Christchurch is evolving from a small apple to a fat banana
This month the public can submit on the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy (UDS). This is a review of land use planning for Greater Christchurch. There is a draft document titled Our Space 2018–2048: Greater Christchurch Settlement Pattern Update, which outlines the cities land use and infrastructure needs over the medium (next 10 years) and long term (10 to 30 years) periods.
The future of Greater Christchurch’s built environment will affect more people in New Zealand than any other urban area except for Auckland’s isthmus or South Auckland. The implications are huge from a number of viewpoints -economic, financial, safety, health, environmental or a social perspective.
Historically Christchurch has had a compact ‘apple’ shape. The vast bulk of its population has been housed within 10 km of the city centre. This is in contrast to other cities in New Zealand, such as, Wellington which has a more linear form. Greater Wellington growth extends up the Kapiti Coast and Hutt Valley.
In the future over half the expected population growth for Greater Christchurch will be housed between 10 and 25 km from the city centre in greenfield areas (see above map -areas marked in green or orange) to the north and southwest of Christchurch. This means the city will develop a more ‘fat banana’ shape. The city can adapt to this evolution in several different ways.
The transport and land-use models being;
- Continuing with auto-dependent suburban sprawl
- A heavy rail arc from Rangiora to Rolleston combined with an inner city tram-train loop
- A heavy rail arc from Rangiora to Rolleston combined with a bus rapid transit spine
- A heavy rail arc from Rangiora to Rolleston combined with a light rail spoke
The options are not mutually exclusive, in the future a combination of all four models is possible, in particular a future rapid transit network could feature an inner city loop, a bus rapid spine and a number of light rail spokes.
The important issue is what should the first step be. An examination of demand and supply of space in Greater Christchurch helps us examine these options.
Since 2013 Greater Christchurch has grown by approximately 50,000 people, 45,000 light vehicles and 20,000 houses.
If Greater Christchurch continues to grow at this rate for another decade the city will need to make room for another 100,000 people, 90,000 cars and 40,000 houses. This would be a 20% expansion of the city from 480,000 to 580,000 people on top of the 10% expansion the city has experienced in the last five years.
Greater Christchurch’s increase in population since 2013 was the largest for any New Zealand metropolitan area outside of Auckland. Which shouldn’t be surprising as Christchurch is the second largest city in New Zealand. Christchurch grew by over 2.1% annually compared to Wellington’s 1.2%.
City population growth rate projections are fraught with difficulties, especially the further into the future the projection is made. For instance, one of the most famous urban plans -the United Kingdom 1947 Town and Country Act, which was designed to support land-use planning after WW2 made a large number of mistakes with its demand growth assumptions.
Growth in Greater Christchurch over the next thirty years could be much higher or lower than official estimates.
Natural disasters could affect Canterbury again, or elsewhere, such as Wellington, impacting on growth in Greater Christchurch. Climate change and sea level rises may occur faster than anticipated, leading to existing urban areas being abandoned and increased demand for housing in new urban areas. Immigration cycles could change, especially if New Zealand’s large diaspora in Australia chose to return. Public perception of Christchurch could change -it could be viewed as New Zealand’s second international city -with a growth rate commensurate with this status.
There are many known unknowns and unknown unknowns that could affect demand for housing.
I believe the consequences of underestimating demand are so severe that it is better to get far ahead of the curve rather than risk going behind it.
Greater Christchurch used up decades of residential area zoning and infrastructure provision in the post earthquake period though the Land Use Recovery Plan. Since the earthquakes 75% of new housing has been constructed in green field areas with no supporting rapid transit transport mode provision i.e. it was auto-dependent suburbia.
The crisis house building response had the important benefit of stabilising house prices and rents. As the lowest income Christchurch residents with the least property wealth paid were paying a significant price in the recovery period.
Christchurch rents went up on average $130 per week or $6,500 a year, between 2011 and 2014. This rent increase amounted to nearly 10% of median household income in the region. At the time there was much public anxiety about how to remedy this situation.
Another way to describe the significance of Christchurch’s post quakes rent increases is that when government’s 2018 Families Package is fully rolled out, that some 384,000 families with children will receive about $75 a week. This families package will cost the taxpayer $5.53 billion over the next five years.
