Socio-Ecological Practice Research

, Volume 1, Issue 3–4, pp 265–281 | Cite as

Designing Aotearoa New Zealand with nature: landscape regeneration of Western Waiheke Island

  • Dennis Scott
  • Dushko Bogunovich
  • Matthew BradburyEmail author


Design with Nature had a global impact on late twentieth-century landscape architectural practice. This paper looks at both the direct influence of the text and how McHarg’s ideas were developed on Waiheke Island New Zealand. The project that we will examine is the Western Waiheke Entrance Landscape (Western Landscape), a 430-ha (1065 ac.) landscape project that is now 30 years old. The project was designed by a New Zealand landscape architect/planner, Dennis Scott [DJScott Associates Ltd (DJSA)] and has been widely deemed as a well-rounded ecological, social and economic success winning the NZILA enduring landscape award in 2017 (NZILA in Showcase: enduring category winner: Waiheke Western Entrance Headland Landscape, D J Scott Associates., 2017). The DJSA design methodology combines integrated catchment management and a wide range of human activity into an ecologically regenerated landscape. We argue that this approach is a conscious, yet indigenous, development of Ian McHarg’s theory and methodology as expounded in the seminal book Design with Nature. These ideas and the consequences for the transformation of an important landscape point to new directions for socio-ecological practice.


Landscape regeneration Catchment management New Zealand Auckland Urbanisation Peri-urban growth Regulatory incentives Climate change Design with nature Ian McHarg 

1 Introduction

This paper looks at Te Huruhi, The Waiheke Western Headland Landscape (Western Landscape), a project that spans 430 ha (1065 Acres) begun in 1987 and still ongoing. Dennis Scott of DJ Scott Associates Ltd (DJSA), the project’s landscape architect, designed the Western Landscape. This was the result of the Waiheke Island Council rewriting of the District Plan (County of Waiheke 1979–1991). This paper explores the influence that Design with Nature (McHarg 1969) had on the design and development of Te Huruhi (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

The Western Waiheke Entrance Landscape 2017 DJSA

The paper begins with a description of Te Huruhi the Western Landscape, on Waiheke Island, located in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand. The original site comprising three large sheep and beef farms on the western headland of Waiheke Island is described both before and after the project design and implementation. The genesis of the project is also discussed, coming at an opportunistic moment in New Zealand history where a combination of free market reforms and environmentalist legislation leads to a unique opportunity for the development of a McHargian-influenced landscape project to be implemented.

We suggest that the project has led to a reconsideration of the Aotearoa/New Zealand landscape, which at the time of the gestation of the project (late 1980s) was a typical example of a nineteenth-century European-settler agrarian landscape. This was considered in Aotearoa/New Zealand to be productively and aesthetically superior to the indigenous landscape (Brooking 2011, p. 25). Since the mid-nineteenth century, veneration of the pastoral landscape has resulted in an impairment to the integrity, resilience and diversity of ecology in New Zealand (Pawson 2013, p. 73). A number of writers and theorists have argued that these landscapes are monocultural, unsustainable and antithetical to the unique Aotearoa/New Zealand flora and fauna (Park 1995 p. 15).

The Waiheke Western Landscape project made use of McHargian mapping and analysis techniques (McHarg 1969) to radically reconsider the landscape. The result was a socio-ecological transformation resulting in a rich social mosaic of housing, restaurants, public open spaces, recreational walkways, vineyards and other productive land uses and a restored indigenous landscape. This attractive, socially and ecologically engaged landscape has created an abundant, peri-urban community life in which human activities and the processes of natural organisms form a mutually supporting symbiosis, all within a 40-min fast ferry ride from downtown Auckland (Figs. 2, 3).
Fig. 2

Western Waiheke Landscape 1980 DJSA

Fig. 3

Western Waiheke Landscape 2017 DJSA

2 Waiheke and the western Waiheke landscape

2.1 Waiheke Island in the 1980s

Waiheke Island [area: 92 sq. km. 923 ha. (722 ac.); the length is approximately 20 km. (12.5 m.)]1 sits in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf, forty minutes by passenger ferry from Downtown Auckland City. Waiheke is roughly shaped like a Y running west–east, the tail facing Auckland and the fork shape facing the Coromandel Peninsula. The island has over 40 km (25 miles) of beaches part of an overall coastline of 133 km (83 miles). The main passenger port is Matiatia at the western end of the island. This is where most of the population dwells between Oneroa Bay and Huruhi Bay. The other suburbs: Palm Beach, Surfdale, Blackpool and Onetangi stretch out to the east. On the south side of the island are located the settlement of Rocky Bay and the Whakaanewha Regional Park. The eastern end of the island is occupied by a number of large farms and private estates.

The community comprised a host of heritage bachs2 holidaymakers, motivated incumbent ‘bohemian’ locals, farmers and nearby (affluent) city residents eager to live on this very accessible island. The indigenous inhabitants of Waiheke are Ngāti Paoa, the island’s iwi (“Appendix A”) Ngāti Paoa’s tribal boundaries stretches from the Mahurangi through the islands of the Hauraki Gulf to the Firth of Thames. Archaeological evidence shows a long occupation of the island with evidence of an extensive defensive ring of pa (“Appendix A”) around the whole island. (New Zealand Government (2017)) (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4

Waiheke Island location DJSA

2.2 The Western Landscape

The approach to the island is from the western side. Running north–south, this landscape includes Owhanake Bay, Matiatia Bay, Church Bay, Park Point and Cable Bay. These bays and their catchments comprise the island’s Western Landscape.

