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Mrs McEwan gained the award, which recognises ''excellence in research'', for a study undertaken in 2017 for a master of planning degree thesis in geography.
It focused on the ''National Policy Statement on Urban Development Capacity'', the guiding policy for local government, and investigated if it ''would be effective in improving housing affordability in New Zealand''.
After reviewing literature, analysing the documents supporting the development of the NPS, and interviewing planners from several territorial authorities, the study concluded that the NPS was ''unlikely to be effective in improving housing affordability,'' the institute said.
The study was valuable to the planning profession ''for the way it challenges the evidence base for a national planning document and explores the issue of political bias in decision-making'', an institute spokesman said.
Mrs McEwan said it was ''pretty exciting'' to win the award, which included a $1500 cash prize.
She recently received the award at the institute's annual conference in Napier.
After graduating, she had undertaken some planning consultancy work, and was now considering future options and ''looking for my next adventure''.
The key finding of her thesis study was that the guiding policy for local government, the national policy statement, was based on ''flawed and biased'' evidence.
The national statement reflected the view that the planning system itself was a ''key contributor'' to housing unaffordability, but many other factors were actually involved, including aspects of the tax system, she said.