Urban design can be defined as 'the art of making places'. It involves the design of buildings, groups of buildings, spaces and places, with a view to the future.

Our 14-person Urban Design Advisory Panel includes engineering, planning, architecture, arts and landscape architecture expertise. It promotes good design and quality environments, and provides free, professional, and independent advice on proposed projects.

The advice and recommendations from our Panel is in addition to the urban design assessment that takes place as part of the processing of resource consents.

Step 1: You

Why should I use the Panel?

Using the Panel can help make the consenting process quicker by helping you identify and resolve any urban design issues at the start of your design process.

Note that all buildings gaining central business district (CBD) development contribution remissions must engage with the urban design panel process. Visit our requesting a refund remissions page if you plan to apply for a central business district remission.

The Panel provides recommendations on the merits of a design within the context of the VISTA (The City Design Guide) and international best practice. 

Any project or proposal - irrespective of its size, scale or location - can benefit from the Panel’s expertise. The Panel uses following criteria:


Criteria/project type​


City Centre Zone

Significant building & capital projects

Panel should review projects regardless of activity status in the District Plan.

Community/commercial focal points

Public buildings, commercial, community and residential projects

Strategic gateways to city

Significant buildings in defined gateway areas​

Defined heritage and character precincts and archaeological sites

New buildings and additions and alterations to heritage buildings & structures.  This includes works within an archaeological/cultural site

Residential Zones

Apartments, Integrated Residential Developments and Duplexes

Smaller (4 units and under) should typically not go to the Panel.


Significant new subdivisions – close to key points of interest impacting ecological features or large suburban developments.

Generally >50 units.

Council capital projects

Design brief, design proposals & preliminary concepts for: public buildings, spaces (parks, squares), streetscapes


Other public projects

Major public works by government departments and other organisations e.g. schools, health, transport


What aspects do the Panel consider?

Typically under the Hamilton District Plan, most new buildings (including residential units such as duplexes and apartments) will require resource consent, and more often than not, Council has discretion over the design, layout, and character aspects of the proposal. 

In reviewing proposals, the Panel will focus on the appropriateness of the proposal in relation to its physical, social and cultural context, including any identified heritage values. The Panel will consider the overall quality of the development and its architecture, as well as its appearance from the street and public spaces.

Elements the Panel would typically consider include:

  • ​​​​​​​​​the extent to which best practice urban design principles have been incorporated
  • the 'fit' of the proposal within the context, including the proposed activity (or mix of activities)
  • proposed bulk, location, scale, layout and building design, including how these respond to the opportunities and constraints of the site and the character of the surrounding neighbourhood
  • landscaping and interface with the public environment, including the design of any proposed streets or access ways
  • ground floor activities and the relationship with the street/public environment
  • how the development will work for both users and the public, including safety, circulation and servicing
  • impact of the proposal on any other adjacent project
  • inclusion of measures aimed at achieving sustainable building design and low-impact urban design outcomes
  • the standard of living and on-site amenity created for existing and future residents (residential developments).

What information does the Panel need?

Extensive presentation material and detailed designs are not required. Material can include preliminary concepts (e.g. hand-drawn sketches) that describe the site and the proposed approach. Other documentation, such as an assessment of environmental effects, is not needed.

It would be useful to consider the following:

  • ​​the surrounding context e.g. maps, analysis plans
  • an outline of the proposal sufficient to describe the proposed uses, circulation, bulk and location, building typologies
  • initial thoughts on the proposed architectural and landscape approach, including any preliminary plans, elevations, sketches
  • any other supporting material as appropriate e.g. heritage, natural hazards.

Are there terms of reference for the Panel?

The format, membership and Terms of Reference (ToR) of the Panel were reviewed in August 2017. The Panel is supported by, and acts under, the delegation of the General Manager Growth.​

Is Hamilton part of the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol?

Hamilton is a signatory to the New Zealand Urban Design Protocol which provides a platform to help make New Zealand towns and cities more successful through quality urban design. The protocol is administered by the Ministry for the Environment.

Confidentiality and Conflict of Interest

To maintain the confidence of developers, meetings with the Panel are confidential and closed to all but the applicant's nominated representatives, Council staff, and the panellists, unless the applicant indicates they are willing for it to be public. All panellists, and any additional experts in attendance, are also required to declare if they have a conflict of interest.

Step 2: You

How can my proposal be considered by the Panel?

The Panel meet on the last Wednesday of every month. To confirm an appointment with the Panel, ​​have an initial discussion with us first to review your proposal and agree on the need for a Panel review.

Contact us to discuss your proposal:

By phone:

07 838 6699

By email:



Max file size: 300 MB; Allowed extensions: pdf,doc,docx

Step 3: Council

What happens next?

Someone from the team will be in touch within five working days to discuss your proposal.

After the review, there's usually a follow-up-meeting with us to discuss key issues raised by the Panel.

Related information


Related pages

Development contributions

Understand and estimate your development contributions, challenge a development contribution charge, or request a…

Request a refund

Request a refund of your development contributions

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Last updated 12 July 2022