Tauranga council seeks urban design panel in bid to avoid repeating Aucklands mistakes

Design experts on a panel set up in part to help Tauranga avoid Auckland’s “mistakes” could each earn $185 per hour.

Some say the money and panel will be worth it but others say it is another expense Tauranga residents will have to “foot the bill” for. The city is already facing an estimated $300 million cost for a new Civic Precinct and 13.7 per cent rates rise.

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On Monday, the Tauranga City Council’s strategy, finance, and risk committee approved plans to establish the urban design panel, expected to be a pool of up to 15 architectural, design, and property development professionals.

Four to five panellists from the pool will be selected for each meeting, which will require a quorum of three. The pool size is expected to allow for the reselection of panellists if there was a conflict of interest.

The panel would review and offer guidance on designs and provide independent, professional urban design advice on key public and private projects.

Indicative costs suggested Tauranga panellists would be paid $185 an hour in the interim (2022/23 year). They were expected to spend 1.5 hours in a meeting and two hours preparing, and $32,590 had been budgeted for this.

Ten meetings were expected in the first year. By 2023/24, it was expected the panel would meet 26 times a year and a budget of $71,400 has been indicated for this.

In addition, a budget of $173,000 for each financial year has been suggested to fund a full-time urban designer position on the council and a part-time administrative role.

Similar panels have been established in other cities such as Hamilton, where panellists generally did not charge for their time.

In feedback provided to Tauranga City Council, Hamilton City Council senior urban design planner Paul Bowman said most of its 19 panellists saw it as a way of giving back to the city. However, there was an hourly rate they could be paid if they asked.

The Christchurch City Council panel had 18 to 20 members.

In her meeting report, council senior policy planner Corinne Frischknecht said good quality urban design was needed now more than ever and the City Plan had “very limited urban design provisions or requirements”.

Commission chairwoman Anne Tolley said the proposal was a “definite change to the way we’ve been doing things”.

“If we don’t change dramatically, we won’t get that big change we are looking for.”

Commissioner Stephen Selwood said Auckland was an example where “if you go out into the suburbs” good urban design “may as well not exist”.

“There are some suburbs with buildings that are just concrete monstrosities, not a tree in sight. One of our main drivers is to encourage a shift in transport mode but also …we are seeing areas of increased density that aren’t being served by public transport which only increases car dependency.

“In Tauranga, we need to not make the same mistakes.

“This is not just about ‘does this building look good?’. ‘Does it work from a user perspective and is it something we will be proud of as a city grows?’. It’s monumentally critical we get that right.”

Sustainability Bay of Plenty executive director Glen Crowther told the Bay of Plenty Times he was heartened such a panel was being established because the city was in “a crucial time”.

But Crowther said the panel needed an environmental, economic, and social sustainability voice and “some people in there who are challenging the thinking from different angles”.

“The design outcomes might be great but I don’t think they [panellists] are necessarily the right people to look at sustainability or affordability trade-offs.”

Transport advocate Heidi Hughes, who resigned as councillor last year, applauded the move, saying the former council tried to make this happen.

Hughes had concerns about urban sprawl and issues down the line if major housing developments were built with a lack of urban planning — such allowances for public transport infrastructure.

“To update and constantly challenge that is super important. That’s what we tend to lack. We make the same mistakes because the delivery is so far after the planning phase, but we need to be able to create more kinds of oversight.”

Citizens’ Advocacy Tauranga chairman Rob Paterson questioned how the panellists would be selected. He wanted to see people who could give “truly independent advice” and was concerned about ratepayers “footing the bill”.

Paterson said ratepayers were already facing paying for the proposed $300m Civic Precinct, which he feared could spiral in cost.

“Getting bang for buck, that’s the major issue I see. It just worries me. We will be putting things in place that cost a lot of money.”

HG Rose Architecture co-director and consultant for Insight Architects Phil Green said he believed the panel payment rate was “quite a small stipend to pay for professional service and advice”.

Green helped instigate plans for the panel and is also chairman of Grace Rd, Avenues and Neighbourhood Residents Association.

“Most professionals charge out rates from $200 an hour … You are getting some professional feedback,” he said.

“We still have buildings in the CBD to be either removed, repurposed, or rebuilt. We have got growing areas in the city. It’s just showing people we all have an interest in the future of this city.”

It was envisioned the panel would provide review services early in the design process, ideally at or before the pre-application stages for private development such as apartment buildings and mixed-use developments, and public-sector projects such as streetscape and public buildings.

The panel was expected to be implemented within 18 months.

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