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It is increasingly common for medium-density housing development and construction projects to be subjected to a design review process.

The aim of the design review process, and the design review panel that carries it out, is to provide an impartial, multi-disciplinary and constructive peer review to ensure the proposed project meets its defined design objectives. The review can encompass any aspect of the design, including the aesthetic, performance and functional requirements of the project.

Design review panels

In New Zealand, design review panels have been established for:

  • urban development of significant projects within a city, such as the Christchurch and Auckland Urban Design Panels
  • large-scale developments, such as HLC (previously Hobsonville Land Company) and Tāmaki Regeneration
  • individual developments, such as Millbrook in Arrowtown and Ferndale in Waikanae
  • historic, urban or suburban areas, such as Mt Victoria in Wellington
  • specific building typologies, such as the Ministry of Education's Design Review Panel.

Design review panels are often tasked with ensuring that new developments are consistent in character and design ethos with an existing development or to adjudicate on a set of design parameters for greenfield developments.

Larger developments, which may encompass many smaller construction and development projects, typically require each proposal to undergo a series of design reviews as it progresses.

Project design rules

Large developments often establish their own set of design rules and associated guidance, which are used to inform every aspect of the development. Together, these documents set out controls for buildings, streets and open space, control architectural and development quality and ensure the character and urban form remains consistent.

In addition to the usual design review responsibilities, the design panel on such large projects may be tasked to:

  • guide the urban design and architectural (concept) vision for the project
  • help developers, architects and designers achieve that vision
  • streamline the consenting process
  • ensure that the vision is maintained in perpetuity.

On particularly large or high-importance developments, the design rules may become a controlling document for the site. In these cases, the development’s design rules supersede the district plan rules. The district plan rules still apply, but only where the design rules do not specify a standard or requirement.