
case study development (Atrium on Main) is development is shown in figure 5.
located to the north of the main shopping street,
within easy walking distance of the railway
station and bus connections (figure 4).

Figure 5. Aerial view of the Onehunga case study


development.

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4. Results: Albany Case Studies this provides potential developers with a guide to
It was difficult to define with any degree of determine the residential unit yield, there was no
certainty a clear policy picture from the North control over residential type mix or unit size. The
Shore district plan over its intended urban design development was subject to resource consent
policy outcomes for medium density housing. where the application was assessed against
The policy direction given in the actual wording these requirements and meeting quality urban
of the objectives and policies were judged to be design outcomes (North Shore City Council,
unclear, poorly written and at times 2003, pp. 16-83).
contradictory in different parts of the district The independent assessment undertaken by the
plan. For example, conflicts exist between the authors of these developments using the urban
transportation, residential and urban design design criteria from table 1, indicated poor
sections of the district plan. Nonetheless, it responses to all four areas: context and layout,
appears at the strategic level that the North form and appearance, street scene and internal
Shore district plan sought to facilitate the configuration. Negative elements include the
development of high-quality urban design. The smallness of the two bedroom units (49.5 m2),
relevant objective was to: poorly designed private open spaces, the
‘effectively manage growth and change by domination of the internal courtyard by hard-
achieving the maintenance and enhancement paved parking and poorly located and
of a high quality built environment and enabling designed shared spaces (figure 6). While the
a wide choice of lifestyles, a range of types and developments have some good points,
affordability of housing and choice of including the solid construction and good street
employment opportunities by enabling edge definition, these factors did not
development opportunities in and around sub- compensate for the other deficiencies. Perhaps
regional centres which demonstrates a high the greatest deficiency in terms of meeting
standard of design’ (North Shore City Council, intended urban planning and design policy
2003, p 8). outcomes, was the poor pedestrian connection
This was supported by the Varied Residential to the Albany town centre, and in particular, the
zoning code’s residential amenity objective rapid bus station, and thus not meeting policy
seeking ‘to ensure a high level of residential requirements for quality developments within
amenity by ensuring that layout and design walking distances of transit centres.
achieves a high standard of security, visual and
aural privacy and usable public and private
open space’ (North Shore City Council, 2003, p.
11). While it was difficult to gain a clear picture
of the intended policy outcomes in the district
plan for medium density housing, using these key
objectives, it followed that the case-study
developments should have been built to a high-
quality design standard, especially in areas
Figure 6. Internal view of the Albany case study
within 800 metres of the metropolitan centre. This development. The photograph shows the extent of surface
interpretation was confirmed by the urban car parking and poorly positioned waste disposal facilities
planning officers interviewed. (source: authors).
The Resource Management Act (RMA), New
Zealand’s urban planning legislation, is based on From interviews with relevant council urban
a rational conformance approach where the planning officers, it became apparent that the
district plan provides for a range of statutory small size of the residential units was a direct
methods and tools to achieve quality result of the district plan requirement for
development outcomes through the residential unit over 50 m2 to be provided with at
development process. Thus, the relevant district least two car parking spaces. This, coupled with
plan included site density control (one residential the Council’s traffic engineering advice seeking
unit per 150m2 of site area), parking at least 0.5 visitor car parking spaces per
requirements (two car parking spaces per unit residential unit, became, in the interviewees’
over 50m2, or one if less), a maximum building opinions, one of the major determining design
height, and requirements for shared outdoor factors. Also, all respondents felt that the district
recreational areas within the development plan had weak intended policy outcomes and
(North Shore City Council, 2003, pp. 30-33). While methods that diluted their ability to achieve

