The price of the popularity of the town has led to significant growth pressures and it has been this issue that has proved a major focus for the Council. The shadow of projected population growth forecasts had resulted in public debate centred on the contentious issue of the height of buildings rather than the future form of the town overall. A classic case of not being able to see the wood for the trees!
The way forward
With a community fatigued by previous consultation processes which led nowhere, the Council felt it necessary to get people physically involved in the plan-making process and ensure that the plans they created were founded on a good level of understanding. It was also felt to be crucial to the ‘re-energising’ process to move quickly and report back to participants promptly. For these reasons, a Design Forum was selected as a suitable technique for the town and Twyford Consulting, Australia were selected to assist in designing and facilitating the Forum.
This Design Forum reflected the key objectives of:
- getting all the key players together face to face
- doing it relatively quickly
- making the process as transparent as possible
- building understanding about the opportunities and constraints
The Design Forum was based on the key elements of a charette, but was significantly modified to suit the situation and budget.
To ensure the plan-making was robust, the Design Forum was broken into three phases. The first session (Day 1) focussed on writing a Decision Statement for the town and generating criteria to ultimately measure the success or failure of the Masterplan. This work was undertaken by the public and by the end of Day 1 we had agreement on what the goal of the exercise was and how we would judge the eventual Masterplan. Another explicit feature of this day was to ensure the public understood their role in the process as well as the ultimate responsibility of the Council to make a decision.
Day 2 was concerned with information gathering and sharing. Numerous specialists from the Council were available to discuss their particular areas of responsibility in the town. Workshops considered and discussed the Regional and local planning context, water issues, highways and design.
A specialist from RDT Pacific also was on hand to discuss the commercial realities of development. The goal of the day was to gather all the information together in advance of the following days ‘hands on’ Planning session.
On Day 3 the participants organised themselves into design teams. Using a modified version of the Smart Code designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk the challenge to the groups was to construct a future pattern of development for the town. Using counters which symbolised different densities of development and building typologies the groups had all produced a ‘first cut’ of their Masterplan by lunchtime.
Moving around the room a number of common themes started to clearly emerge and were recorded and discussed with the group as a whole. (These agreed themes would be carried through to the following week when the Council’s design team would work to draw together the six plans into one coherent Masterplan). At the end of the day the six groups briefly presented their Masterplan to the group as a whole and then proceeded to nominate one member from each group to form a team to observe the work of the Council’s design team in the week following.
The Council’s design team then built the draft master plan over the following 5 days utilising the input from the Forums. The final draft was presented to the Council at a public meeting at the end of that week.
The nominated team of observers met regularly with the design team during the week to ensure the input was being utilised, and that the design was satisfying the agreed criteria. This team also reported back to the public meeting, not on content, but on how the design team had followed the agreed process using the input. The Design Forum process at Orewa has to date delivered a solid foundation with a key group of stakeholders that had previously struggled to agree on a strategic picture for the town’s future.
Having all the main players together for a concentrated effort, and paying attention to the relationships and assumptions as well as the technical details, has created a platform to enable the players move forward together particularly the property developers, residents and ratepayers and the local Council.