Christchurch Transport Blog: CCC Plan Change 5A Seeks To Reassert Christchurch CBD Primacy

First published on Christchurch Transport Blog
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Plan Change 5 is a set of proposed changes to the Christchurch District Plan that are grouped together as a Plan Change activity and are currently being consulted on. In fact, the submissions will close early next week, on Monday 30th November. This leaves very little time for us to put together a submission on the plan change.
The key agenda of the Plan Change, particularly certain parts of it, could possibly be construed as pushing back on the changes that the National Government pushed through as part of the Replacement District Plan after the earthquakes, and as such, may be either negative or positive depending on one’s views of those plan changes. Part 5A is key to this post as it seeks to assert that the Central Business District has primacy in the development of commercial business premises throughout the whole city. This is very clearly a response to the greater decentralisation of business activity which took place outside the CBD area immediately following the quakes and was a highly necessary response in the face of the central city red zone. However, this was far from a new activity as there had been considerable decentralisation of commercial activity for many years prior to the quakes, a key example being the rise of suburban malls, which have long been construed as a major threat to the provision of shops and retail premises in the CBD. This is in fact extremely true since we can recall that a key attraction of the CBD retail scene, late night Friday shopping, has long since disappeared in the face of competition from malls with free parking and 7 day opening. Likewise, but not directly related to the core theme of this post, the designation of New Brighton as a special shopping zone able to open at weekends lost its significance once restrictions on other malls across the city were relaxed, and has been in major decline since.
The problem with the old concept of centralising commercial / business activity within a Central Business District in the heart of a large city is that it creates key impositions upon the city as a whole which requires, for example, the construction of transport infrastructure that will carry a large volume of people into and out of the CBD is a major imposition on suburban neighbourhoods and results in unnecessary requirement for people in outer suburbs to travel long distances into the CBD each day and then return home at the end, this results in excessive use of time and mileage related expenditure as well as emissions. As populations grow and adjoining cities expand, it eventually becomes impractical to centralise everything because these distant cities attract development in their own right and people choose to travel to them as being closer rather than to the now-rather distant big city CBD. We can see a key parallel to this in the development of commercial centres and significant urban populations in parts of Greater Wellington, particularly Lower and Upper Hutt and also the Wairarapa. At various times the creation of these outlying residential and commercial centres under the fiat of various Governments must have grated with the empire builders in Wellington City Council. There is consequently no ability for WCC to demand of the whole Greater Wellington area that there must only be a single CBD for the whole of the Wellington-Hutt Valley territory in the middle of Wellington City.
So in a certain respect this demand being issued from Christchurch City Council is an imposition created by key politicians and political interests within Christchurch and it is important to understand it in the context of the greater Urban Development Strategy for Greater Christchurch. In every single aspect of regional cooperation that exists and is seen between CCC, its neighbouring councils and Ecan, it has become abundantly clear that CCC sees it as its divinely appointed role to attempt to assert primary in every possible way over other territories. The Urban Development Strategy is a key example: whilst it suggests 40% of population growth in the Greater Christchurch region will occur outside the city boundaries, in practice CCC sees it as their mandate to oppose further growth in Selwyn and Waimakariri, and make a point of submitting on each resource consent for large housing subdivisions. At a CCC meeting on 12 November councillors discussed the fact that SDC has recently received plan change submissions for the construction of 5000 houses in various parts of the District and it was reported earlier this week that CCC had submitted on one of these proposals being reported in the Press as authored by the Mayor on the Council’s behalf. The submission queried whether due consideration was given of the Government’s National Policy Statement on Urban Growth and the need for public transport (an example is that in West Melton, where some of the development is proposed, there is currently no public transport). One option, of course, for PT to Rolleston, a major urban growth area in Selwyn District, by commuter train, is currently being stalled by CCC. We did note recently a statement in an official public transport futures document that “By the year 2041, Greater Christchurch has a vibrant inner city and suburban centres surrounded by thriving rural communities and towns”, essentially a UDS statement that the development of Greater Christchurch should proceed along traditional lines and outdated concepts.
This is all a product of that constant push by CCC to be in charge of the whole region and ultimately the question of local government reorganisation to favour the City will come to the fore. Labour has shown no desire for this, but National is much more open to creating larger regional authorities made up of multiple amalgamated territories, as shown in the Auckland Council implementation in the 2010s. National is also much more likely to intervene in local government and will likely oppose continual attempts by CCC to dominate the region as their rural base is generally opposed to amalgamation between city and rural councils and to the domination attempts by the city. The situation in Auckland which involved a number of urban councils amalgamating was very different from Greater Christchurch with one urban and two rural neighbours because the rurals can make a case that there has not been enough development yet in their urban areas to favour those areas being amalgamated into Christchurch, but if Selwyn and Waimakariri District townships continue to expand rapidly then the case for those areas being added to Christchurch in the future becomes much stronger. Also National has made their views clear in building the two soon-to-open motorways connecting Christchurch City with Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts, which is fundamentally the intention of the CNC and CSC developments, since through traffic is already catered for by the existing SH1 bypass of the city that was first constructed many years ago around the Airport.
This is fundamentally why the dominance and centralisation attempts by CCC are basically short sighted. The CDB primacy arguments largely revolve around existing political and financial power bases for a small number of politicians and business leaders with major property holdings in the central business district at inflated higher prices and do not actually consider that as a city grows, decentralisation is an essential fact since it becomes too difficult to deliver ever increasing infrastructure to move large segments of the population across the city every day to work in the CBD and out again, but also because of the risk that was exposed in the quakes of one particular area being knocked out of contention for a lengthy period by a natural disaster. Whilst there is a strong town planning argument in favour of residential amenity being impacted around outlying commercial centres, a great deal of industry has already been permitted to develop in these areas over many decades and is not going anywhere. Furthermore the Council itself has seen the merit of creating recreational facilities such as libraries and pools in individual communities without demanding they are all centralised, in convenience to community needs, and government departments such as Education generally follow the same principle in the placement of school sites where it is appropriate to the needs of communities. The fact that employed people are able to access transport modes that can take them a considerable distance right across the city is irrelevant when the infrastructure at peak hours can’t keep up and when regular public transport (buses) is also getting stuck in traffic queues.
We will be making a submission to this Plan Change proposal notwithstanding that it is likely to be ignored, because the interests of a small group of politicians and wealthy landowners in the CBD fundamentally cannot be allowed to corruptly dominate city planning in this way.