By Anna Wood
The origins of the Auckland Urban Design Panel grew from the work of an architectural and planning lobby group.
SPACWI stands for the Society for the Protection of Auckland’s City and Waterfront, later known as Urban Auckland. The group gave challenge to the approval of a large corporate tower to be developed on the waterfront of Auckland’s city centre in 1999. The Society sought a High Court hearing to appeal the approval of the tower, which led to both parties agreeing to undertake a workshop to review the tower’s design. It was a combination of this action and the political pressure from a wider pool of local design professionals concerning several proposed developments that lead to Auckland City Council’s decision to establish the Auckland City Urban Design Panel as a mechanism for improving the quality of development in the city.
The Auckland City Council’s urban design panel began in 2003. The urban design panel’s establishment set the wheels in motion for what is now a widely recognised step in the design process of large and complex development proposals across all of Auckland. The urban design panel’s members represented the New Zealand Institute of Architects, the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects and the New Zealand Property Council, later joined by the New Zealand Institute of Planning. Special purpose panels formed from it when needed, such as a panel that met regularly to review development proposals within the Britomart precinct.
Following the impetus of the Auckland City urban design panel, Manukau City Council also established an independent design review body, which ran from 2006 until Auckland’s local government amalgamation. While also consisting of representatives of the four professional bodies, the Manukau panel was made up of four primary members, providing a consistent response to the development proposals brought before them, supported by a pool of reserve panellists as needed.
The development of Hobsonville Point, a new suburb being built on Hobsonville Point in West Auckland, utilised the services of a bespoke design panel, supported by Waitakere City Council. Consisting of representatives of the development company – Hobsonville Land Company, the lead designers – Isthmus Group, and Waitakere City Council’s own urban designers; the urban design panel still meets regularly to review individual buildings against the 'flexibly-prescriptive' Hobsonville Design Code.
The Auckland Urban Design Panel (commonly referred to as the AUDP) was established in 2010 following the creation of Auckland Council (an amalgamation of Auckland’s previous territorial authorities).
The urban design panel’s remit is to provide independent design review of development schemes from across all of Auckland.
Since its inception, the urban design panel has reviewed many hundreds of development schemes, providing critique to residential and commercial developments, retirement homes, infrastructure projects, education facilities and open spaces. To be reviewed by the urban design panel, a development proposal has to meet a list of criteria, which include the size of the development and the significance to the local environment or community. The urban design panel typically reviews a development proposal only once, but will sit multiple times to review a complex or controversial scheme as required.
The urban design panel continues to evolve and now also fulfils several sub-panels, designed to provide consistent membership for large scale or priority developments, such as Ormiston town centre, Hobsonville Point, and development within a statutorily defined Special Housing Area. Panel members selected to sit on a sub-panel are chosen in recognition of the applicability of their skills to the development, and also to ensure consistency of advice. In addition, the urban design panel now benefits from the input of specialist advisors representing the various fields of: heritage, environmentally sustainable design, and universal design.
Auckland’s waterfronts benefit from another design panel operating within the city, that commonly referred to as TAG – an independent ‘Technical Advisory Group'. The TAG panel operates outside of the scope of the Auckland Urban Design Panel but does benefit from the involvement of several members of the urban design panel, including the panel’s convenor Professor John Hunt.