Natural Hazard Planning Research

Wendy Saunders' PhD entitled Innovative Land-Use Planning for natural hazard risk reduction in NZ was the 2012 Wallace Ross Graduate Research Award recipient. The award recognises excellence in research that adds to the canon of scholarship on planning in New Zealand; and/or demonstrates or investigates improvements and enhancements in the practice of planning


Currently many planning policies and decisions are based around a 'number', for example the 1/50 or 1/100 event; and an undefined level of risk, such as an 'acceptable level of risk'. This has led to many developments being approved which actually increase the risks to people and property. The aim of Wendy's research was to develop a risk-based framework for innovative land-use planning that allows risks from natural hazards in New Zealand to be reduced, and encourages better decision making for natural hazard risk reduction. The result is a planning framework that becomes more restrictive as risk increases. With a focus on risk management principles and processes, the framework assists planners by providing policy and resource consent activity status criteria that enable hazard risks to be categorised via risk-based land-use planning. This risk-based framework provides a new approach where consequences are the primary concern, rather than likelihood; and allows for levels of risk to be defined.


As well as undertaking her PhD, Wendy leads the Planning and Policy project at GNS Science. Part of a publically funded research programme, this project has a specific focus on land use planning and natural hazards. For the next five years, the following three areas of planning research will be undertaken to assist planners in managing and planning for natural hazards:

  1. Risk-based land use planning
    Based around Wendy's PhD research, this theme involves turning the risk-based approach to land use planning for natural hazards into a web-based toolkit for planners. With funding from the Ministry of Science & Innovation, the approach is being refined and adapted into a practical guidance toolkit. In conjunction with this project a methodology for how to discuss risk with communities and within council is also being developed. The web-based toolkit is due out in August 2013, with workshops and papers around the toolkit taking place in the years following.

  2. Land use planning guidance
    In light of the earthquakes in Christchurch, we will review and update the active fault, landslide, and pre-event recovery planning guidance over the next five years. A 'planning note' on liquefaction will also be produced in the near future; once the lessons have been learned from the experience in Christchurch, a multi-disciplinary approach to liquefaction guidance will then be produced.

  3. Land use policy
    There are three main tasks associated with this theme: 1) Review and report on the implications of the RMA amendments (i.e. s6 and 7 review in regards to natural hazards); 2) look at cross-boundary issues of planning for natural hazards e.g. the Wellington fault passes through three council boundaries, but is managed differently under each city plan; and 3) The rather large task of undertaking a full content analysis of all city/district/regional plans and Civil Defence Emergency Management Group Plans. The purpose of this is to assess and gain a snapshot of how natural hazards are included and managed in these plans e.g. consistency of approach etc. From the results, recommendations will be made, and a longitudinal study will begin to assess if natural hazard policies and plans (hopefully) improve over time.

Crossing over all of these themes, GNS Science intends to collate good practice examples of how to communicate risk to communities and within councils, e.g. how to explain risk terminology and what it means.

If you have any questions regarding this work plan, or would like to be involved in one or more of these projects, please contact Wendy at w.saunders@gns.cri.nz.