Owhanake, the northernmost catchment, embraces Owhanake Bay and Matiatia Bay to the south. Two main ridgeline-systems separate the bays; the landcover of both catchments was almost entirely pasture. They were surrounded by broad ridgelines that fall away to steep slopes. Sharp topography moving into flat wetland and coastal terraces describes the hydrology of the bay land interface. The narrow and steep Matiatia sub-catchment rests between the Owhanake catchment and Church Bay and is dissected by the main road corridor.

Church Bay’s topography was more serpentine with a steep slope defining the northern edge of the catchment. Several spurs decline into the gully systems, and the landscape is broader than Owhanake, peppered with stately, remnant pohutakawa and puriri trees. The elevated, complex ridges and spurs descend and connect with flat wetland areas toward the coast. While the seaward side of the catchment was predominantly pasture, the inland portion of the catchment was covered in bush.

The southern portion of Park Point hosted some areas of advanced regenerating forest systems. There was a small wetland feature, expressive of the signature confluence pattern across the broader landscape and its bays. There were some instances of steep topography, but the area was largely open spaces, the revegetation of which had already been prioritised by landowners.

The Western Landscape was collectively owned by Auckland Council, and the Delamore, Johnston, and Titchener families. It originally comprised of three working farms which had become partly degraded over time. In the 1970s, the land was characterised by depleted soils, extensive coastal erosion and negligible ecological diversity. These factors made the land inappropriate for monocultural, pastoral production and unable to recover or regenerate autonomously. Some land areas had not been farmed for many years, and there was an inadequate productive return on those areas still employed as livestock units.

The landscape was under transitional pressure to become economically viable. The economic demands on Waiheke Island were increasing. Tourism, population growth and infrastructural instability were bringing demands for a response from the community. The Western Landscape thus became a focal point for planners and landscape architects involved in looking at the future development of the island.

3 The social context: the politics of resource management

The wider Waiheke Island planning process took place at a unique moment in Aotearoa/New Zealand’s political, legislative and socio-economic history. Governmental reform began from 1984 under the newly elected Labour government. Finance Minister, Sir Roger Douglas, created a new, neo-liberalist economic model with the aim of increasing efficiency and economic performance that would help ease the recession, alleviate the currency crisis and liberate investment initiative (Keizer and Muysken 1997, p. 20). It caused a seismic shift in public sector organisation with the abolition of government department like the Ministry of Works and Development (MWD) in favour of private consultancy. Broad-scale government reforms influenced local government. Among other legislation, the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) superseded the Town and Country Planning Act 1977 (T&CPA).

These measures also fundamentally changed Aotearoa/New Zealand’s rural industry. The government ended their Supplementary Minimum Price Scheme, which had incentivised production and stabilising incomes in the pastoral livestock sector (Griffith and Grundy 1988). The Marginal Lands Board had been incentivising the wholesale clearing of ‘scrub’ and ‘bush’ to increase grazing areas and issued generous subsidies on fertiliser use. Abolition of these fiscal government support mechanisms led to an increased awareness of the pressures in the sector and led to the rethinking of how pastoral land could be used for better economic yield.

The RMA was the first legislative document in Aotearoa/New Zealand (and indeed globally) to enshrine the principle of sustainability in the management of natural and physical resources and to prioritise their protection and enhancement. The RMA recognised the fragility of those resources and their susceptibility to erasure where they were not legally protected. It became the statutory context for sustainable land-use management and necessitated a district plan from each region in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

In 1987, DJ Scott Associates Ltd (DJSA) was employed to assist in the formulation of the Waiheke County Council’s District Scheme 1990 (T&CPA) and its later RMA 1991 conversion document, the Auckland Council Hauraki Gulf Islands District Plan 1996 (Auckland Council 1996), the first RMA plan to become operative in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

4 Integrated catchment management

McHarg argued for the authority of the land in dictating the parameters of its suitability for any use. Critical consideration of the landscape’s elements, patterns and processes, their repetitions and idiosyncrasies, across all scales formed the basis of his mapping method. The result was a mapping system that divided a landscape into development/no development zones.

The method used for the Waiheke project was influenced by McHarg and was further refined by being based on catchment analysis (Feeney et al. 2010, p. 152) as applied to spatial and landscape ecological planning. This is a technique that identifies catchments as logical landscape compartments (Auckland Council 2018a).

Catchment analysis is a technique that can be applied from the large-scale analysis of a broad landscape, from national, regional, district and local scales down to sub-catchment analysis of individual properties, as can be seen in the Owhanake mapping (Fig. 5). Within any catchment, there are major interrelated systems of water, soil, flora and fauna communities and human communities. The main elements of any catchment’s external environment are climate and weather, cultural and economic influences, and the effects of management practices in adjacent catchments.
Fig. 5

Suitability mapping for Owhanake DJSA

This method moves beyond the simple McHargian development/no development mapping. Catchment management identifies and analyses the complex interplay of environmental elements so that an understanding of the interrelationships between them can be assessed against the likely impacts that any particular development may have. The desired outcome of this assessment is to provide the basis for sustainable land-use management practices.

