Prestons decision could set an unwanted precedent

Posted on April 17, 2011 by

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While the Christchurch City Council has been confirmed as taking the lead in a ‘Recovery Plan‘ for the Central Business District ( and CERA will have ultimate authority anyway), there are definitely question marks over the future urban form Greater Christchurch may follow in the ‘post-quake’ environment.

Certainly there is a need to provide housing in Christchurch for people whose houses do not have a long-term future due to damage sustained in the earthquakes (particularly those in the hard hit eastern suburbs), and also possibly for people moving here for work during the rebuild. Pressure is being put upon the Council to allow residential developments, such as the controversial Prestons site, to go ahead as soon as possible. Failure to come to a (favourable?) decision soon enough could result in CERA flexing its muscles.

The problem is we need to balance a response to the current situation without setting a precedent that encourages unplanned sprawl. For example, the Prestons development is really in the middle of nowhere and will apply pressure for authorities to develop more infrastructure to cater for its growth rather than being within a planned development zone that can make use of a concentrated corridor of development and infrastructure (i.e. spend more for less). If Prestons is given the go ahead, with voices of support amplified by the emotive argument of post-quake recovery, it could set a worrying precedent in that, and other, parts of the city fringes. We only need to look at parts of Auckland, such as the Flat Bush development which is highly car dependent and poorly structured, to see where that could lead to.

So what is the desired outcome? Is Prestons really needed due to the earthquakes? That is the key question to be answered. Are other locations better? Can other more concentrated locations provide enough room to accommodate the required new housing over the next couple of years (i.e. in the short-term). The reason why that should be asked is because surely it would be better to have people making as much use of existing facilities and infrastructure (shops, roads, bus routes etc) that have capacity rather than having to spend money on new ones? For example, the new Wigram development is probably far better placed to have the recovery argument applied to have it sped up, as it is adjacent to major arterials, public transport routes and shopping centers already. All you have to worry about is the development itself, and any future improvements to key infrastructure required to accommodate the extra population, for example Main South Rd, would have far wider benefits.

My intention is not to rat on the Prestons development, but rather to say that I believe we shouldn’t blindly use the earthquakes as an excuse to throw the baby out with the bathwater and allow every developer and his dog to be given the green light. It should be a managed process and some common sense should apply, otherwise, as with most things in this recovery, we are at risk of getting it massively wrong.

Ultimately, there is going to be quite a strong voice for any developments to go ahead, and the Council may not have the power to stop it. Instead, the best hope is that the Council mange the situation as best they can and make it a very obvious short-term thing with conditions attached, while strengthening a long-term plan that adheres to a more planned and structured Greater Christchurch.

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