The Christchurch City Council has voted for $4 million of funding toward a feasibility study into its proposed light rail network, and has budgeted $406 million for the first stage of the project. Interestingly, that first stage might not be the University-CBD route that was promoted in the draft Central City Plan. Councillors seem to have had a rethink following much public feedback and comment and will now use the feasibility study to establish the most suitable route to be the first stage in an eventual network.
In an article in The Press today, there were a few interesting comments from Mayor Bob Parker. Most interesting of all was that he stated the Government asked that the light rail network be included in the draft City Plan which, if we assume it is true, is almost up there with Hell freezing over. Nevertheless, that is a promising, if surprising, sign. There was some criticism from within the Council about the decision to allocate funds for the study and first stage without proper analysis. Cr Yani Johanson commented that “We are being asked to spend $4m for a light rail investigation, but we don’t have any information around the possible harms and possible benefits of any network.” This is an odd remark given that I would have thought that is what a feasibility study was all about – looking at the costs and benefits and seeing if it stacks up. Mayor Parker stated that the decision did not mean the Council was committed to building the network either, which probably seems an equally strange remark but is a good point.
So what does all this mean? What happens now? I expect the feasibility study will look at the details more; what type of system and technology works for Christchurch, what the network might look like, how that benefits the City on a social and economic level, and where we should start. I think this puts what was outlined into the draft City Plan into perspective. It was really just an idea being put on the table, a broad vision to give us an idea of how it might work. I even see the proposed first stage as an example rather than a definitive idea. Perhaps sometimes we fail to see the word :draft” in the title. What we should start to see now is the real proposal, how it might look, how it might operate, and how it all works on a multitude of levels.
Beyond the feasibility study, should it all stack up, I imagine the focus will be shifted to the first stage project, and then we will get into producing business cases and the like for that. Now we know that the first stage of a network might not be the University one, and part of the feasibility study will be to determine where this is, for me it kind of brings us back to square one – which isn’t such a bad thing. The feasibility study will start to produce the real nuts and bolts, and that is where the real debate can begin. Perhaps now, as I previously hoped, the debate for light rail can be laid to rest and we can move on to talking about what kind of system works best, and how we go about it.