4.1 Objectives of sustainable catchment management

The objectives of sustainable catchment management are:
  1. 1.

    Encourage land uses that facilitate good drainage.

  2. 2.

    Conserve soil.

  3. 3.

    Efficiently allocate available water resources and maintain water quality standards

  4. 4.

    Preserve viable representative samples of natural ecosystems

  5. 5.

    Manage the introduction of exotic species, flora and fauna in a way that does not compromise other objectives

  6. 6.

    Manage the harvesting of flora and fauna in recognition of the critical importance of regeneration

  7. 7.

    Protect the long-term assimilative capacity of natural waste receiving systems

  8. 8.

    Identify areas of land appropriate for a variety of human uses


To achieve these objectives, limits must be recognised, e.g. maximum permissible levels of toxins in groundwater; minimum in-stream flows to sustain aquatic habitats; water abstraction rates from underground aquifers, and rates of soil loss.

These limits are revised as discoveries are made about the resilience, productivity and vulnerability of the systems operating on the site and the contributing catchment. The sustainability objectives should be seen as the focus of a wide range of options within the natural management and development process.

4.2 Indicators of sustainable practice

The systems within catchments are dynamic. Indicators of sustainability, therefore, usually relate to critical phenomena such as;
  1. 1.

    Excessive fluctuations and water flows, e.g. very low flows leading to loss of in-stream habitat, or very high flows eroding river margins and causing flooding

  2. 2.

    Long-term persistent change in water bodies such as an increase or decrease in aquifer levels leading to soil salination in coastal areas or depletion of water supplies and increasing contamination: e.g. degradation of wetlands or nitrate, phosphate and silt build-up in urban streams

  3. 3.

    Depletion of the soil base, e.g. soil erosion and soil slumping resulting from over-grazing, deforestation, misplaced cultivation or careless building of development projects, roads and access tracks

  4. 4.

    The disturbance of natural regenerative processes as a result of introduced exotic species, e.g. gorse and tobacco weed

  5. 5.

    Inappropriate land-use allocation, particularly where monocultural land uses ignore complex underlying natural patterns


The systems of water, soil, flora and fauna, the components of a landscape ecosystem landscape services delivery model and land-use activities are connected. Development impacts in one part of the catchment can cause impacts elsewhere. Biophysical systems are susceptible to irreversible change. The catchment assessment technique identities those natural elements, the likely human use impacts and the likely consequences of the nature/culture interactions in any particular catchment.

Human sustenance and reliable livelihood relies on the practical nature/culture (landscape) observance, adherence, implementation and managed persistence, over time, of these fundamental principles.

4.3 Critical landscape elements

Critical landscape elements within any catchment that require protection and enhancement are identified.

Examples of critical landscape elements are:
  • Existing stands of remnant and regenerating indigenous forest

  • Steep erosion-prone slopes and gullies

  • Riparian areas and wetlands

  • Estuarine and coastal margins

  • Cultural features

A recognised practical and formal legal enhancement and protection mechanism of these critical landscape elements provides the basis of a land-use capability/capacity and long-term management framework pattern. This prioritises landscape ecosystem services delivery, character and community identity. These interactive and mutual nature/culture elements can then be protected by permanently covenanting or retired as indigenous regenerative entities.

In those areas needing high protection, appropriate vegetation is retained and/or appropriate indigenous planting and/or managed retirement programmes are implemented. The vegetation is determined by the nature of each of the unique components of the landscape which can be identified; e.g. wetlands perform different physical management functions to forested hills. However, the important attributes of these areas, including shelter, water and soil protection, wildlife habitat, visual amenity, active recreation, walkways, water supply, climate and atmosphere amelioration carbon sequestration, fibre, fruits and pharmaceuticals, nutrient transfer and energy flows, are all preserved and enhanced.

As McHarg’s mapping analysis demonstrated, a pattern can emerge from this analysis, containing areas of land that are to be protected and land that is suited to human activities and development.

However, in a development of the McHargian model, DJSA explored the ways in which the identified development areas/spaces could encompass a wide range of uses such as intensive agriculture, rural and residential housing, tourist development and commercial and industrial uses, without disturbing the underlying ecological values, protected as the fundamental landscape ecosystem service delivery pattern.

DJSA argued that development can occur in the landscape but only in locations that do not impinge on critical landscape elements and associated ecosystem delivery patterns and only under strict controls. The balance land, is that with development capacity. These areas/spaces are where the provisions of regional or district planning, resource management strategies and detailed design innovation occur. The permanently covenanted and protected areas become a commons, irrespective of specific public/private ownership relationship realities.

5 The Waiheke island district plan review

In October 1987, DJSA were invited to carry out a landscape assessment of the Waiheke island as part of the writing of the Waiheke District Scheme review (County of Waiheke 1979–1999). DJSA were part of a larger team directed by Barry Kaye, the county council planner (1986-89) then Manager-Environmental and Coastal Planning, Auckland City Council (1989–1996).

