URBAN PLANNING AND THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
In terms of instituting the Resource Management Act (RMA) towns and cities offered the greatest challenge despite the fact that New Zealand is a strongly urbanised society. By the 2006 Census 86 per cent of New Zealanders lived in urban areas and the country had been predominantly urbanised since the early twentieth century. It is a testament to the strength of the biophysical views that dominated the RMA’s creation that the urban environment was so completely and comprehensively ignored. As a result, as Perkins and Thorns (2001: 642) observe, ‘cities do not appear as units to be planned, all decisions are shaped by a broadly natural environmentalist framework – but one which is partial as it largely excludes economic and social questions’. This has created multiple problems for the RMA’s implementation in urban areas as it left planners with no clear indication of how urban issues should be addressed under the new legislation. It also created problems at the consultation stage of plan-making processes when planners struggled to explain to urban dwellers just what the RMA had to offer their city. New Zealand’s planning experience in the past had largely been urban, given that the first planning legislation was confined to urban areas, with so-called rural planning not being legislated for until 1953. Many planners would also quite accurately claim that rural planning was always a poor relation to urban planning, with many farmer-dominated county councils being content to provide for a minimalist planning effort. This generally urban focus to planning had the effect of making planners’ experience somehow suspect and not relevant or appropriate to the new style of environmentally focused planning. This effect was increased by the tendency of the catchment boards that had administered the pre-RMA Water
and Soil Conservation Act 1967 and its water use applications to generally use technical specialists rather than planners.