Our Space 2018-2048: Greater Christchurch Settlement Pattern Update

Our Space 2018-2048 is currently out for consultation here. This is a plan prepared by the Greater Christchurch Partnership, which is made up of people from Ecan, Christchurch City Council, Selwyn District Council, Waimakariri District Council, Ngai Tahu, NZ Transport Agency, Canterbury District Health Board, Regenerate Christchurch and Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The document basically just says how much Christchurch will grow in the next 30 years, and makes a high-level plan for accommodating that growth. To save you some reading time I’ve highlighted the key points.

Christchurch is due to grow by 190-314 thousand people in 35 years.


In the medium growth scenario we’ll need another 87,000 homes. The plan is for 65% of these to be in Christchurch City, 20% to be in Selwyn and 15% to be in Waimakariri.

In 2048 there’ll be 71,000 more jobs. The vast majority (88%) of these will be in Christchurch City.


The report contains some nice maps showing, firstly, where development will not be occurring. This first one shows natural hazards:


No real surprises – Christchurch is built on a swamp so lots of flood risks.

The next map shows the groundwater protection zone.Capture.PNG

I thought this was interesting. I had never really thought of this is a constraint to where we can develop, but on reflection it does seem important that we keep our water sources clean and unpolluted.

The next map shows outstanding natural landscapes.Capture.PNG

Again no massive surprises. Port hills, beaches and rivers are all nice.

And this one shows “versatile soils”.


The report doesn’t actually say what a “versatile soil” is, but a quick google search indicates that it is talking about its fertility, it has nothing to do with its structural behaviour in an earthquake. The scale goes from 1-8, so soil class 1 (yellow) is the very best soil you can get, while user class 2 (brown) is not far behind it. Basically this map is about trying to save our most fertile land for growing food and only using the less fertile stuff for urban sprawl.

So that’s the constraints.

Now for the map showing where the growth is planned to occur.


It shows greenfield growth around the Christchurch city northern and southwest fringes, and also Rolleston, Lincoln, Kaiapoi, Woodend and Rangiora. The proportions of each are:


For context, the previous version of this plan (the Urban Development Strategy) aimed for 60% intensification and 40% greenfields growth, but development since the earthquakes has been only 25% through intensification and a whopping 75% on greenfields. So the proposed plan has less greenfields growth than what’s happened post-quake, but still more than our previous plan. Auckland’s unitary plan decided they wanted their growth to be 70% intensification and 30% greenfields growth, so quite a lot less than this 45%.

That’s the guts of what’s in the report. My overall feeling after reading it is one of being a little underwhelmed. The sentiment is really powerful, it includes lots of statements about how we will be “incorporating mixed-use and transport-oriented development”, “supporting increased density”, “reducing dependency on private motor vehicles”, “promoting active and public transport”, “comprehensively integrating transport infrastructure with land use planning”. But the sentiment doesn’t really match the plan. Making 55% greenfields growth, much of it out in areas that are very auto-centric and will most likely require just about everyone to drive their cars for every trip they do, is not a great outcome. It could be worse, it could be higher than 55%, but it still seems too close to the status quo for me, given things like the recent IPCC report making it very clear that we need to change and we need to do it quickly.

The problem is not the 55% greenfields growth per se, it’s the nature of that greenfields growth. So far pretty much all greenfields growth in Greater Christchurch has been very auto-centric. That is, standalone houses which are very difficult to service with public transport due to the low density, which also spreads everything out and so makes most trips too long to be done on foot. As a result, almost every one living in them drives everywhere, with all the associated costs that imposes on us as a society (more carbon emissions, more pollution, worse public health, more deaths and injuries, more congestion, more expensive car parking needed, more expensive roads needed, etc etc).

But greenfields growth doesn’t necessary have to be auto-centric. In other countries it’s often not, and even in NZ we’re beginning to take our first steps down the path of transport-oriented greenfields growth in Auckland. I’d like to see us here in Christchurch be more intentional in doing our greenfields growth in such a way that everyone isn’t forced to drive everywhere. Something like building a light rail line from the CBD out to one of these greenfields areas, then allowing high-quality high-density development clustered around the stations.

The big uplift in land value around the corridor could be used to fund the infrastructure, maybe through a targetted rate, and the resulting high patronage makes the services viable into the future. It’s much much easier to build density and good public transport infrastructure from the outset, than it is to come back and try to retrofit it in 20 years time. This sort of approach is very common overseas, even as close to home as Australia, and we’re well overdue in doing it here. Brendon Harre has a lot of thoughts on this, some of them in this article.

As always, I’d encourage you to get in and have your say here. If you’re not sure what to say, some ideas might be:

  • The plan needs to be more ambitious if it’s going to achieve the stated goals.
  • More sustainable development is needed, not more auto-centric sprawl. This might be either intensification around existing public transport corridors, or making sure our greenfields growth has high quality public transport infrastructure installed from the outset so that they can be developed at higher density.

How do you think we should grow as a city? Does this plan represent what you value or would you like to see a different approach?


