Scorecard to halt ugly buildings

By Bernard Orsman

Poor-quality, ugly buildings will no longer be permitted under a radical blueprint to be unveiled today by Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard.

The plan aims to put a stop to cheek-by-jowl apartment towers in the inner city and plaster boxes in the suburbs passing for urban renewal.

The Herald understands Mr Hubbard will announce plans to score every new building - from homes to high-rises - on its urban design merits, with a three-tier system to throw out mediocre proposals, process acceptable ones in the normal manner and fast-track those which are of high quality.

To create the scoring system, the council will overhaul the three district plans to include urban design criteria as part of the resource consent process. A review of the central area district plan, which covers the inner city, will start by December.

The new measures are included in the proposals of the mayoral taskforce on urban design, set up by Mr Hubbard in March to halt ugly developments and environmental damage caused by past planning rules and building controls.

"There's a growing realisation that we have got to set a masterplan for the type of city we want or need," Mr Hubbard said this month.

"Urban design covers not just architecture but open spaces, linkages to public transport, quality of the environment, where the parks and reserves are in relation to buildings and overall aesthetics."

Mr Hubbard appointed 14 people from the design and development community to the taskforce, to produce the blueprint as a defining issue for his mayoralty.

Last week, Mr Hubbard also revealed plans to give greater protection to 16,300 houses in character zones.

The taskforce is understood to have responded to Mr Hubbard's call for decisive action with a number of immediate measures before December, including the appointment of an "urban design champion" outside the council and a "city architect" to send a rocket through the council's planning department.

The city architect would provide leadership, vision, coaching and mentoring to bring about a culture change among staff, who have been criticised for lacking vision, concentrating on process, and acting in the interests of developers atthe expense of the public.

New council chief executive David Rankin will be set performance measures to champion good urban design through everything the council does, attract top urban design staff and bring about the unthinkable - getting staff to say "no" to bad design.

A member of the taskforce, who did not want to be named, told the Herald last week that most developers would welcome the stricter rules "but some of the development community is going to be upset".

Many of the measures resemble a similar exercise in Edinburgh, which recommended an urban design patron "to promote and uphold urban design standards" and set up an "exceptional fast-track planning approval process for developments that exceed design and development requirements".

It is understood that developers on the taskforce have been pushing for a fast-track process in Auckland. They want to reward developers who stretch the planning boundaries but find their ideas bogged down in long and costly planning processes.

Next month, the council will unveil design controls for high-rise apartments.

Rewriting the rulebook

Old rules

* Council officers vet buildings based on planning rules in district plans.

* Few urban design rules and no quality test in district plans.

* As long as a building complies with the district plan, it is normally approved.

* Only two of 83 apartment buildings approved in central Auckland since 1998 were publicly notified.

New rules

* Scoring system set up to vet buildings.

* Mediocre plans thrown out.

* Quality plans fast-tracked.

* Acceptable plans go through consent process in normal way.

* District plans overhauled to include urban design criteria.

* Urban design champion and city architect appointed.

* Culture change for Auckland City Council planning department.

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