Update on Otautahi

There’s a massive amount of stuff happening in the transport/urban world in Christchurch right now. Here’s a quick rundown.

Spatial Plan / Rapid Transit

The Greater Christchurch Partnership (Ngai Tahu, 4 x local councils, and central government) have released a bunch of material on their Spatial Plan for how the city is going to grow over the next 30-60 years, and are asking the public what they think of it. Material here, survey here, and there are several open days and webinars you can attend too. In terms of spatial planning, we’ve historically been quite hands-off in New Zealand, allowing developers to take the lead on where new housing and business gets built. There are some benefits to that approach, but as we saw in the earthquakes 12 years ago and the North Island right now, there are one or two downsides as well.

Nowadays, every major city in New Zealand is required to produce a spatial plan outlining a long-term growth strategy. As seems to be the case with a lot of things, Christchurch is the last city to do theirs. But better late than never. And like every spatial plan that’s gone before it, this one involves building a rapid transit spine which will support the lion’s share of the growth. From what I’ve seen of the public reaction so far, people seem to see the plan as basically just common sense, and if anything a relatively unambitious plan (why’s there nothing in the east? or the satellite towns?). Some see this lack of ambition as a bad thing, whilst others see it as a good thing as it gives it the best chance of actually getting implemented. Auckland and Wellington have shown how hard these projects can be and maybe biting off a smaller chunk is the better way to do it.

If you care about this one, make sure you have your say!

Intensification Plan Change

Back in the shorter-term, Christchurch City Council has released a library worth of material on Plan Changes 13 and 14. In contrast to spatial planning, in New Zealand we’ve tended to be very hands-on when it comes to imposing restrictions on our already built-up areas. Two years ago central government concluded these restrictions were a big contributor to the housing crisis and banned some of them. This change to our District Plan is the mechanism to remove these restrictions. Once again, Christchurch is the laggard being the last city in New Zealand to implement them. We’re also the most resistant, fighting to retain more restrictions than any other city did. Council will decide whether or not to notify the plan change on Wednesday next week, it will then go through a public consultation process in front of an independent hearings panel, which will make a recommendation. I think it’s not scheduled to become operative till early 2024. My personal take on all this, like a lot that happens in transport and urban issues, is a solid B-. It could be better but also could be a lot worse. If you’d told me a few years ago that in one fell swoop Christchurch would be upzoning over half the city, and focussing it around public transport routes and activity centres, I would’ve taken that.

Gloucester Street Trial

The first Streets for People project will roll out next week: a trial street layout on Gloucester Street.

This area’s been a bit funny since the quakes. It has sporadic bits of intense pedestrian activity: Te Pae, Turanga, New Regent Street, Isaac Theatre Royal and Cathedral Junction. But these are interspersed with big vacant gravel pits meaning it’s never quite reached the level of vibrancy that I feel it should have.

These will hopefully get developed over the next few years though so, together with a nicer street environment, could help this area better achieve it’s potential.

Climate Emergency Relief work still going ahead

Earlier in the week Council had a particularly intense debate over how to prioritise different transport projects. If you’re at a loose end for the next 7 hours you can watch it here (public deputations start at 38 minutes, staff briefing at 5:14, councillor debate from 6:05).

The gist of it is that, typically, each year Christchurch City Council delivers about $100 million worth of transport infrastructure improvements. Central government recently gave us $35 million out of their Climate Emergency Relief Fund to build climate action projects (cycleways, public transport, footpaths/crossings), on the condition that we build them really fast (18 months or so). It’s great to get free money, but it was realised that it’s probably unrealistic to think that council can just deliver 35% more stuff off the bat without a lot of warning, especially in a climate where hiring more people is virtually impossible. But no one wants to turn down free money. In the end a compromise was reached – accept $26 million of it, and deliver that by putting a pause on $4 million of our current projects (many of which were struggling for other reasons anyway). I thought this tweet summed up the situation well.

Avon River Park

Finally, it seems to have snuck under the radar with everything else going on but consultation is happening on redeveloping the Avon River Park. Looks quite nice to me.

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