Planning for a better future

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Climate change, an ageing population and the need for a resilient built environment are some of the challenges we face. Susan Houston, Chief Executive Officer of the New Zealand Planning Institute, says good planning now will prepare us for the future.

Susan Houston
Susan Houston

I AM IN THE MINORITY.  I was born and grew up in the West Country of England and migrated to Australia where I lived for many years and achieved a raft of tertiary qualifications. In 2000, I moved to New Zealand, which had been an aspiration from my teen years.

But I hope I am among the majority of people when it comes to recognising the importance of planning for the future.

Plan today for tomorrow

I am CEO of the New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI), a fast-growing not-for-profit institute representing more than 2,000 planners all over New Zealand. We share a common goal – we would love New Zealand to be a much better place for future generations because of the way we plan today.

We have already seen some major moves this year that will have positive, far-reaching impacts. One is the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment report. This identifies the importance of planning for the future by dealing with the impact of sea level rise in cities and towns.

Sea level rise with climate change

It is clear New Zealand coasts need to plan and prepare for expected sea level rise as a result of global climate change. This is a long-term issue, and we applaud the recognition that planning now is key to a resilient and sustainable future. It will enable practical solutions to be developed, while raising awareness and developing realistic expectations.

About three-quarters of New Zealanders live within 10 km of the coast and 65% within 5 km. That’s a lot of our population, communities and infrastructure around our coastal edges and coastal waterways that are potentially affected and need to be reevaluated in terms of long-term planning.

Affordability challenges

The NZPI has a strong involvement with resilience planning and the principles that underpin it. The issue of affordable housing remains one of the largest economic and social challenges facing some parts of New Zealand.

We, like other developed countries, face problems relating to land availability and housing affordability with distressingly high levels of poverty evident in some areas.

Innovative responses

Auckland’s case is just one example of where planners are being innovative in responding to the vexatious issue of housing affordability. NZPI has encouraged the government to constructively consider a raft of issues that could make a real difference to the affordable housing issue in Auckland. These include discouraging land banking through investor incentives, developing new infrastructure funding policies and building material competition within New Zealand.

Planning is a little like housework – you don’t value it until someone stops doing it. NZPI is committed to working with government and thought leaders on solutions. We are already planning our 2016 national conference, which will bring together planners to discuss complex issues facing communities today, following 25 years of implementation of the Resource Management Act.

Big projects under way

We are currently witnessing the launch of some of the biggest infrastructure projects in New Zealand in recent years. They include Auckland’s alternative Western Ring route road, ultra-fast broadband and the national transmission grid upgrade. Auckland and Christchurch housing growth is accelerating, and the Christchurch central city is being rebuilt.

We need to be equally proactive in planning for issues such as an ageing population, heritage values, water supply, infrastructure, climate change and natural hazards.

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Susan Houston
Susan Houston