Clean Growth and transport
Planning for transport infrastructure at the national and regional level is an important part of achieving Clean Growth. Why? Because transport is the lifeblood of society – it connects people with place and sustains and expands the economy.
At the same time, transport emissions are a major contributor to Aotearoa New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions; each year also being responsible for the early deaths of more than 2,200 people, and 9,200 respiratory-related hospital admissions.
In planning the shape of our future urban form, there's a fantastic opportunity to take a closer look at how we use land, which, in turn, will help determine a future, low-emissions transport system.
Harnessing systems thinking
The value of systems thinking is often overlooked or misunderstood, but it lies at the core of effective and efficient planning for Clean Growth. Systems thinking involves understanding the big picture and understanding connections within and between various systems - such as transport, housing, the economy, and the environment.
National organisations Kāinga Ora and Waka Kotahi apply systems thinking to urban development and transport projects. Auckland Transport's Future Connect network plan integrates all transport modes and land-use into a unified system - using a publicly accessible mapping portal for evidence-based decision-making, ensuring any network changes contribute to a comprehensive system view.
Leading the way with integrated planning
Key to this is 'integrated planning’ – where government, developers, iwi, and others collaborate to better join up transport planning, land use planning, and investment into a single, unified plan for the right scale, whether regional, sub-regional, suburb, centre, or site.
Central government has a crucial part to play in setting the right national direction through legislation, policy directives, and investment frameworks.
In 2018, government transport agencies introduced the concept of a Transport Outcomes Framework to assess how transport systems impact people's well-being and quality of life over generations. This framework has been included in key transport documents including the 2021 Government Policy Statement on Land Transport and Waka Kotahi’s 30-year plan.
Elsewhere, the 2024 draft Government Policy Statement for Land Transport emphasises sustainable urban and regional development, aiming to provide people with reliable access to social, cultural, and economic opportunities through various transport options. It stresses the importance of improving urban and regional life through accessible transport modes and integration with urban planning.
The Spatial Planning Act 2023 emphasises the importance of regional spatial strategies, centred on systems thinking and integrated planning, to shape a vision for our future cities. It provides a significant opportunity to transform how we plan, aligning land uses and urban form with transport networks - promoting clean mobility, and maximising existing infrastructure investments while understanding future needs. As Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency notes:
“Decisions about transport systems, the form of urban development and how land is used, all impact each other. Integrated planning is a planning approach that seeks to pull together all the contributing elements to increase the effectiveness of delivered solutions. It ensures the most efficient use of public funds and avoids creating unintended impacts.”
The importance of collaboration
Working together is crucial for planning Clean Growth cities. It's a shared job that involves many people and should be part of larger efforts to lower emissions across the entire economy.
Planning for the future is a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency task. We need to make sure we have the right people at decision-making tables, that industries can build good relationships, and that younger generations are learning needed skills.
As Phil Haizelden from Hamilton City Council points out, only through collaboration can we plan and fund truly transformative changes:
“The establishment of the Future Proof partnership in the Waikato Metro Area has let us take our work with iwi, central and local government partners to a new level, on transport, land use and water based workstreams. Aligning strategic visions, jointly identifying priorities and working with a long-term vision in a boundaryless environment has been fundamental to the steps achieved in the last two years in developing a new Future Development Strategy, detailed business cases for future major strategic water infrastructure, and in developing a strategic transport programme aligned with a compact land use, with a future bus rapid transit network at its core.”
Building a compact and sustainable urban future
National and regional policies and plans can significantly affect how our cities and communities grow and adapt to challenges. A good urban layout is one that is compact and efficient, promoting shorter trips and reducing the need for cars. This approach encourages higher population density, mixed land use, active modes, and more efficient public transport, fostering social interaction and safety.
By optimising our growth strategies and long-term visionary spatial plans, we can create more compact urban areas that are easier to get around. A report from the OECD focused on Auckland found that land use policies play a crucial role in reducing vehicle usage, which aligns with decarbonisation goals.
Local initiatives - help from the top
National and regional policy frameworks can have considerable influence over local initiatives. But achieving change at the local level can be challenging when regional systems and plans don’t align with these objectives or local values.
For instance, promoting more walking in neighbourhoods becomes difficult if regional planning results in considerable distances between vital destinations like stores, schools, and workplaces. Achieving a balance between regional consistency and local flexibility is essential to success.
Guiding growth for sustainability
National and regional land use decisions are instrumental in steering growth toward environmentally friendly transport options like walking, while bolstering the economy. Central government and local councils play a significant role in shaping growth strategies, illustrated, for example, by the National Policy Statement on Urban Development, which encourages higher density around rapid transit networks.
Policies like these align with a widely accepted planning approach that emphasises intensification along public transport routes and activity hubs - fostering the integration of transportation and land use for more sustainable and liveable communities.
Ensuring alignment and funding for success
Decisions on funding, like those made from the National Land Transport Fund, Regional Land Transport Plans, and Council Long-Term Plans, can steer us towards cleaner futures and emission reduction. To maximise their impact, we need effective national and regional planning, collaboration, and strategic funding adjustments. By recognising transportation as a shared responsibility, aligning policies, and setting a shared vision, we can shape eco-friendly urban areas, reduce emissions, and foster thriving communities and a flourishing economy and environment.
What do you think? Are current efforts and policies for Clean Growth enough, or do we need to do more? How can individual citizens actively contribute to the principles of integrated planning and systems thinking for cleaner, more sustainable cities? Contact us and let us know!
The next article in this series will explore the role that spatial planning at a precinct or street level can play in achieving wins for our environment, social, and economic futures.