Building at Pace and Scale in Greater Christchurch

New government initiatives give Greater Christchurch the opportunity to take a bold strategic step forward in its transport mode use and settlement pattern

Housing Transport and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford will use his new Urban Development Authority and central government initiatives like kiwibuild and state housing to build at pace and scale.

Minister Twyford recently announced Urban Development Authority (UDA) will allow the government to partner with councils, the private sector and iwi to build housing and infrastructure at pace and scale.

There is a good 15 minute video of Phil Twyford being interviewed about this new policy initiative here.

An Urban Development Authority will be the “largest of the four ‘streams’ of Twyford’s KiwiBuild and represents the best shot he has at addressing the housing crisis and delivering 100,000 homes by 2028” (KiwiBuild: Beneath the hood by Thomas Coughlan from @NewsroomNZ).

As Thomas Coughlan reports KiwiBuild solves a number of political and economic problems and therefore is likely to be a permanent fixture in our political economy in one form or another.

Greater Christchurch as a city needs to consider where its share of the KiwiBuild programme will be built. This is approximately 10,000 KiwiBuild houses to be constructed by 2028. Roughly one in every four houses built in the city over the next decade will be a KiwiBuild house.

The government’s Urban Development Authority will be looking for about 100 hectares of land to build Christchurch’s share of KiwiBuild houses. This figure is based on the already announced UDA sites in Auckland and Wellington (Unitec, Mt Roskill, Mangere and Porirua) which have a proposed density of approximately 100 dwellings per hectare. This density is five times greater than the typical New Zealand suburb.

In reality the UDA will be looking for even more land than 100 hectares because its developments are a mix of housing types -state, kiwibuild and private sector housing. It could be looking for 200–300 hectares of land. The UDA preference is large green or brownfield sites where it can master plan thousands of houses around multi-modal transport links, public amenities likes schools, parks, libraries, sporting facilities etc, in locations with good access to high employment growth.

A ‘tooled-up’ UDA will have the capability to integrate all these transport, housing and community service needs.

To give the readers an idea of how big 300 hectares is -it is the same size as 3 square kilometres -or double the size of Hagley Park.

An Urban Development Authority will allow faster delivery of new housing and infrastructure projects. The period from concept to starting construction will be shortened from five years to one year.

This process will have central government working alongside local government. There will be a process whereby negotiation and agreement is sought with local government. But local government’s monopoly over land-use and its ability to veto proposals will end.

Housing and infrastructure developments being provided by Phil Twyford’s Urban Development Authority will go through a public submission process. There will be an Independent Hearing Panel headed by an Environmental Court judge, which will take submissions at the concept proposal stage and then at the draft plan stage.

Is this a vote of no-confidence in local government?

I don’t think so. I think it is an acknowledgement that building housing and infrastructure is a complex task involving multiple parties and that in New Zealand we need a system to better coordinate these activities. Local government will continue to have an integral part to play. If local government takes a constructive ‘can-do’ approach then this new system may deliver outcomes that the local community and local government have long dreamed about but have lacked the capacity to achieve.

For instance the local councils that make up the Greater Christchurch Partnership have initiated consultations on the city’s transport and settlement pattern. They have asked the public to comment on their proposed settlement pattern -Our Spaces 2018 -2048 draft document.

Feedback closes on the 30th November.

In my opinion local government engaging constructively with central government greatly expands the options. My recommendations require this positive relationship.

I am recommending;

  • An Urban Development Authority (UDA) in Greater Christchurch focuses on two projects of approximately 10,000 houses each over the next 10 years. These being, integrating land-use with commuter train services on the northern existing heavy rail tracks. And integrating land-use with light rail to the southwest of Christchurch.
  • The UDA will need to acquire land around potential heavy and light rail stations at a price that allows value uplift to fund the required infrastructure. This will work in conjunction with the following point.
  • Allow the UDA to create Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) to fund infrastructure -including rapid transit infrastructure, whereby the new dwellings pay off a municipal bond using targeted rates. This debt will neither sit with local or central government -so is not constrained by debt limits.

The rationale for my recommendations is provided by my Christchurch’s Future is a Fat Banana paper.

My hope is that Greater Christchurch prefers a range of transport options -trains, trams, buses, bicycles…. and the housing and transport monopoly of automobile dependence is ended. This hope is further discussed in my What if Tradies preferred Trams to Utes? paper.

My fear is that instead of Greater Christchurch making a bold step change that revolutionises the cities transport and settlement pattern the city takes a slow conservative approach. I worry that gradually evolving current policy settings will be considered an adequate response. This would doom Christchurch into making the same mistakes that Auckland made from 1950 to 2000.

Amongst urbanists this fear for Christchurch is quite prevalent. TraNZport blog for instance makes the following commentary in an insightful paper titled Christchurch — more spending on public transport needed (aka, ‘a review of the draft Regional Public Transport Plan’).

Is Christchurch simply repeating the same mistakes that Auckland made; enacting policies and plans that led Auckland to car dependence, road congestion, billions being spent on motorways until eventually everyone realised it wasn’t working and big investments in public transport were required to catch-up? This is 2018, not 1960, but amazingly the same attitudes persist in the southern city, which is dominated by high rates of car ownership, low density housing, non-existent rapid transit, and a poorly utilised public transport system. As a former resident of the city, I can attest that views on urban development and transport are rather conservative, particularly in comparison to Auckland and Wellington (which probably says a lot, really). There is definitely a “head-in-the-sand” type mentality among many local politicians too, when it comes to these issues.

There is no need to be pessimistic though. There is a progressive government in Wellington which has the political will to address tough issues like the housing crisis and at the local level many of the Greater Christchurch councils are led by progressives too. The policy initiatives announced by Phil Twyford could lead to exciting developments for Greater Christchurch. For much of the last decade due to the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 the city has been in a state of head-down reactivity to immediate crisis needs. The city now has a chance to lift its head-up and take a bolder more strategic step forward.