On 6 May 2021 Over 100 staff and officials from across LGNZ’s members dialled into LGNZ’s ‘Spatial Planning, is it enough?’ Interactive Symposium. LGNZ hosted a variety of experts with the purpose of talking through and understanding what the Strategic Planning Act (SPA) means for planning functions and land use throughout New Zealand. You can access the agenda here and a recording of the event here.
LGNZ’s President, Stuart Crosby, gave an introductory speech where he noted that questions on SPA’s impacts for ‘how we plan’ need to be matched with a discussion of ‘why we plan’. He pointed out that the SPA should enable a future where affordable housing is a reality, environmental and cultural value is preserved, and communities are given as many infrastructure options as possible so local governments can deliver their vision.
Next, LGNZ staff launched a Sense Partners report we commissioned with help from Kirdan Lees (Partner and Economist, Sense Partners). The Sense Partners report points to two components of spatial planning and argues that its strategic component is most needed to enhance the value proposition of New Zealand’s cities, improve housing affordability and protect our environment. Jason Krupp (Deputy Chief Executive, LGNZ) talked through the key points from this report with Kirdan, which include:
- Increasing choice in our cities deepens labour markets and makes our urban areas more attractive
- Local government can help, but we need to solve coordination and funding issues
- Sequencing of development opportunities enables land banking and limits choice, which increases the price of land
- We need to shift to a world in which much more land is simultaneously released to give families a better choice where they wish to locate and discipline land prices, thereby improving housing affordability
You can access the full report as well as an LGNZ summary of key points here.
From there, LGNZ’s Advocacy team gave an overview of spatial planning and the fragility of land markets. We drew from the Sense Partners Report and noted how strategic planning should be used to frame the spatial planning scheme envisaged in the Randerson Report. Although the Randerson Report’s approach to spatial planning is a good start, the Advocacy team asserted that a strategic vision alongside a specific programme of work to identify and protect future development options is needed to help spatial plans deliver cost-effective infrastructure and promote affordability – something the RMA has struggled to do. In a nutshell, the team explained how applying a strategic frame to the spatial planning scheme envisaged in the Randerson Report would enable us to achieve multiple outcomes, in particular through:
- Providing ample supply of alternative opportunities for development
- Making many opportunities available at the same time (not in sequence)
- Enabling opportunities to be realised cost-effectively (infrastructure investments)
Next, an expert panel revealed some of the critical elements for the SPA to succeed. Jason Krupp convened Blair Bowcott (General Manager, Growth, Hamilton City Council) and Peter Nunns (Principal Economist, Infrastructure Commission). Much of this discussion centred on operational and funding challenges for spatial planning across metros and the regions. Blair Bowcott discussed his learnings from his on-the-ground work in experimenting with spatial planning in partnership with central government. Peter Nunns brought a strategic perspective to consider how we could transfer international success to the New Zealand context.
The panel elaborated on how a strategic frame promotes options and enables us to more flexibly respond to growth pressures, rather than taking one fixed path that can embed unforeseen impacts. The panellists drew on practical experience to demonstrate the limitations of current planning techniques and highlighted how a different approach has potential for shared benefits (e.g. preserving biodiversity while achieving growth). The panellists also drew from the experiences of other countries, including Australia and the United States, to show how strategic planning can help us accommodate growth in the most efficient way possible, and what funding arrangements may need to be explored to make a new approach viable despite political cycles.
Finally, the Advocacy team and Kirdan Lees talked with the audience about what the SPA will mean for local government in a broad sense. The conversation began with the role strategic planning could play in better protecting highly productive land and reducing climate change emissions. A greater focus was then placed on what the ideal institutional arrangements would need to be to support spatial planning on the one hand and place-making on the other. They discussed distinct roles for expert advice and decision making to enable each role to maximally contribute according to its strengths, and ensure that the institutional arrangements reflect the underlying politics. The conversation touched on how to make space for value-based decisions in allocating resources and local voice.
In summary, the Advocacy team and expert panellists concluded that implementation eats strategy for breakfast at every opportunity. At the same time, we need to be intellectually curious and creative in exploring how we can do things differently at a strategic level so that we can learn from success. To quote Peter Nunns, we need to learn how “to purchase land not concrete” to make headway with the affordability of our infrastructure and our homes.