7 thoughts on “Our Space 2018-2048: Greater Christchurch Settlement Pattern Update

  1. Hi Chris, another excellent article. Why are so few people commenting? This is a great source of information. Are Christchurch people out and about instead of glued to their computers? I hope that’s it. 🙂

    The use of the soil quality map is great – except that it’s like they’ve assumed the level 2 (brown) soil doesn’t need conserving. Retention of quality soil should be one of the biggest factors in deciding where to develop, and not just in greenfields areas. In existing urban areas it’s important too. It’s important that older low density suburbs with quality soil intensify with small footprints, four storey apartment buildings, and retention of lots of green space for vege gardens, biodiversity and healthy places. Allowing standalone infill and loads of driveways and car infrastructure will permanently ruin the good soil that remains.

    I thought this was an excellent article on the same topic: https://www.noted.co.nz/money/property/aucklands-housing-crisis-why-freeing-up-more-land-wont-work/?fbclid=IwAR3_xuTbDXLktQR8I3C1EuHRqnFHi7pFV9oBqtwIbnjQRglE_dagdCE2dxI

    “What’s driving greenfields development [Todd says] is the buckets of money to be made by getting and rezoning land, putting infrastructure in and delivering the individual land title.”

    I agree that rapid transit should be one of the other major factors in deciding where to develop.

    My bugbear with the AUP – apart from allowing greenfields at all, which it shouldn’t be doing – is that it’s too hard for individual sites to be developed in a way that contributes to quality form. You have to be a big developer with 10’s of millions of dollars, to be able to develop well. Brendon has some good solutions to that. I’m toying with another one at the moment, which takes a pattern from The Pattern Language… anyway, that might be an article idea for next year.


    1. Thanks Heidi, it has been quite nice here the last few days so we’ll go with that.
      Yes agree that our prevalence of small individually owned sites makes densification harder. I’m hoping the new urban development authority will help in some areas. In others I think some sort of widespread hyperlocalism or YIMBY framework could do a much better job than our current setup, that mostly results in infill or sausage flats.


    2. I’ve had a read of that Barton article now – quite detailed and interesting to hear things from a developers perspective. But I’m not as convinced as Todd that market forces can’t ever be a good way to provide housing for a society.

      I’m actually a huge fan of free markets, as long as they are very carefully set up with the right framework and all economic distortions and externalities accounted for satisfactorily. I reckon the single biggest cause of urban sprawl is our refusal to price driving properly. Traditionally we never had the tools to do it comprehensively, and so for the last 50 odd years we’ve been heavily subsidising all modes of travel (but especially roads and parking), which of course encourages everyone to sprawl outwards and travel more than they otherwise would. But now we do have the technology. I think if we bring in GPS time-distance charging (which this government and the previous one have both pretty much said they will do as soon as it is ready) and simultaneously remove the subsidies, there will be a massive shift back to the city centres (cos you can save money on travel) and the resulting demand for density will make politicians remove a lot of our overly-restrictive planning rules pretty quickly.


      1. Yes, pricing is important. Using a car needs to be priced in several ways to catch the different costs it imposes on society – eg congestion pricing won’t catch the contribution to DSI and physical inactivity that is caused by off-peak driving. Fuel tax won’t catch all the costs imposed by an EV. Parking pricing is needed to cover the loss of opportunity of not using the resources and land in a better way, as well as for the traffic it induces. Etc.

        But for me, the really big economic answer comes with the budget for transport. What’s Christchurch’s budget like? In Auckland it’s certainly the case that the roads NZTA and AT are widening and extending are taking the lion’s share of the money. If we were to stop the road expansion projects now, we’d free up so much money for improvements to PT and active modes. Even the big PT projects like Ameti aren’t really PT projects – which should naturally be about road reallocation. They are actually projects that defy the natural progression from space inefficient modes to space efficient modes, by over-investing with money and resources just to retain the same excessive car amenity, while finally providing some PT.

        Basically, those billions of dollars should be being spent on enabling intensification, not enabling sprawl. That’s not something that road pricing can reverse.

        All the private money spent by developers putting in the local roads and infrastructure in the new developments, too, could be going into improving existing infrastructure and cycling and walking permeability.

        What’s needed is a change of direction, from someone bold enough to champion it.


  2. It has taken me awhile Chris. But here is my thoughts on integrating land use planning with transport infrastructure for Greater Christchurch.
    View at Medium.com
    P.S Great article I completely agree with your perspective.
    P.P.S I believe a government announcement on Urban Devolpment Authorities is imminent. So hopefully some of these issues will be clarified.


  3. The UDA needs to be carefully bounded. Its statement of corporate intent should limit it to compulsory property purchase where the business case has shown a net socioeconomic benefit to NZ (pretty much NZTAs limitations – in most cases it’s projects need positive business cases before they proceed & any land acquisition undertaken).

    I don’t fancy an UDA coming along and compulsory purchasing my land just because there is a financial gain to be had.


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