The island-wide landscape assessment was commissioned in November 1987. Using the integrated catchment management approach, DJSA mapped and assessed all existing natural, physical, productive and settlement elements, patterns and processes. Other specialist inputs were included in the exercise. Interpretation of the data applied a land suitability method determined the diversity, constraints, limitations and opportunities associated with proposed management approaches for the entire landscape and community. This approach shepherded the design and implementation process, as it allowed the design team to understand the complexity of the landscape and community aspirations.

The result was a highly specific, design-led process leading to the acceptance of an innovative ‘effects -based’ plan for Waiheke Island. The purpose and intent was to guide the emergence of sustainable and prosperous community and settlement patterns (Fig. 6).
Fig. 6

Waiheke Island zoning map DJSA

5.1 Waiheke Island catchment

The primary Waiheke Island catchment patterns were mapped as follows:
  • Western Headland Landscape

  • Urban

  • Rural

  • Eastern Corridor

Waiheke Island’s existing settlement and land-use patterns were reviewed, some of which the community wanted preserved and augmented, and others that could be reconfigured. The catchments were used to identify strategic management approaches and instruct the primary policy decisions. Secondary policy decisions aimed to strengthen existing development patterns and the third-tier decisions allocated spatial and land-use activity in those areas. The plan then provided the following structure for each area:
  • Strategic Statement

  • Objectives

  • Policies

  • Rules

The adaptation of McHargian analysis allowed for a confident delineation and interpretation of Waiheke Island’s existing landscape character. An associated confident respectful response and prospect for landscape change emerged from this process. The analysis also helped in identifying areas in need of amendment, modification, progress and regeneration. This kind of analysis was conducted across the landscape typology spectrum, from bare pasture to village centres.

5.2 Public process

The public involvement process was both extensive and intensive and engaged the whole community. It included presentations to the council, open public attended formal council meetings and several whole days open public meetings with land owners and the community. The process provided a proactive and interactive education process about how environmental protection and enhancement considerations could be incorporated into planning decision making for the island. The planning team worked closed with Sandra Lee (Taonui 2016), the last chairperson of Waiheke County Council, who then became the first chairperson of the Waiheke community board and member of Auckland Council. Lee was very supportive of the recasting of the district plan with its emphasis on understanding and preserving indigenous environmental systems (Lee went on to become the president of a political party Mana Motuhake in 1991, and the first Maori woman to win a general seat in the New Zealand Parliament.)

The planning team also worked closely with the mana whenua (“Appendix A”) Ngāti Paoa (Ngati Paoa 2018) and in particular Hariata Gordon, kaumatua (“Appendix A”) for Ngāti Paoa. Hariata Gordon was the chief representative for the iwi in the 1980s and 1990s (Gifford 2011). Gordon reasserted Ngāti Paoa presence on Waiheke with the successful application to the Waitangi Tribunal in 1984 to gain a lease on a substantial 809 ha. (1999 ac.) farm at Onetangi. Ngāti Paoa’s Waitangi Treaty Claim was settled on 17 August 2017 (New Zealand Government 2017).

Gordon and Ngāti Paoa embraced the integrated catchment method as appropriate from the Maori world view for identification, assessment, planning and design for community development, refined land-use arrangements and the management and protection of the environment. As part of the island-wide planning review process, an extensive archaeological investigation of the island was undertaken. This study identified many historical Ngāti Paoa sites.

6 Te Huruhi: The western Waiheke landscape

The Western Landscape of Waiheke Island came into focus as the island’s ‘entry point’ from Auckland City. The collective landowners understood the geographical significance of their properties through dialogue between policy-makers, planners and the public. The establishment of a passenger ferry between Auckland City and Waiheke Island brought with it an influx of tourists, holiday makers and daily commuters.

The Western Landscape masterplan followed the Waiheke planning process. This process involved the specific planning, design and implementation of each of the private landholdings of the Western Landscape (Owhanake, Matiatia, Church Bay, Te Hurihi and Park Point). However, the process was significantly more intensive then the wider Waiheke island planning process.

DJSA’s involvement with the four main Western Landscape property owners began in 1991. All parties had made formal submissions to both District Plans in 1998 and 1991. There was a significant overlap in the process where the council planning team were already aware of those landowners who were interested in developing their properties. These landholders had also indicated an awareness of the forthcoming creative/innovative planning opportunities.

DJSA began a sustained period of design and implementation that lasted a decade (1991–2001). Beginning with the Te Huruhi Bush Lot in 1991, Church Bay in 1992, Park Point in 1993 and Owhanake in 1995, these designs led to a fundamental re-evaluation of the existing monocultural farming land use. The design work implemented an effects-based development policy, restoring the degraded landscape in exchange for limited urban/rural residential and other productive and recreational multi-functional land uses.

6.1 Western Waiheke landscape design process

The design process worked at macro-, meso-, and micro-scale. The interventionist and indigenous ecologies were canvased alongside the building programme. Building footprints and curtilage, as well as predicted service infrastructure, were all delimited by the masterplan. Each building footprint and site access was unique and determined by the site’s topography and geological stability. The placement of dwellings was dictated by the landscape and the requisite elements of improved water health, erosion prevention, ecological and structural integrity, profitability, visual amenity and public access. Areas deemed ecologically sensitive were avoided, and visual assessments were carried out for each dwelling. The Western Landscape both respected and implemented the required planning policy framework set out by Waiheke County Council and its successor Auckland Council.

