New developments need to conform to an overall plan

Posted on June 27, 2011 by

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Last week a decision was made by the Government as to what properties in Christchurch would remain or be rebuilt and what ones would not. Well actually it really decided what properties it would make an offer on and which it wouldn’t, and also which ones it hadn’t decided what to do with yet, and some more that it needed to take an all new look at. Furthermore, it seems that even if you do fall into the ‘red zone’ category, you can reject the offer and stay where you are, just don’t expect the Council to make permanent repairs to your street or to get insurance any time soon. More confusing, some streets appear to have red, orange and green zones spread along them, some apparently over the road from each other, which I guess means for some people they probably can stay in their red zone home and get their street fixed after all! Sound confusing? It is, but we shouldn’t have expected any more really, it was never going to be as straight forward as ‘ship ’em all off somewhere else and turn the land into a giant park’. The real world just doesn’t work like that. Ultimately, for those who want to they can get out of their broken homes and into new houses in other areas of the city (or, if they want, somewhere else entirely) and that is what is important I guess. It would seem many will take up that offer.

It is where those people are going to move to, and how we now move them around, that intrigues me. The fact is, thousand of new homes are going to go up in certain areas over a relatively short space of time and that is going to cause all sorts of new problems to deal with. Already, the changes created by limited routes across the city and changing destinations has caused a pronounced increase in traffic congestion. Big changes to where people are distributed are going to add to this, even as roads are repaired and the CBD reopened the fact that more people are coming from particular directions is going to require some new thinking.

Looking at some of the current subdivisions being developed gives a good indication of why there will be problems. To the north, Belfast, Highfield, and Pegasus; to the south-west Wigram, Prebbleton, Lincoln and, further south, Rolleston. In each case, there are common routes shared for considerable distances, and it appears there are probably other areas nearby that are being readied or earmarked for development. Already, that Southern Motorway is starting to look congested, and its first stage isn’t even finished yet. Ditto for its northern counterpart. Yet strangely the fact that we are concentrating developments along this common north-south corridor offers an opportunity for this problem to almost solve itself as it will be much easier, and viable, to provide high quality public transport to them. Adapting the railway lines is a very attractive proposition which has piqued the interest of local government for some time, and they also happen to run through, or close to, most of the areas listed.

However, one area that also seems to have been given the nod is Prestons, despite the fact that it is outside the urban limits put in place by the Urban Development Strategy Forum (seems they  might extend the limits to allow for Prestons). That gives me some concern that the positive outcomes of these developments might not necessarily come to fruition. Those limits were put in place to make a more sustainable city, that would be more accessible and easier to plan for and to avoid endless suburban sprawl and automobile dependency, a condition that has plagued Christchurch for decades. In recent years, that auto-dependent sprawl, so characteristic of the city, was starting to bite as Christchurch grew faster, further, and ever closer to that half-million mark. That bite has been in full flow now that mother nature intervened, and it seems that the people of Christchurch have been making it clear of late that is not the kind of city they want to see anymore (especially if the share and idea exercise was anything to go by). Prestons has all the hallmarks of continuing that trend, which is worrying as it begs the question that if we are going to go down that road, will any further thought be given to ensuring the north-south development corridor is appropriately handled? Furthermore, why is it needed so bad when there are plenty of sections (11,000 apparently) already available or about to become available? Do we really need to ‘pull out all the stops’ and ignore common sense and rules? Is it really that desperate? I would have thought not. Surely those that fit future planning should be first cabs off the rank, and if there is still a shortage then we could consider modifying plans and rules to fast track other developments.

Perhaps there is a plan. Perhaps, like I suggested last week, there could be a corridor of development planned in the north-east feeding into an eastern suburbs rapid transit route. Or maybe there is no plan at all, and Prestons is an example of the direction we are heading, random suburban sprawl where thought is only given to how cars can get in and out (i.e. business as usual). Perhaps, the opportunity to turn the concentration of development along the north-south corridor to our overwhelming advantage will never be taken or deferred and, like Auckland before us, we will wait until the problems build up to such out-of-control levels before doing anything about them (and then ignore sensible solutions for 40 years). I sure hope not. It will be interesting to get a clear picture of where all these new subdivisions are, and while I expect most to be along the key north-south corridor, developments like Prestons, without a solid overall strategy, do worry me about our future directions.

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