One of the big questions posed by the Environment Committee to the NZPI representatives on Monday was on shared data and digital planning. NZPI’s submission on the SPA and NBA bills has a strong emphasis on there being a fit-for purpose, digitally enabled NBA and SPA system. 

In particular the submission recommends a system that:

  • Provides a specific right for the public to access environmental information that is produced by the system,
  • Specifies that the default approach to system implementation is modern digital systems, which are designed to deliver efficient and effective processes, user focused and aid transparency,
  • Sets a mandatory obligation to provide environmental information, including a deadline for providing this information,
  • Requires the establishment of a system for the collection and sharing of data, and
  • It requires tracking of progress on these obligations.

The committee were particularly interested in how this system would be resourced and delivered. NZPI board member Andrea Harris, responded that much of this data collection is already being done by councils, it’s just there is no requirement for this to be done in a nationally consistent way.

Questions about a digitally enabled, fit for purpose resource management system are being raised at a time when digital advancements around Artificial Intelligence seem to be moving at lightening speed. As other professions ponder what ChatGPT and other AI will mean for the future of work, it’s important that planners consider how their roles will change as AI technology and open-source data becomes more available.

The committee were complementary of NZPI’s submission, noting how readable it was and how they appreciated recommendations around re-drafting. Suggestions for how outcomes could look and how they could be applied appear several times in the Institute’s 111 page submission. It’s unlikely that AI will be able to write outcomes for NBA plans. The robot would need to gather an extensive level of information about the nuances of that particular environment, and for now, its potential is limited to what it can research and collate from online sources. However, if we are to develop a more standardised way of collecting data, AI could certainly play a role in environmental monitoring, and help to measure our progress toward achieving those outcomes.

The other key question raised by the Environment Committee was the potential loss of local voice under the proposed new system. The NZPI representatives voiced their support for the role of the planner in engaging with their local communities. Emily Grace contended that “planners are good at engaging with communities, so we are able to hear a local voice and provide advice to decision-makers on what that voice is.” The better we understand the potential of AI like ChatGPT, the better we will be at that role of understanding local voice, as we'll be able to reach further into the community and get richer responses.

Last month we shared APA’s research about the huge potential for AI in planning – if you missed it, here it is again:


The Auckland Branch of NZPI are hosting a lunchtime session next month on Learning the Potential of using ChatGPT in Resource Consent Planning and posing a question to attendees “Are You Ready?”.