Preparing integrated housing and infrastructure supply solutions in advance of demand is important because it means benefits like the Families Package will not be inflated away by high housing costs if demand unexpectedly exceeds supply.
In the past Christchurch has been a place where residents chose cycling and busing as alternatives to driving. Christchurch has many older housing areas within easy cycling range (2–5 km) of the city centre.
Good street connectivity also encouraged cycling, as Christchurch cyclists have a large number of city centre access street options.
In recent decades due to growth of suburbs and townships too distant to support cycling, with roads too congested to support busing, has meant auto-dependency became the default transport mode choice. Increasingly congested roads have also discouraged cycling on inner city roads as they are not perceived as safe. New protected cycleways and lower CBD speed limits are possible remedies for this.
Auto-dependency risks Greater Christchurch experiencing similar transport growth pains to what Auckland experienced due to its auto-dependency from a motorway-only city building model in the post WW2 period.
Fortunately for Auckland efforts have been made to correct this transport bias in recent decades with the revival of commuter rail (Britomart, electrification, new trains and the soon to come city rail link), the success of bus rapid transit to the North Shore (and soon the eastern Ameti busway to Botany) and in the future light rail south to Mt Roskill, Mangere and the Airport and north-west to Kumeu.
Despite these efforts Auckland’s infrastructure deficit has meant housing and transport remains ‘behind the curve’ for New Zealand’s largest city. This has major implications for inequality, productivity and how New Zealand justly transitions to a low carbon economy that climate change and international agreements demands. The current government rightly is putting a lot of effort into correcting this situation for Auckland. Christchurch should learn from Auckland’s mistakes.
If Greater Christchurch continues with its current transport and land-use pattern it can expect that 55% of new housing will be auto-dependent greenfield suburbia with little or no supporting rapid transport options. Given current city growth trends greenfield development could grow by 22,000 houses, 55,000 people and 50,000 cars over the medium term to 2028.
For obvious reasons this sprawling option should be a serious concern for Canterbury and New Zealand. If it is not obvious to the reader, I would suggest you read Christchurch is a Car City -Why Fight It, which describes why Chris Morahan spends his evenings and weekends working on the Talking Transport-Christchurch blog discussing how to improve transport in Christchurch.
Christchurch continuing to sprawl with new auto-dependent suburbia is not inevitable. There is a mechanism for changing the way transport planning and land use is integrated together. This mechanism is described below in the Greater Christchurch Draft document -Our Space 2018–2018 in the section titled -Integrating land use and transport planning to shape desired urban form.
Integrated land use and transport planning is a key principle that underpins the strategic direction for urban growth in Greater Christchurch. However, the key challenge of achieving sufficient and equitable infrastructure funding remains. In this context, the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) has offered new opportunities for investing in our transport system, with the possible development of a local and central government agreement on transport’s role in the future development of Greater Christchurch signalled in the GPS. Discussions with the Government and infrastructure providers will be important in delivering the types of improvements to our transport network that will help enable our desired urban form. Aligning development with good access to a range of transport modes will reduce the reliance on private vehicles, and provide associated social, environmental and economic benefits for all people and communities (P.15).
In other words Greater Christchurch’s local authorities and central government could agree on a new integrated land use and transport planning model whose infrastructure can be affordably paid for.
This report will examine three transport models -the loop, the spine and the spoke and their implications for integrated land use.
All three models re-establish commuter trains on the existing tracks. Christchurch’s rail corridor is an obvious underutilised asset, this transport corridor follows the ‘fat banana’ growth corridor and there is a number of greenfield development opportunities close to potential new train stations.
For instance there is a empty 8 hectare site that used to be the Addington sheep yards that is only a few hundred metres from Addington train station.
There is a large greenfield development possibilities on the eastern side of Belfast that would have good connections to two potential train station sites.
The north west corner of Kaiapoi has a nice development opportunity close to a potential new train station.
Rangiora has some good development sites on its east side. With further investigation a two train station solution similar to Belfast could be developed.
