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Top award recognises planning transformation

6 May 2005

Top award recognises planning transformation

Wellington City Council has been given a prestigious national award by the NZ Planning Institute as a result of the transformation of its planning services in 2003.

The review then restructure led to the creation of the 60-person Urban Strategy Group – which has moved Wellington City to a position where it is now regarded as the national leader in urban planning.

Urban Strategy Group Director Stephen Rainbow says last week’s naming of Wellington City as recipient of the NZPI’s Nancy Northcroft Planning Practice Award was a “fantastic result” for members of the group.

“It shows that a truly integrated approach to planning can mean only good results for the city and its population – and reputation.

“We’re confident the quick thinking, consistent decisions, good communication and ability to look to the future in a co-ordinated, comprehensive manner will be beneficial to the future development of the Capital.”

Dr Rainbow says most Wellingtonians would probably be blissfully unaware of the existence and significance of the Council’s Urban Strategy Group. “But its influence is already being felt in a variety of ways, such as in good resource consent decision makings.

“Group staff are working together well to make the right calls in terms of how developments can benefit the city, and how their negative effects can be minimised.”

The 2003 review brought together 60 District Plan, resource consents, parks planning, urban design, heritage, policy, compliance and project staff together onto one floor. Prior to that they had been spread over varying units of the Council. Communication was not good – meaning decisions were often inconsistent. “As a result we had frustrated people both inside and outside the Council.”

The review involved discussions with affected Wellington staff – and staff in the planning departments of Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch City Councils.

Three principal structural changes resulted, including: drawing all of the existing RMA planning teams into one management unit – a combined Planning Team creating a new Forward Planning Team, separate from the District Plan team creating two new positions: Best Practice Manager and Principal Planner The Best Practice Manager is primarily responsible for ensuring top-quality work across the group and identifying and pursuing opportunities for building relationships with other city councils, professional institutions, the Ministry for the Environment and other central Government agencies, and tertiary institutions The Principal Planner is primarily responsible for complex, high-profile or major project resource consents and providing input into the interpretation and development of District Plan provisions and long-term planning frameworks.

The forward planning team has already made significant progress towards the preparation of an Urban Development Strategy, aimed at providing a framework for shaping, influencing and managing the growth and change of the city’s urban form over the next 30-50 years.

Dr Rainbow says the reorganisation has also helped in the recruitment of staff to the City Council. “Planning is one of those areas where there are global shortages of good staff. The new structure allows staff far greater opportunity to get experience in many facets of planning. We are more than holding our own in terms of attracting and retaining staff.”

He adds that the revised structure is ‘organic’ and will continue to evolve and respond to the challenges of local authority planning. “The structure encourages well-considered decision making. The City Council is thus better placed to provide better and clearer planning results to our community while providing a rewarding and team based working environment to our planners.”

Other New Zealand local authorities are taking a close look at the Wellington Urban Strategy Group model – with Auckland City Council now restructuring along the same lines.


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