Another property developer opinion piece…

Posted on December 10, 2011 by


Ernest Henshaw,  founder of Click-Clack International and property developer, had an opinion piece in The Press the other day, in which he urges a rethink on the draft Central City Plan. I won’t analyse the whole article but rather focus on some of the comments made about transport, because he seems to be reading from the same joke book as the Minister of Transport.

“Christchurch has developed around the Kiwi home on a quarter-acre section with a double garage. We love our space and we love our cars. We have close to the highest ratio of cars-to-population in the world.”

His view that we all choose to live on quarter-acre sections and  to overwhelmingly use cars as our main means of transport is a misguided conclusion. What Mr Henshaw doesn’t seem to realise is that Christchurch’s – indeed, New Zealand’s – transport policy over the last 50 years has been almost entirely focused on the automobile as the main means of transport. In other words, we have had little option but to use our cars – the decision has been made for us. Furthermore, the very same thing has been said about Auckland (including by Steven Joyce) yet investment in the rail network and Northern Busway there in recent years has seen a massive uptake in public transport use. Eight years ago a little over 2 million trips a year were made on Auckland’s rail network – now it is 10 million, and growing.

Christchurch has a very basic bus system, no real rapid transit to speak of, poor cycle lanes and has allowed many new suburbs to develop in such a way so people have to get in their cars just to grab a few basic supplies. The bus system was slowly getting better prior to the earthquake, but the gains were far from game changers. Bus lanes have been agonisingly slow to roll out, while other bus priority measures simple never eventuated. Things like park and ride have remained unfulfilled promises, and rail was abandoned more than 30 years ago and has not been reconsidered until very recently, due to the prevailing view that public transport was only for people who couldn’t afford or drive a car.

“As the council continues to approve the expansion of suburban malls, a plan for the inner city that scraps our highly-used one-way streets, reduces speed limits, closes some roads to cars completely and limits the number of carparks will make the inner city a very unpopular place to work or visit.”

The same thing can be said for the love of our “space”. Our planning laws simply make it cheap and easy for developers to carve up greenfield land. We have not sprawled out because we love it so much. What really gets me though, is that the people who have this view usually claim that it is what we choose, yet there doesn’t actually seem to be any choice there at all. In the kind of city that the draft Plan envisages, you would have more transport choice, more choice in the type of dwelling you want to live in, more choice on the type of community you want to live in, and ultimately more choice on the kind of lifestyle you want to live. How can that be bad, and how can that be anti what we all want?

The only thing I remotely agree with Mr Henshaw on is the expansion of the malls, except he uses that as an excuse to disregard the Plan while I just think mall expansions need to be rethought to make the Plan work. He also seems to be against limiting vehicle access to the inner-city, reducing inner-city speeds, and developing the city around people rather than cars. That is not a “fresh approach” at all, that is the approach that has failed Christchurch and most other cities for years. Cities that are built with people in mind are the ones that are successful. What Mr Henshaw presents is nothing new, nothing visionary, and is the kind of approach that will result in a dull, joyless city that would probably resemble the carpark of Tower Junction. Little wonder though, he is a property developer whose company developed an office park in Addington. If such people want to keep making money then they want a city that is auto-dependent, poorly connected, and spread out. They also won’t want a vibrant, cosmopolitan central city compromising that, so better to make it just a bigger version of one of their office parks. If such a money-making wet dream becomes reality though, everyone else has to pay the price.