Ngāti Paoa also supported the integrated hierarchical process from Waiheke Island planning to site by site implementation. All of the Western Landscape properties had significant areas of Maori heritage: urupa, pa (“Appendix A”) and other evidence of occupation. These heritage sites were all included in the protected and revegetated bush covenant as co-located preservation entities. The development of the Western Landscape meant that these critical sites could be identified and protected and accessed within the mosaic of recreational tracks. The DJSA approach to the extensive revegetation and restoration of the indigenous bush ‘cloak’ was enthusiastically embraced by Ngāti Paoa. At a formal blessing with kaumatua (“Appendix A”) and Ngāti Paoa representatives held on 24th August 1996 on Owhanake, Scott accepted responsibility on behalf of the applicant for ensuring that the interests of iwi (“Appendix A”) to be upheld in the implementation of the subdivision and development. The formal Auckland Council sign-off of the planning approval ‘conditions of consent’ for the four property developments was completed by 2001.

6.2 The Western Landscape today

There are now four settlements, each surrounded by regenerated bush and wetland landscape (Fig. 7). The planting of 3.5 million plants in the four major catchments created a permanent green infrastructure, while the design model catalysed community energy for the creation of economic, landscape-based, social ventures. The fruit of the planning frameworks gestated a sense of stewardship toward the region among the community. The Western Landscape policy framework allowed for economic, cultural and societal assets to be meaningfully integrated into a policy framework that could effectively evaluate, enhance and preserve their presence in the landscape.
Fig. 7

Catchment diagram of Western Waiheke Entrance Landscape DJSA

Today, the Western Landscape is a palimpsest of regenerating ecosystems upon which a socio-ecological development model has been etched. The elements of the landscape—the pasture, the regenerating scrubland, bush, forest, wetland terraces, coastal margins, coastal wetlands, slopes and ridges, dictated the interventions.

Owhanake and Matiatia Bay (Figs. 8, 9) contained the most constraints for development—topographically, archaeologically and geographically. Geotechnical stability over the 150 ha. (379 ac.) was marginal, so ridgelines and stable slopes were prioritised for the 45 house lots within the development. These lots allowed little space for curtilage and though some vineyards border the catchment, the landscape was unsuited for large-scale development. The bare, slip-prone slopes necessitated extensive revegetation, which amounted to about 80% of the landscape. The area is now characterised as a regenerating bush site within which public walking trails weave, with a limited amount of domesticated settlement. These elevated sites mostly face north-west and have expansive views of the harbour and island.
Fig. 8

Owhanake 1987 DJSA

Fig. 9

Owhanake 2017 DJSA

Broad ridgelines in the Church Bay catchment allowed for more land to be used productively. The 200 ha (494 ac.) now host around 50 house lots as well as internationally acclaimed vineyards: Jurassic Ridge, Church Bay and Mudbrick. Olive groves, estates and trails are used for weddings, events, luxury accommodation and public sculpture tours and events. While the gullies and steep slopes were prioritised for revegetation and reserve land, industry and tourism development was significant in more accessible spaces.

The Park Point’s 38 ha (93 ac.) plan covenanted a large, eastern-segment for reserve land and allowed for nearly 40 sections to be developed for residential and production purposes. The development is partially completed, vineyards are maturing, and beaches and walking tracks are open to the public.

7 The outcomes and repercussions

In this section, we evaluate the outcomes of the Western Landscape project in terms of its ecological, social and economic results and then discuss the project’s actual and potential impact on the profession of landscape architecture in New Zealand.

7.1 Ecological outcomes

The design of the Western Landscape has over the past 30 years, resulted in a profound transformation of 430 ha (1065 ac.) of landscape in a manner which has increased the overall biomass production to where it is now unrecognisable as a traditional agrarian landscape. Biodiversity has been restored, including fresh water stream habitat the terrestrial micro-climate has been moderated. A significant carbon sink has been established.

The project has delivered all the benefits of green infrastructure and landscape ecosystem service delivery. Interventionist novel-ecological planting patterns, co-located with existing stressed critical landscape elements and patterns, have been secured. These provide infrastructural systems ensuring that stormwater is disposed of safely. The indigenous permanent landscape vegetation pattern also provides shade and shelter around buildings (Benedict 2006, pp. 1–4). The inherently productive natural indigenous vegetation pattern also provides the spatial definition for productive enterprises, including energy and nutrient symbiosis. The ecological design intention and outcome of the project improved ecological services such as helping to clean water and air quality, ensuring that the soil structure is improved and water run-off can be cleaned as part of the integrated restored terrestrial and wetland transects (EU-DGE 2012, pp. 13–20).

7.2 Social outcomes

The Western Landscape has a unique visual appearance and presents an aesthetic asset both from a distance—arriving by water from central Auckland—and from within the landscape itself. The landscape has become a distinguishing feature of Waiheke Island and can be expected, over time, to become an iconic element in Waiheke’s public perception. As such, this now thriving landscape complex is a source of pride for the local community and assists the local sense of identity, cohesion and belonging. The now developed complementary community land-use arrangements: residential, visitor accommodation, diversified productivity and private/public recreational accessibility within an indigenous ‘bush’ environment has now engendered long-term and wide social recognition. Waiheke is now known for the high-quality of its social, community and private life—a classic example of a ‘lifestyle community’, for which New Zealand is already renowned internationally. (Hutchinson 2012).