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good built form outcomes through the limiting the number of residential units that could
consenting process. be developed on the site, nor restrictions on the
Another strong theme that emerged from the residential mix or unit size.
interviews was the district plan’s density control The assessment of this development using the
method and its influence on the design process. urban design criteria from table 1, was good on
All were of the opinion that the applicant simply three of the criteria, namely, context and layout,
divided the gross site area by 150 m2 to produce form and appearance, and street scene.
the housing yield for the sites without considering Internal configuration was judged to be poor.
other factors that may have led to a better This assessment reflected on the following key
design resolution. In their views, this approach is characteristics: favourable location within the
not uncommon, especially where district plans town centre; safe and easy access to public
provide density standards for residential transport and a wide range of local and
development. Consequently, it appears that car commercial services and facilities; and the
parking and the site density controls were the perimeter block form is well conceived by
two major determining design factors for the creating a well-defined and potentially active
developments, which contradicted the street edge. Deficiencies related to the
intended urban design policy outcomes configuration arise from the insertion of
described in the district plan. This is somewhat additional units within the inner courtyard area
concerning given policies promoting more that restrict internal outlook and result in narrow
compact development and reduced car spaces between blocks, and the presence of
dependency, and the newer imperatives to driveways to lockup garages at the upper
deliver ‘liveability’ and quality urban design. courtyard level that precludes better use.
Given this good assessed outcome, it was
5. Results: Onehunga Case Study surprising to discover from the interviews that the
Using the policy intended outcome technique, it relevant district plan did not express any urban
was almost impossible to get a clear picture of design outcomes for medium intensity housing
the relevant district plan’s intended policy within the Business 2 Zone. The council urban
outcomes for medium-density housing for the planning officers were effectively left make their
Onehunga case study. The Business 2 Zone on own professional judgements. Moreover, the
which this development occurs provided better outcomes when compared to Albany,
objectives and policies for business use and were achieved in spite of the fact that the
associated activities, but no policy direction for relevant district plan provided little or no policy
residential activity or any other non-business guidance. Consequently, the district had little
activity. However, there were regulatory rules impact on the actual design. This contrasts with
that controlled residential development within Albany where more stringent rules and policy
the zone, including a requirement for approval guides in fact led to a poorer outcome.
of a resource consent (planning permission). It is
unclear how this approach was achieved 6. Conclusions and Discussion
through the plan making process, as it is contrary Under the current neo-liberal economic context
to the RMA’s rational conformance based urban prevalent in New Zealand and elsewhere, quality
planning approach, where the plan methods urban place and space sought through
(rules) are designed to give effect to the district development actions depends to a large extent
plan’s policy intention. This situation left the on market investment with commercial goals
district plan without any policy guidance to (Goodman and Moloney, 2011). While
direct district plan users or the council staff acknowledging the potential contradiction
administrating the district plan on how to address between market-led goals in land development
residential uses within the business zone. and the provision of quality urban space as a
While there were no policy intentions given, the social benefit, Adams and Tiesdell (2013, p. 6)
district plan did provide a range of statutory rules suggest that there is a potential alternative in
addressing residential development, including what they call ‘plan-shaped’ markets. This
vehicle access and car parking controls (two per defines a crucial role for urban planners and
residential unit), a maximum building height of 12 designers (and the urban planning process) as
metres and visual privacy controls to prevent key mediators between market-driven
residential unit outlook impacting adversely on imperatives and the delivery of public benefits
neighbours (Auckland City Council 1999, p. 8). through land development. Given the concern
However, there was no residential density control expressed about the weaknesses in the urban

