Randerson Report – Landscape and Urban Design analysis

Author: Dennis Scott – Landscape and Urban Design Knowledge Hub Leader

This item is a brief landscape and urban design overview analysis (‘bite size’ rather than exhaustive) of the ‘Randerson Report’ (the report) – ‘New Directions for Resource Management in New Zealand – Report of the Resource Management Review Panel June 2020’.

The report recommendations have significant ramifications for the practice of landscape architecture and urban design in the RMA context.

The report recommends a ‘Natural and Built Act’ (NBEA) to replace the RMA.  The key (Chapter 1 Integrating land use planning and environmental protection) recommendation is to retain, reinvigorate and strengthen an integrated approach for land use planning and environmental protection, encompassing both the built and the natural environments in the reformed legislation. Associated and selected key relevant ( Chapter 2) purposes and principles include recommendations towards proactive measures to enhance the quality of the natural and built environments to support the wellbeing of present and future generations and to recognise the concept of Te Mana o te Taiao, including current matters of national importance promoting ‘positive outcomes specified for the natural and built environments, rural areas, tikanga Māori, historic heritage, and natural hazards and the response to climate change”. A core requirement is to authentically give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. This, to be achieved by ensuring positive outcomes for the environment are promoted; the use, development and protection of natural and built environments is within environmental limits; and the adverse effects of activities on the environment are avoided, remedied or mitigated.

The welcome positive and proactive approach is clearly articulated in the recommended proposed new section 7 lists outcomes that include ‘enhancement’ and ‘restoration’ in addition to ‘protection’ and ‘maintenance’.  The Section 7 outcomes (Chapter 2 -Purpose and principles) provide the detailed matters to be provided for within the natural environment, built environment, tikanga Māori, rural, historic heritage, natural hazards and climate change sectors.

Mandatory recommendations include environmental limits should be specified for certain biophysical aspects of the environment including freshwater, coastal water, air, soil and habitats for indigenous species and greater use of mandatory national direction, including the identification of features and characteristics that contribute to the quality of both natural and built environments, and to respond to climate change. A focus on outcomes is recommended with principles to guide implementation identified.

Importantly, the report recommends that the environment should be defined broadly to include:

  • ecosystems and their constituent parts
  • people and communities
  • natural and built environments whether in urban or rural areas.

It is noted that the above recommended definition of environment no longer references the current RMA1991 definition in the same manner, e.g. clauses (b) all natural and physical resources (c) amenity values and (d) the social, economic, aesthetic, and cultural conditions which affect the matters stated in paragraphs (a) to (c) or which are affected by those matters.

It is therefore hoped that the recommended definition of ‘environment’ by specifically referencing  people and communities retains the important notion that ‘environment’ becomes ‘landscape’ when interpreted through the lens of human perception. This concept is fundamental to understanding landscape as an integrated biophysical, perception (sensory) and associative experience of place by people.  This also underpins the important concept of landscape as inherently comprising both objective and subjective matters. This relationship is critical to the practice of landscape architecture and urban design in the resource management context.

It is important that landscape is recognised for wider integrative role in the new legislation. It would be considered tragic if landscape is relegated to a permanent restricted residence in the retained s6(b), slightly adjusted, protection of outstanding natural features (ONF) and outstanding natural landscape (ONL) provision recommendations [Now S7b(ii)].

A concern is expressed here that the report does seemingly favour biophysically dominated ‘bottom lines’  to underpin environmental protection and enhancement outcomes. The recommended definition of ‘natural environment’ includes land, water, air, soil, minerals and energy, all forms of plants, animals and other living organisms (whether native to New Zealand or introduced) and their habitats, and includes ecosystems; and ‘built environment’ defined as human-made buildings, structures, places, facilities, infrastructure and their interactions which collectively form part of urban and rural areas in which people live and work with the concept of  Te Mana o te Taiao also referring  to the importance of maintaining the health of air, water, soil and ecosystems and the essential relationship between the health of those resources and their capacity to sustain all life.

In this sense, a robust pitch to the review panel to retain the subjective component in the new legislation, including specifically referenced recommendations profiled towards social and community wellbeing matters – beyond the recommended S5 purpose clause at s5(4) – would assist to ease this apparent gap.  On this topic Simon Upton (RMLA Salmon Lecture 2020-RMA Reform: coming the full circle states “I would suggest that in practical, everyday terms, people make a distinction between those land uses that compromise the biophysical functioning of the ecosystems we intersect with and are a part of; and those land uses that raise social, cultural and amenity frictions. It is a distinction that holds the key to pragmatic law reform.

The comprehensive and holistic Te Ao Māori (Māori worldview and consciousness) sits comfortably in this context.

Cultural landscape is defined as an area or place with strong significance for mana whenua arising from cultural or historic associations and includes connected natural, physical or metaphysical markers or features. This is considered acceptable as far as it goes, however, it does needs to be stated that landscape is the intersection nature and culture. Landscape cannot  exist as a perceptual/sensory/experiential construct without the inseparably bound nature/culture paradigm.  All landscapes are either cultural or natural and/or predominantly a combination of both. A prefaced mana whenua cultural landscape or Māori cultural landscape terminology would ease that nuance.

Urban design practice is particularly strengthened within the NBEA in relation to the built environment proposals.  The practice of urban design is also support by the National Policy Statement on Urban Development 2020 (NPS-UD).  The report emphasises the review panel’s view that to achieve good environmental outcomes and make the greatest contribution to the overall wellbeing of communities, urban planning should be more focused on setting the high-level patterns of land use for urban development and less focused on developing the elaborate and overly complex regulatory controls that are characteristic of current district plans. To reiterate, a positive and proactive approach is clearly articulated in the reports recommended proposed new section 7 outcomes.

 The report also proposes a separate Strategic Planning Act (SPA) to improve strategic integration across the resource management system. Required Regional Spatial Strategies are recommended and promoted to meet long-term objectives and strategies to improve the quality of the natural and built environments, provide sufficient development capacity, promote Māori interests and values, promote the sustainable use of rural land, protect historic heritage, address natural hazards and climate change. The spatial strategies also address:

  • indicative future transport corridors
  • major existing and future infrastructure such as ports, airports, wastewater treatment plans, water treatment plants, and opportunities to make better use of existing infrastructure networks additional development capacity required to accommodate growth, and scenarios for how the region may develop in the future
  • indicative locations for new social infrastructure needed to support population growth, including hospitals and schools
  • indicative costs and timing of future infrastructure and
  • growth scenarios indicative locations for regionally significant new recreational or community facilities
  • nationally significant natural features in the region (as identified through national direction) regionally significant ecological areas, landscapes and recreational space that should be protected or enhanced
  • areas of historic heritage value and areas or resources of significance to mana whenua that should be protected or enhanced areas where significant change in land use is required to reduce impacts of land use and development on lakes, rivers, wetlands and the marine environment
  • areas for enhancement and restoration, such as wetlands and green corridors
  • areas that may be affected by climate change or other natural hazards, and measures that might be necessary to address such issues

Landscape and urban design approaches are inherent components in the recommended programme to assist the achievement of these specific spatial strategies.