7.3 Economic outcomes

The transformation of this landscape was not only about restoring a once-normal thriving ecosystem and upgrading the visual amenity, but has from its outset, aimed to re-configure the local economy. The Western Landscape project helped the island to shift from what was an obsolete and degraded nineteenth-century agrarian economic structure to a high value-added, environmentally benign, services-based twenty-first-century economy (Infometrics NZ, 2018). This has not only improved the lives of the locals but also assisted in lifting the image of Auckland City itself as a destination for high-end tourism and magnet for investment which generates a clean, knowledge-based economy. (Allpress and Tuatagaloa 2018, p. 5)

7.4 Impact on landscape planning and design in New Zealand

7.4.1 The impact of RMA

The RMA 1991 (New Zealand Government Legislation 1991) reform in New Zealand was partly concerned with the abolition of the Town and Country Planning Act. The Act also opening the door for the possibility of development which had minimal or negligible effects on the natural environment. The RMA 1991 legislative intent rested on the assumption that development always had negative effects. Thus, the question was whether these effects could be proven as ‘minor’ and therefore—in the interest of ‘progress’ and the accommodation of legitimate human and social needs—tolerable effects. The purpose of good planning under the RMA was therefore to minimise ‘adverse effects’.

7.4.2 Implication for district’s plans and development plans

The implications of the legislative changes (both RMA 1991 and Auckland Council (2018b) and implementation of the successful Western Landscape development were that indigenous bush protection and regeneration became a significant and inherent part of any development outcome. The emphasis became not just on protecting the existing landscape but rather promoting the potential to restore the whole of the landscape ecosystem services in association with an enduring multi-functional natural and cultural landscape renewal.

7.4.3 Auckland Council District Plan

The Auckland City Council Hauraki Gulf Islands District Plan Waiheke Section became operative in 1996. This was the first district plan in New Zealand to become operative under the RMA legislation. Correspondingly, it was the first operative plan that put forward the regulatory incentive development approach where land-use change could be both encouraged and promoted as long as there were associated positive net environmental outcomes, in particular ecological and biophysical enhancements: ‘Comprehensive development involving limited low density, residential and/or tourist accommodation are permitted at locations which do not compromise landscape values. Development bonuses are provided in return for the provision of reserve/and/or covenanted land for public open space, public access ways, and where the protection of significant natural features are secured’ (Auckland Council 1996).

7.4.4 The Regulatory Incentive Subdivision (RIS)1

The Bonus Density provision (BD) was the first generally recognised term for this proactive planning incentive-based subdivision development approach. Subsequent District Plans in other parts of New Zealand have used terminology such as Bonus Lot Development (BLD), Environmental Benefit Rule (EBR), Bonus Lot Incentive Rules (BLIR), Bush Lot Rules (BLR), Bush Enhancement Rules (BER), and Environmental Lot Rules (ELR). Recently, the NZ Courts have used the term Regulatory Incentive Subdivision (RIS) to provide for general clarity of application (The Environment Court (2018).

The RIS approach process and the outcomes demonstrated in the Western Landscape example gained influence in the Auckland, Northland, and Waikato/Coromandel regions. The Waiheke district plan had a flow on effect on councils throughout the northern part of Aotearoa/New Zealand. The principle reason for the popularity of the approach was that it provided an answer to current rural land-use woes in Aotearoa/New Zealand (Ministry for the Environment 2019) by implementing the principle intent of RMA 1991 Sect. 5, where the legislative purpose and principles provide for promotion of sustainable management:
  • ‘Purpose and principles—Section 5

  • (1) The purpose of this Act is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.

  • (2) In this Act, sustainable management means managing the use, development and protection of natural and physical resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural well-being and for their health and safety while—

    • (a) sustaining the potential of natural and physical resources (excluding minerals) to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations; and

    • (b) safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of air, water, soil, and ecosystems; and

    • (c) avoiding, remedying, or mitigating any adverse effects of activities on the environment’.

Since the success of the Waiheke District Scheme 1999 and the reviewed RMA version Auckland City Council Hauraki Gulf Islands District Plan 1996, other District Plans followed with similar RIS-based policies and rules. By the mid-1990s to mid 2000s, a similar provision or equivalent variation had been introduced to the Far North Council District Plan, Whangarei Council District Plan, Kaipara Council District Plan, The Rodney Council District Plan, Waitakere City Council District Plan, Manukau City Council District Plan, Thames Coromandel Council District Plan and the Waikato Council District plan.

The following District Plans were notified and went operative: Far North District Council (Notified 1999-Operative 2002). Whangarei District Council (Notified 1999—Operative 2007), Kaipara District Council (Notified 2009–Operative 2013), Rodney District Council Plan Change 55—Rural Provisions (Notified 1995–Operative 2000), Manukau District Plan (Plan Change 8 Notified 2002—Operative 2016), Franklin District Plan—(Plan Change 14 Notified 2002—Operative 2006)

7.4.5 The influence of the RIS on practice

DJSA undertook many RIS-driven projects between 1990 and 2010 in Northland, Whangarei, Kaipara, Rodney, Manukau, Franklin, Auckland and Thames Coromandel District. Other RIS projects were undertaken in Taupo, Hawkes Bay, Tauranga, Manawatu, Wellington, Nelson and Queenstown.

