The Newsletter of Boulter Consulting
Issue 1 - January 2012
What is "planning"? The Head of Department posed this question to us when as a student I first arrived for my degree course in 1972. I'm not sure anyone has fully answered it since!
In those days the Department had shortly before changed its title from " Town Planning
" to " Urban and Regional Planning
", and my degree has the latter title. "Town planning" had become a little old-hat, and on arriving in New Zealand in 1995 I think I botched a few interviews by owning up as a member of the " Town and Country Planning Association
". At this time, New Zealand had firmly ditched the " town and country planning
" title in favour of " resource management
", reflecting the title of the lead legislation governing it.
And if you go back further, the " Town and Country Planning Association
" had rebranded itself from the former " Garden Cities Association
Notice in all these name changes the attempt to 'go broader'. Each new title means, or is meant to mean, something broader in meaning than the previous one. Interesting, I think, as a clue to answering that holy-grail type question " What is 'planning'?
": planning doesn't have boundaries, and we shouldn't seek to tie it down.
I'd further suggest that 'planning', to use the simplest term I can think of and therefore the most flexible, has at its heart meant thinking outside some particular square. It was born in the late 1800s in an attempt to not just regulate housing standards, but imagine (and hopefully in time build) whole settlements, including educational, recreational, commercial and government facilities. A nice thought, but by the 1960s the technically-led 'new town blueprints', into which 'planning' had morphed, had lost touch with the lives of ordinary people: planning had come to brutalise the very people it had intended to help. So we became aware of the need to consider how 'planning' affects ordinary people and their communities, even if that meant foregoing our grand dreams and - dare I say it - our chances to make as much money out of bringing them about. Community workers among the poor were doing more good than well-paid 'suits' in ivory towers. Then in the 1980s and 1990s came environmental concerns, and in the early 2000s architects and landscape architects reminded us to design cities in a good way - which meant creativity - rather than just stop bad forms of development. Planning is kept alive by listening to new voices.
And now? Well my website and business branding gives you a pretty good feel for where I stand. I actually live in that cottage, but it makes a nice icon of homeliness. Community relationships are ultimately the test of how good our planning is.
Consultancy news Here are a few things I've been up to:
• Each year for the past 8 years - my longest-running project - I have lectured for two days on the NZ Institute of Highway Technology
's degree and diploma courses. These are students of engineering, with an emphasis on the bigger roads, and how to build them, more than managing the traffic. Very much the practical end of road engineering, to which I've provided material on how land transport programmes are put together and funded, which criteria govern priorities, how different projects 'package' together, and the differences between a regulation, rule, standard, guideline, policy, strategy and more. This year a course restructure means NZIHT no longer need me to do this, but they've given me work on post-assessment moderation
. I'm finding this interesting - as a non-engineer I don't need an engineering background, because my job is to look at the 'model answers' and check whether the various presenters have been marking the tests, assignments and examinations appropriately. This is all about raising and maintaining academic standards.
• Completed a Walking and Cycling Strategy for Carterton District Council.
A privilege to work for my own home town. It's a friendly place, and I think we can build on that. This Strategy isn't some technician-led dream of cycling facility infrastructure sprayed all over the place - although some infrastructure changes are needed, it's more a case of building on the enthusiasm already out there. I'm speaking on this Strategy at the February 2 Walk and Cycle
conference in Hastings.
• Hutt Road, Lower Hutt
connects Lower Hutt town centre with the route into central Wellington. My longstanding colleague Bill Barclay of Barclay Traffic Planning
called on me in to help him advise Hutt City Council
on what could be done for cyclists.
An interesting one: steady traffic, industrial premises, side turnings, some biggish intersections, and not enough space for cycle lanes on the road, or to share the footpath. There are positive things we can do, though, and a path connecting to the Esplanade harbourfront path, and Petone Station, show potential. Bill will be reporting to Council early in 2012.
• I've also advised the Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway Alliance
via Don Wignall of Transport Futures Ltd
on appropriate provision for cycling in conjunction with the Expressway, north of Wellington.
• I continue to advise Masterton District Council
on implementation of their Cycling Strategy
which they adopted in 2009. I service a six-monthly Advisory Group, and lately we've had some usage counts done. I'll be analysing these for what they might suggest as priorities for future projects.
• Meanwhile, the Palmerston North-Wellington
rail service (which runs once a day each direction, funded from fares) and the Hamilton-Auckland
rail service (which has strong public support but hasn't yet got a government 'green light') continue to be challenges. With Don Wignall of Transport Futures Ltd
I've done some reports on these over the last year. The Palmerston North-Wellington service ironically faces a threat from improved Wellington suburban services in the form of extension of these services to Waikanae - meaning Waikanae commuters use these instead of the Palmerston North service, thus hitting fare revenue. Don and I both hope the Government will wake up to realise that public investment in these services repays itself more handsomely in benefits than is often realised, as our Preliminary Economic Evaluation Handbook
and other work for KiwiRail has shown. Meanwhile, the Government's lack of support for a Hamilton-Auckland service contrasts with its support for the Waikato Expressway on the same corridor - we've already suggested planning the two together.
The Future? So what does my future hold?
If I 'take a long view' back over my career in consultancy since 2003, or even further to my 1977 first job as a planning graduate, I find that the things I'm best at involve writing. My involvement in academic lecturing, writing journal articles and conference leadership (planning, chairing, speaking) have been my most flourishing areas. Various people have encouraged me to major on this aspect of my work, so I'm giving some time (on the quiet) to writing stuff. Watch this space - some may emerge as books or other published material.
Another thing I've realised is that people with my skill set tend to work from the cities, rather than rural areas like the Wairarapa. I am in fact the only planner with my skill set here. This means I can give transport policy and other advice to local Councils for better value than the bigger city-based firms - I'm a phone call and a short drive (or a short walk!) away. I have a long-standing reputation in planning and design for cycling - nationally, and beyond - and as you can read above, this is an area for which local Councils have called on me.
Time and again people have told me it isn't 'whether' but 'when' government will realise that regional and long-distance rail deserves support and active further development. I don't think this would need a change of government. To date the Greens and Labour have peddled this particular barrow, but Wairarapa Connection and (Palmerston North) Capital Connection commuters are 'suits and laptops' people. The business community - not only 'greenies' - have been among those wanting more pro-activity in this area. When (not 'if') this happens, this work could quickly be in demand.