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planning system from other research cited, and This conclusion raises a number of observations
the outcomes to the research reported in this and questions. While limited, it parallels questions
paper, delivering on the aspiration for good being asked about the efficacy of urban
urban design will in part depend on effective planning systems and processes in Australian
urban planning tools and methods raising cities cited in this paper, concerning the
questions about the overall effectiveness of perceived misalignment between actual
these approaches used. development and urban planning directives to
In the context of cities that have rational concentrate growth and development at transit
conformance-based planning approaches, centres (Woodcock et al, 2011). The results from
such as New Zealand, Australia and parts of this research show that for the three case studies,
North America, implementation of the regional the relevant urban planning tools and methods
strategies requires strong alignment with the currently deployed in Auckland appeared to
local statutory land use plans and tools. These have had little or no impact on the delivery of
need to have appropriate policy responses, with good urban design outcomes that the higher
the right mix of tools and methods to achieve the order regional policies seek. Accepting that the
quality urban design outcomes sought. This scope of this study is limited, nevertheless, along
paper has evaluated three medium density case with other studies cited on this question, it does
study developments at two suburban locations point to a potential problem for achieving the
in Auckland to assess this efficacy of the urban strategic policy goals of enhanced liveability.
planning system to deliver quality urban design For this reason, there is concern about the
outcomes through the development process. current newly adopted unitary plan for
The independent assessment of the urban design Auckland. The unitary plan, having both
qualities of the case study developments regional and local urban planning functions,
produced different, if not contradictory, results. through its zoning proposal and associated rules
In the Albany case studies, the development was and guides is intended to give effect to policies
judged to be poor on all of the urban design for quality intensified development set out as
criteria used: context, building form and goals in the Auckland Plan (Auckland Council,
appearance, street scene and internal 2013). The question asked is whether this new
configuration. Yet the relevant district plan had plan has sufficiently addressed perceived
clear policy tools and methods intended to shortcomings in the existing district plans that it
direct good urban design outcomes, also well will replace? For example, will it address
aligned with the regional strategy. problems identified by urban planners
In the Onehunga case study, the development interviewed that the existing district plans are
was assessed to be good in relation to three considered to be too broad, loosely written,
urban design criteria: context, building form and unquantifiable with a disconnection between
street scene, with shortcomings associated with the weak policy direction and the zoning code
the internal configurations. Notwithstanding the and rules.
shortcomings, this development was assessed to The more positive outcome in the Onehunga
be far better than the Albany developments. development case study also raises questions
Yet in Onehunga, there is an absence of clear about the need for any urban planning
urban planning tools and methods specifically directives at all, given the absence of any
for residential development in what is a business specific urban planning tools and methods for
zone: quality development notwithstanding of residential development in this example? The
an absence of effective urban planning good outcome seems to have been derived
directives? Here the outcomes appear to have from both good design and good judgements
been largely the result of good discretionary made by the council urban planning officers
decisions made by the responsible urban through the consenting process. There is little
planning officers through the consenting doubt that good quality development relies to a
process, in conjunction with good design on the large extent on good quality design and
part of the design professionals. Consequently, it designers – the urban planners, urban designers,
is concluded that the relevant district plans and architects and other built environment
their tools and methods, have had limited professionals involved, especially where serving
impact on influencing and directing the market-driven development imperatives.
development outcome of the three case studies, However, this works best on larger sites where
despite the implicit intentions that this should be there is an opportunity to plan and design more
so. comprehensively (CABE, 2008; Adams & Tiesdell,

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2013). To some extent, the kind of land This study raises questions about the effective
development envisaged in the intensification of influence that statutory plans have had on
development around transit centres is achieving the desired quality urban design
predicated on the existence of large blocks of outcomes for the case studies at two suburban
land or ‘brownfield’ sites opportunities. A good town centres in Auckland. This in turn raises more
exemplar is a master-planned development on serious questions for implementation of the
the urban periphery of Melbourne, at University Auckland Council’s new unitary plan, which also
Hill, in the City of Whittlesea. Here a large vacant seeks to consolidate urban growth at such
site was master-planned to accommodate a mix centres spread across the metropolitan region.
of medium density housing, retail, commercial Moreover, seen in the context of research in
and light industrial activities, set in a well- other cities where inefficiencies have been
designed public realm. The result has won shown as obstacles to achieving the goals of
awards for the excellent urban design, and the urban intensification, there is sufficient reason to
success attributed to an enlightened developer have more general concern on this issue. This
willing to take risks on the urban periphery, a paper is limited in scope to one city and three
cooperative local authority willing to bend case studies. Nevertheless, it is argued that
planning rules to achieve strategic aims and evaluating the effectiveness of the urban
quality outcomes, and skilled urban planners, planning system to successfully deliver quality
urban designers and architects (Beattie and urban design outcomes that result in enhanced
Haarhoff, 2014). There are many other examples urban liveability and the associated social
of successful masterplanned developments benefits, largely through market-driven land
where the effective stakeholders cooperation development processes, is a research area
and focuss on shared goals achieves successful deserving more attention.
urban design outcomes. The opinions expressed and conclusions
However, land suitable for large-scale reached in this paper however are entirely those
development of this kind is limited in most cities, of the authors and do not necessarily reflect
including Auckland where areas in the vicinity of those of the funders nor persons interviewed.
many suburban transit centres are located.
Delivering on the goals for intensified Acknowledgments
development and quality urban design across This research did not receive any specific grant
most metropolitan regions relies on smaller from funding agencies in the public,
scaled, site-by-site development opportunities commercial, or non-for-profit sectors
spread across metropolitan regions. Moreover,
smaller scale, incremental developments in References
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