Christchurch’s western train track is more problematic from a integrated land use point of view. There is some good connections for workers to access industrial areas around Annex road and the north side of Rolleston and mixed commercial areas in Hornby. But large sites for new housing are not readily accessible from the rail corridor. The farmland between Hornby and Rolleston is in the airport noise zone. The identified future growth area around Rolleston is on the south side of the town which is more than a kilometre from any potential train station -so not easily walkable.
Given south-west Christchurch extending into the Selwyn District is the region's fastest growth corridor for residential development it is a land-use integration problem that heavy rail does not provide a better housing solution.
The other problem of the existing train tracks is they do not go to the centre of the city. At its closest in Moorhouse Avenue any potential train station is over a kilometre from central city amenities.
The loop, spine and spoke are three proposed remedies for these problems.
- Best connection with the city centre -no need for passengers to make a rapid transit connection change when travelling to the city centre.
- Poor land-use integration with the growing south-west part of the Greater Christchurch ‘fat banana’. Less integration means less ability to use value uplift to fund infrastructure.
- More disruptive to city centre. Crosses Deans Ave and Moorhouse Ave. Will take road space from Madras street (a significant part of the one-way system) and Riccarton Ave (although a future light rail spoke to Canterbury University and Airport could also use the Riccarton Ave line).
- Tram/trains although successful in Germany (less so in England) are an unknown technology in the Southern Hemisphere. There are no examples using New Zealand’s narrow gauge tracks -meaning a bespoke design will be necessary.
- This is a bus rapid transit north/south spine connecting Brougham/southern motorway street in the south and Cranford street/Northern arterial motorway in the north. It would create a bus link from a new train station in Moorhouse Avenue with the city centre/central bus exchange. It is well described in my paper -Greater transport choice can help revive Christchurch which was published in June. Although many have responded to the general idea of Christchurch building a congestion free rapid transit network with interest the specific bus rapid transit proposal did not capture much excitement.
- The spine would require a new train station in Moorhouse Avenue and a tunnel or bridge under/over the train tracks and Moorhouse Ave.
- The spine proposal is probably ahead of its time. It is trying to remedy a problem -increasing congestion from the northern and southern motorways that has not occurred yet because neither motorway is fully complete.
- The spine supports more dispersed growth than the other two proposals. Being able to service multiple small suburbs to the north and south with fast bus services. This has advantages for increasing competition with respect to land supply. But the dispersal factor also means the spine would be less effective at master planning new transport infrastructure with integrated land use. Because of this it only provides a partial solution for developing the southern part of the Greater Christchurch ‘fat banana’.
- The spine would work best with congestion road pricing the new motorways, as road pricing would encourage motorists to switch to more spatially efficient transport modes, such as public transport when roads become congested. Road pricing is part of the Coalition governments Urban Growth Agenda but it is likely to be some years away due to the technical difficulties of implementing a GPS road charging system into all vehicles.
- The proposed light rail route into the city is less disruptive and costly than the other two options. The Moorhouse Ave crossing can be timed for when the Deans Ave traffic is turning right into Blenheim road. The Hagley Ave/ Oxford Terrace/ Lichfield Road route is largely defunct for through traffic as the new stadium will make Lichfield Road a dead end. Using this route for light rail provides most of the benefit of the loop proposal with much less disruption and cost.
- Commuter trains on existing heavy rail tracks and separate light rail on its own purpose built tracks is a common transport solution in Australasia. Design and costs will be more predictable as it is not a unique design. Light rail from the centre of Christchurch to Lincoln would require no bridges or tunnels (which can increase costs ten-fold per km) unlike light rail proposals for Auckland and Wellington. Costs will be similar to Canberra’s $700 million, 12 kilometre, initial stage light rail, rather than the proposed nearly $4 billion Wellington CBD to Airport service which requires tunneling through Mt Albert. Over half of the Christchurch CBD to Lincoln light rail route is through flat green fields that will have a fraction of the land acquisition and build costs of a service through an already built up city.
