Member Alert – Attention all planners and planning professionals

The Productivity Commission’s draft report on Better Urban Planning’s Chapter 12 paints a concerning profile of the planning profession: it challenges both the future role of the planner, and the need for public participation in key planning decisions.

The RMLA urges its members to respond to the Productivity Commission to ensure the Commission is better informed for the purposes of amending and finalising its Report to the Government. The closing date for submissions on this report is October 03. There is still time for RMLA members and their clients to voice an opinion.

For those who have not yet had time to thumb through the 400-page Draft Better Urban Planning report recently published by the Productivity Commission, it is worth prioritising Chapter 12. In its discussion of the ‘Culture and Capability’, it calls into question the future role of planners and public participation.

Launching into a stark critique of New Zealand’s planning profession, the Draft Report’s Chapter 12 describes New Zealand’s planners as having “struggled to carve out a unique professional identity”, noting that a ‘broad’ approach to planning education has resulted in planners emerging from university “with only a cursory understanding of the disciplines on which they draw”, resulting in “policy prescriptions that lack a strong theoretical or empirical evidence base”.

The authors go on to suggest that some of the more popular planning tenets are either “outdated or lack evidential foundations”; that the teachers lack practical experience; the practitioners lack academic qualification; that no standard assessment of planning capability currently exists, and the available indicators have limitations.

The history of planning has “emboldened a professional culture that is confident that planning can solve a range of social problems and improve society’s health and wellbeing, resulting in a profession developing a cultural licence to assert specialist knowledge in a wide range of policy and social issues”, write the authors. In practice, planners have struggled to convince others that they possess such knowledge to justify any such licence, they conclude.

The authors refer to a recent Productivity Commission survey of local government where a mere 6% of respondents believed planning could influence socioeconomic disparities; only 17% of respondents thought planning could influence crime and violence; and where only 19% of respondents thought planning could influence greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

When it comes to public participation in the planning process, the authors dismiss consultation as a hindrance to consensus noting, “as the number of people involved in a decision increases, the costs of facilitation and coordination rise, and the likelihood of consensus falls.”

Public participation in the planning process should be “limited to local public goods and cases where the number of competing interests is small and when the resource in question is well-defined”, say the authors. Beyond this scale, “the approach eventually becomes too unwieldy, voices are lost in the noise, and those with the sharpest elbows and loudest voices prevail”.

The overreaching message of the Better Urban Planning Report’s Chapter 12 seems to be that the culture of planning is fundamentally flawed. The authors opine that an “inherent friction” between policy planners and urban designers is exacerbated by the organisational culture of councils, where planning outcomes hinge on the receptiveness of decision-makers to new and innovative approaches to planning tasks; the extent to which planners feel comfortable challenging other planners about poor planning practices; the extent to which planners feel comfortable offering free and frank advice to councillors; and the relative importance that decision makers (implicitly or explicitly) place on different aspects of planning.

The report’s Chapter 12 concludes: “The planning profession has struggled to identify a unique body of knowledge that it can lay claim to, or a specific professional space which it exclusively occupies. This has contributed to the profession having a weak professional identity, leading planners to fall back on legislation to define (and justify) their role in the planning system.”

The Commission is now seeking submissions from all interested parties, including residents, businesses, developers, planners, iwi, local authority staff, community representatives and environmentalists.

The RMLA is endeavouring to complete a submission also.  If you would like to contribute to the preparation of a submission on behalf of the RMLA, please contact RMLA’s Executive Officer, Karol Helmink:

Submissions are due by 3 October 2016, and the Commission’s final report to the Government is due on 30 November 2016.

To find out how to make an independent submission click here or contact:

Steven Bailey, Inquiry Director
T: (04) 903 5156


T: (04) 903 5167

The draft report is available from