DJSA also formulated the Oratia Structure Plan for Waitakere City in 1995—an overall catchment structure plan where each property was visited and mapped defined the potential for subdivision combining proposed protected/revegetation patterns and intensive rural activities for the area.

Some of the high profile RIS project examples include the design and resource consent process and implementation of d’Andre (1997) Dye (1998) Arigatto (1998) and the Robinson Development (2000).

7.4.6 Resistance to RIS

The success of both the policy and the subsequent development programmes of many RIS projects met with considerable political resistance. Because of the success of the RIS approach, there was a deep concern expressed from a number of groups, at both regional and district council levels, and also among environmental non-government organisations and environmental pressure groups. Interestingly, the main opposition was due to the potential adverse visual effects that an increase in buildings in an otherwise open ‘bucolic’ pastoral scene could potentially create. The other primary concern was that these developments would lead to uncontrolled urban sprawl. Another concern was that the building in these new development areas was only for the wealthy. An example was housing in the northern block of the Western Landscape was perceived as a gated community for rich Aucklanders.

…. ‘new money’ is clearly evident in the proliferation of large, imposing houses on subdivided farms, particularly apparent around the western end of the island at Matiatia Bay and Church Bay. Many of these houses are sited on ridge lines and command fabulous views—as well as being highly visible and thus a tangible beacon of the changes afoot.(Baragwanath 2010, p. 56)

(Note: the development is not gated—it is open to visitors via a mosaic of walking tracks throughout, and community services are offered by the now incumbent residents—particularly visitor accommodation).

Regional and district council opposition to the RIS approach came to a head between 2000 and 2005. The Arigatto project was the focus of the debate. This was a prominent coastal site with serious erosion problems. The location was south of Pakari, an iconic east coast surf beach. The original plan was designed and developed by DJSA in 1998. The plan used the ICM process to plan a 90% restoration of the site with indigenous planting with 20 house site. There was intensive opposition from politicians, environmental groups and individuals. The Rodney District Council turned the original planning application down in 2000, the Environment Court approved the plan in 2002, the High Court reversed the decision in 2003, the Court of Appeal reinstated the Environment Court decision in 2004.

The planting went ahead and 2 houses were built. To resolve the political issue and to prevent further development of the site, the Auckland Regional Council purchased the property in December 2005 and designated it a regional reserve.

7.4.7 Contemporary planning response to RIS

Notwithstanding the opposition to RIS, many district plans retain some form of the RIS approach within the now third-generation RMA district plan reviews. In many cases, the availability of the RIS approach has been significantly reduced, controlled either by prescriptive limits via the identification of spatially determined areas and/or robust conditions to create stringent legislative ‘gateways’ for gaining planning consent. The limiting of lot yields in concert with higher environmental benefit expectations has been a further control mechanism.

Strategic planning policy and research on the incentive-based development scenario in support of positive rural transformation has been slow to emerge in Aotearoa/New Zealand. DJSA argues that planning in Aotearoa/New Zealand has often failed to recognise that residential homes, villages and industrial uses are all valid occupation typologies in rural settings and the productive landscape.

As evidenced by the chronic condition of the troubled biophysical and underproducing Aotearoa/New Zealand rural landscape (Ministry for the Environment 2019), DJSA suggest that the fiscal investment that arises out of the incentive-based bonus density lot and other incentive-based policy programmes is now a critical feature of innovative planning tools. These can serve to promote the introduction of residential and alternative productive outcomes connected to the overall rural land management environment.

Incentive-based planning provisions have a number of important implications. RIS has been proven to significantly enhance biodiversity, soil and water quality. It has brought diversity to production activities and employment, including economic and social stability to otherwise depleted and struggling communities. RIS has often encouraged a move from primary monocultural production to the full suite of secondary and tertiary facilities. Appropriate rural land-use and small-scale innovative conversions for localised product industries are joining the bonus incentive planning programme throughout Aotearoa/New Zealand.

8 Conclusions: McHarg and the Western Landscape

The Western Landscape is the largest private ecological restoration and regeneration project in New Zealand (Fig. 10). After 30 years a degraded, underperforming farming landscape has been transformed into a robust and productive ecosystem with an extensive urban development programme. In this section, we reconnect DJSA approach to McHarg’s original theory, method and practice, point to the similarities and differences, and argue that different eco-geographical and sociocultural contexts will, and should, develop different versions or variants of the McHargian approach.
Fig. 10

Park Point looking north over the Western Landscape 2017 DJSA

We have argued that McHarg’s method of suitability mapping was profoundly influential on the analysis of the Western Landscape. However, we have questioned the efficacy of McHarg’s original dialectic of nature/culture in the actual development of the Western Landscape.

McHarg’s Manichean choice—city bad, nature good—is repeated throughout Design with Nature, from his reminiscing about his childhood growing up in Glasgow to confronting the environmental damage to the New Jersey shore after the storm of 1962. In this initial study (McHarg 1969, pp. 4–17), McHarg’s critique begins by drawing a transect through the beach and dunes to reveal the underlying geographical structure of the shoreline. McHarg then shows how the insertion of housing had weakened this structure, leading to the subsequent damage of the coastline under storm conditions.

