The Panel was originally set up in 2003, for a six month trial period, to provide independent review of major developments in the Central Area within special planning precincts. Following the success of this initial trial period, Auckland City has now endorsed and extended the role of the Panel to include significant developments throughout the whole of the city which are subject to design assessment.
The Panel is made up with representatives from the NZ Institute of Architects, the Property Council of NZ and the NZ Institute of Landscape Architects. Members are practitioners and academics. Current convenor of the Panel is John Hunt, Professor of Architecture, Auckland University.
The Panel is not a decision making body. Its role is advisory only, in the first instance to the applicant and, secondly, to the Council’s resource consent commissioners. To date many major projects in the city have been reviewed by the Panel, often as an iterative process, and significant improvements have been made to the urban design quality of projects. Clearly, the earlier a project comes before the Panel, the better, and this is encouraged. The Panel’s real role is not simply giving proposals an urban design tick, but the process of peer review facilitating awareness of public realm issues relevant to a specific site.
Hopefully, developers will recognize the desirability of discussing a development brief prior to design work, to establish agreed key urban design issues for a specific site. Iterative design, dealing with these issues, can then be progressively reviewed by the Panel. Further, the role of the Panel is not to propose design solutions, nor is it a substitute for urban designers being part of project teams. Hopefully it will encourage the latter. Urban design advice given by the Panel must first be related to any relevant statutory design criteria or design guidelines. However, the assessment of adverse effects on the environment as required by the Resource Management Act (RMA) is relatively open ended, and provides the opportunity for assessment based on general urban design principles.
While the RMA is, in practice, a negative planning instrument (avoiding, remedying and mitigating adverse effects) its primary purpose (to promote the sustainable management of resources) can be positively fostered by the work of the Panel operating in parallel with the statutory processes of the RMA.