The role of science in land use planning : exploring the challenges and opportunities to improve practice

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Kilvington, M.; Saunders, W.S.A. 2016 The role of science in land use planning : exploring the challenges and opportunities to improve practice. Lower Hutt, N.Z.: GNS Science. GNS Science report 2016/57 iv, 53 p.; doi:10.21420/G2G59K

Abstract: The report is the output of a project funded through the GNS Science Strategic Development Fund to examine the relationship between natural hazard science and local government land use planning in New Zealand. In this project we looked at what prompts and incentives there are for including natural hazards science in decisions on land use; and assessed some of the barriers to successful uptake of natural hazards science in local government planning and policy development. The project had three inter-related components: 1. A review of relevant literature exploring the known challenges; proffered solutions and current gaps relating to the specific context of natural hazard science and land use planning in New Zealand (Section 2.0); 2. An examination of the specific case of Hutt City Plan Change 29, where GNS Science acted as a corporate citizen and presented its science as a submission to the proposed plan change (Section 3.0); 3. A range of focus groups and interviews with scientists from GNS Science and NIWA; policy and planning staff from local and regional government agencies; as well as staff from Ministry for the Environment (MFE), and the Earthquake Commission (EQC). These were used to shape ideas about the context for generating and using natural hazards science for both stakeholders and researchers (Section 4.0). The way in which natural hazards science is incorporated in local level decisions affecting land use is a complex process, influenced by numerous social levers and networks. There are many actors who have a role to play. Both research providers and policy and planning practitioners are aware of many of the challenges associated with enabling science-to-practice. However, efforts to improve the situation are sometimes misplaced and are often dominated by ideas about improved delivery and science communication that can place undue burden and expectations on only one component of a complex system. In this review of the use of natural hazards science in land use planning, and in the specific case of Hutt City Plan Change 29, we found that the availability of technical information alone is not enough to ensure that natural hazards science is able to contribute to any planning decision. Rather, a mix of factors act to facilitate and constrain this. These include the time limits of existing planning processes, the skills and resources of planners and policy makers, the availability of consultants or knowledge brokers who can interpret technical information into compelling and plausible planning options and importantly, social and political pressure which shapes the decision context and directs it towards a specific planning outcome that may not accommodate natural hazard risk as a high priority. Any contribution to improving the science-to-practice interface for natural hazards and land use planning, by an individual or an agency, is more likely to be successful when the system itself is better understood. This review showed numerous oppo rtunities to support better capacity within planning and policy development to address natural hazards risk. This includes actions to support more long term, ongoing interactions between researchers and practitioners (particularly at the local level), and acknowledgment of the importance of knowledge brokerage. It also recognises the role for national agencies in providing stronger directives for the inclusion of natural hazards science in land use planning; and for national, regional and local agencies to become better at sharing the specific expertise associated with understanding and managing risk. The case of Plan Change 29 illustrates that there is also value in research agencies acting as ‘concerned citizens’. Advocacy for the responsible inclusion of natural hazards information in decisions affected by natural hazard risk is a value that needs support from qualified experts within the planning process. While wholesale participation in planning processes across New Zealand is beyond the resources of science providers, considered involvement in select cases can greatly advance best-practice for how natural hazards science is included in land use planning decisions. (auth)