We acknowledge that the design of the Western Landscape was indebted to McHarg’s method of privileging important environmental conditions. However, a much more complex and nuanced landscape was subsequently developed. After 30 years, the Western Landscape has demonstrated how the traditional rural agrarian landscape can be replaced with a complex mosaic of small holding, horticulture, orchards, indigenous restoration, dispersed dwellings and public access and still fulfil McHarg’s overall mission.

Later in Design with Nature, McHarg does start to modify his earlier position. In the Baltimore Valleys study (ibid, pp. 78–95), McHarg was approached by a community group apprehensive about the threats of growing suburban sprawl from Baltimore. McHarg uses what he calls, ‘physiographic determinism’ to reveal where development could be allowed to happen without spoiling what he defines as the natural beauty of the valley. After carrying out an ecological inventory using a wide range of environmental data, McHarg combines this with the protection of agricultural zones to develop a suitability analysis that prohibits the use of the valley floors for any development. Instead, the surrounding valley tops, the plateaus, are deemed as the best sites for development. McHarg suggests that the most intense development should occur on the forested ridge. This is demonstrated with images of houses dispersed among a forest (ibid, p. 90).

While McHarg still insist on the inviolability of rural land, he does demonstrate, perhaps driven by the exigency of the development brief, that urban development can happen within the larger landscape. We suggest that the dispersed housing and associated productive settlement pattern within a restored native forest in the Western Landscape does share some similarities with this McHargian case study.

McHarg’s mapping strategy, the gathering of data about the location of the most ecologically important parts of a site, and then the logic of combining this data to demonstrate a hierarchy from the most ecologically important/valuable to the least, was profoundly important for the design of the Western Landscape. One of the critical assumptions that McHarg posits is that human activity, especially in the urban realm, is inherently deleterious to the environment. These activities are to be relegated to the areas not occupied by environmentally sensitive uses. We argue that the Western Landscape demonstrates both the success and limitation of McHarg’s ideas and methods. The environmental success is obvious, but the social and cultural success is also evident, notwithstanding McHarg’s dictates about urban development. We argue that the development of McHarg’s ideas to encompass both environmental and social goals in the Western Landscape does provide an important development model as we struggle to navigate the combined challenges of expanding urbanisation, food security, changing climate and biodiversity decline.


  1. 1.

    Regulatory incentive subdivision as provided for in the AUP is when a subdivision opportunity is obtained in exchange for the protection and/or enhancement of indigenous biodiversity.

  2. 2.

    A ‘bach’ is a NZ English term for a small weekend retreat cottage, or summer house.



We wish to thank the inspiration and support from the following organisations, individuals and the projects they have conducted. Foundation Project—the 3rd Review of the Waiheke County Council District Plan 1978—Barry Kaye (Waiheke County Council Planning Team Lead), Dennis Scott (Landscape Architect), David Marchant (Landscape Architect), Andrew Gysberts (Town Planner) and Owen Burn (Town Planner). RMA 1991 Review Project—Auckland Council District Plan, Hauraki Gulf Islands Section: Prepared for Auckland City Council by the Auckland Council Maritime and Rural Planning Team; Barry Kaye, Neil Rasmussen, Matthew Feary and Jane Jennings in association with D. J. Scott Associates Ltd, Landscape Architects and A. B. Matthews & Associates, Surveyors and Planners. Project 1—Church Bay and Project 2—Bush Landscape Lot, Western Waiheke Island: Prepared for Nick and Annette Johnstone by Beca, Carter, Hollings and Ferner; Engineers and Planners in association with D. J. Scott Associates Ltd, Landscape Architects. Project 3—Park Point and Project 4—Cable Bay: Prepared for Walter and Kerry Titchener by D. J. Scott Associates; Landscape Architects & A. B. Matthews & Associates, Surveyors and Planners in association with TSE Group Ltd, Engineers. Project 5—Owhanake: Prepared for Waiheke Island Coastal Estates Ltd by D. J. Scott Associates Ltd, Landscape Architects and Resource Planners in association with TSE Group Ltd, Engineers. The D.J. Scott Associates Ltd Landscape Architecture and Planning team included Dennis Scott, Logan Anderson, Megan Moors, Glen May, Grant Kneebone and Scott Cameron. Other prominent team members included Charles Mitchell Associates Ltd, Ecology; Architage Ltd and Rod Clough Associates, Archaeology; Babbage Consultants Ltd, Geotechnical Engineers; and Traffic Design Group Ltd, Traffic Engineers and Brookfield Lawyers. Primary Project Implementation Contractors: Waiheke Contractors Ltd, Civil Contractors; Awarua Nurseries, Green Input and Rural Design, Revegetation/Planting Contractors. Note: The authors are also grateful for the personal communication, support, criticism and assistance of associates Eloise Twaddle (Editor), Brian Putt (Review Editor).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DJScott Associates Ltd, DJScott Landscape ArchitectWhitford, AucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of Architecture and PlanningThe University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  3. 3.School of ArchitectureUnitec Institute of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand

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