Why Planning Matters

As Kiwi planners and thousands of their counterparts in more than 30 countries around the world celebrate World Town Planning Day, it is timely to reflect on what planning is all about in 21st century New Zealand and why it matters perhaps now more than ever.

Our finite resources including land and water are increasingly under pressure as New Zealands population and economy grows. Planners have the unique role of providing the blueprint and the framework under which to consider the future use of these resources in our communities. This necessarily involves examining the economic, social, environmental and cultural interests and values of New Zealands communities, both now and in the future. We are charged with making and administering plans which allow for developing, protecting, weighing and assessing these competing demands with a view to sustainably managing the use of these resources.

Despite the highly complex and specialised work undertaken by planners, the public perception of planners is sometimes negative. Most commonly this attitude is a result of the perception that planners delay development. Planners have recently been blamed for problems with the Resource Management Act and accused of being the problem for both intensification and urban sprawl in Auckland (quite a feat!). For our part, perhaps planners have not taken the opportunity to explain exactly what it is they do, why it is important and why they are doing the job.

Could you bake a cake without a recipe? Could you build a house without a set of blueprints? Would you put on a play without a script? You could (but even Grandmas scones are based on a recipe) so without a plan it is a lot harder, probably wont work for everyone and the result is relatively uncertain.
When asked what motivates them to become and remain a planner, the majority of planners in NZ cite their passion for the work, the fact that it is about results, it is diverse, it seeks to achieve well considered outcomes and it offers them an on-going and constant challenge.

Planners, who are members of the New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI), are qualified, engaged and committed to a set of professional ethics and principles with objectivity and integrity at their core. A planner has a deep understanding of process but, importantly, is concerned with outcomes. Planners look forward, have sound analytical skills, and are equipped with evaluative techniques to perform their task that is planning for the future.

Planners in New Zealand work in a number of fields including government, public agencies, local authorities (councils), private consultancies and industry. A planners work involves research and analysis e.g. looking at trends both here or overseas in terms of such things as urban growth, transport, and resource allocation like use of water. Current practice involves a much greater degree of consultation, more discretionary guidance and more non-statutory strategies to help inform and shape our communities. This work is as important to a region, district, iwi or community as the development and administration of the district and regional plans.

Looking internationally, ineffective planning results in negative results and unconstrained natural resource use does little for the peoples future well-being. It isnt simple - there are issues of equity and sustainability to consider (so that future kiwis are able to also live, work and play in our cities, towns and rural areas), however planning must be enabling and supportive of our economic growth, social needs and cultural advancement. The plans we make now must be responsive to economic and social needs but stand the test of time to meet our cultural and environmental values, sustaining the wellbeing of our nation and communities.

This involves research and analysis. We need to know about land, air and water resources, population growth, demographic and employment trends, cultural values and associated issues, the use and needs of new technologies, business and industry, as well as community issues and conflict resolution. We bring together people in the community to discuss and develop ideas, we help develop policies, guidelines, and models to help assessment of development plans, and we undertake thorough and robust social and environmental effects assessments to make overall recommendations for the use of our resources.

Importantly, planners recognise that their role is generally as expert or advisor, not the decision maker. In New Zealand, a planners recommendation may well be rejected or significantly amended by the political decision makers, judges or commissioners.

Notwithstanding that, it is the planners of New Zealand who consciously seek to provide the plans and guidance for the use of our land, air and water resources in the future. Planners are uniquely placed, motivated and qualified to fulfil that role in the interests of current and future generations of New Zealanders. Planning matters because people matter, because society and culture matters, how we live and make a living matters, and because future generations matter.

Bryce Julyan is Chair of the New Zealand Planning Institute Chair. The NZPI represents professional, qualified planners and specialist involved in the planning profession.