Urban growth, climate change and water quality are some of the biggest issues facing our planners in 2019, according to the New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI).

These and other hot topics such as future food security, driverless cars and Māori involvement in freshwater planning are up for discussion at NZPI's annual conference in April.

NZPI senior policy advisor Joel Cayford says planners are in the spotlight in high-growth cities, as they work to avoid urban "poverty traps" and overcome infrastructure challenges.

"Urban planning challenges we face every day include storm water damage of waterways, providing adequate housing and infrastructure such as schools, amenities and transport," says Joel.


"There's also the challenge of finding ways to regenerate declining suburbs.

"We're planning for future cities where top of mind considerations include big data, robots, drones, autonomous vehicles and 3D-printing. We need to think carefully about how people, government and business can function together in a highly interconnected environment."

NZPI senior policy adviser Joel Cayford
NZPI senior policy adviser Joel Cayford

In the rural sector, Joel says the planning industry's focus is on New Zealand's inadequately regulated primary industries and subsequent agricultural pollution.

"International experience shows it's possible to have a productive domestic primary sector operating within environmental limits.

"We need new research and innovation here in New Zealand to identify farming processes and activities that need less water and produce less pollution."

More than 500 delegates are expected to attend NZPI's 'Weaving the Strands' conference — including industry leaders, iwi, resource managers, urban designers, scientists, environmental advocates and local and central government.

Speakers at the event from April 2-5, to be held in Napier, include former US State Legislator Sue Minter.

She will talk about planning in an unstable world, drawing on her experience as a planner in post-apartheid South Africa, state transportation leader, disaster recovery chief and political candidate in the US.


Environment Minister David Parker, Māori Development and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, Waikato University Demography Professor Tahu Kukutai, renowned designer and sustainability champion David Trubridge and Director General of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme Kosi Latu are other notable speakers.

"The 2019 conference coincides with a period of flagship reforms and legislative change," says Joel.

"The Government has just released its blueprint for improving freshwater quality, which will put in place new rules and regulations by 2020.

"A new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management aims to ensure all aspects of ecosystem health are managed, and a new National Environmental Standard will regulate activities that put water quality at risk — including intensive winter grazing and hill country cropping.

"Similarly, new climate change legislation is due to come before Parliament next month. The proposed Zero Carbon Bill will ultimately result in New Zealand being carbon-neutral within 30 years.

"Regulatory reforms are important, but the challenge for planners is bridging the gap between policy and practice," says Joel.