- The biggest benefit of the spoke proposal is it enables the master planning of trunk infrastructure ahead of development in one of the fastest growing regions in New Zealand. By providing the light rail corridors new residents would only be 20–40 minutes from the centre of Christchurch on a congestion free transport service. Light rail being built in advance of development means modern higher density housing could be purpose built for accessing the congestion free rapid transit service. This proposal could capture virtually all the growth in the south-west part of the ‘fat banana’ and use it to fund the required infrastructure (including light rail) though land-use uplift funding techniques. This proposal would mean Christchurch could cope with any conceivable amount of growth in the next thirty years. Yet because it is planned growth around rapid transit corridors the amount of farmland that is required would be only a third or a quarter of the auto-centric sprawl option. There would be green corridors surrounding growth along the light rail corridors -much like the Copenhagen hand model.
What is required?
- Local governments in Greater Christchurch cooperating with central government to implement one of the proposals.
- An Urban Development Authority (UDA) coordinating the complex mix of -planning, consenting, infrastructure provision, State and KiwiBuild house building, government departments who provide public amenities like schools, health facilities etc.
- UDA’s are discussed further in an article titled -Urban growth in New Zealand : Where are we heading? By Nicky McIndoe, Partner, Environment and Planning, Kensington Swan. It seems both Auckland and Wellington are in advanced stages of considering how to use this mechanism to meet their urbanisation needs. Greater Christchurch needs to consider using this approach too.
Announcing the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the Government said it is “setting up an Urban Development Authority (‘UDA’) to lead large scale urban development projects”. The Cabinet paper described an Urban Growth Agenda work programme closely related to other work areas, including urban development legislation that “will establish an urban development authority and provide planning and consenting, land assembly, infrastructure and funding powers that can be used to deliver complex urban development projects”. MBIE recently announced that a UDA Bill will be introduced in March 2019. Wellington City Council Chief Executive Kevin Lavery has suggested that Greater Wellington Regional Council, WCC, the Government, and the NZ Transport Agency should form a Wellington UDA to progress the Let’s Get Wellington Moving transport programme (Light rail to the airport). The multifaceted nature of that initiative would make it a good candidate. The Cabinet paper hints that a UDA could be used to develop a “new leapfrog greenfield development” south of Auckland.
- I would recommend the UDA in Greater Christchurch focuses on two projects of approximately 10,000 houses each over the next 10 to 20 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.
- A typical new autocentric suburban development in New Zealand will have about $100,000 in infrastructure provision costs -fresh, storm and wastewater, local roads, footpaths, parks etc. Transit oriented developments are more compact so some of these costs are less but then the cost of transit needs to be added. For assumption sake let’s assume total infrastructure costs for transit oriented development are $120,000 per dwelling and $50,000 of this goes towards rapid transit. That would mean the UDA would over time with -20,000 dwellings multiplied by $50,000 each -receive up to $1 billion from this revenue source. This would be a significant contribution towards providing commuter rail on the existing tracks and light rail in Greater Christchurch. Add some further contributions from central and local government and some other sources of funding -such as the transit provider/SPV being a property manager or landlord of affordable rental properties close to their transit services, means these land value capture technique approaches should have adequate funding to pay for the required infrastructure.
- The Minister of Housing, Transport and Urban Development -Phil Twyford has said the following about infrastructure funding for new housing in a recent Beehive press release.
The infrastructure funding and financing pillar of the Urban Growth Agenda will enable responsive infrastructure provision and appropriate cost allocation, including the use of project financing and access to financial capital. It aims to reform infrastructure funding and financing through:
Providing a broader range of tools and mechanisms to enable net beneficial bulk and distribution infrastructure to be funded;
Rebalancing development risk from local authorities to the development sector; and
Making long term debt finance available to developers willing to take on the commercial risk, with the debt serviced by revenue from the new properties in a development.
- Professor Peter Newman has also written about how light rail can be financed using land value capture for post earthquake Christchurch in an article titled -How Christchurch can build light rail — and create the centres it needs in the process.
The need for a modern rail system is not just due to its transport system benefits but also its transformative force in reshaping urban centres. This has been recognised globally  with indications that public transport is a key element in ensuring a competitive city. 
Light rail attracts denser, mixed-use urban development that has less need for parking. It can therefore enable development in the city centre and along its route in sub-centres, including places like the University of Canterbury in Ilam. These denser centres are where real innovation in sustainability can be focused. It is where people-oriented urban design at street level begins to be meaningful.  Car-based suburbs and shopping centres are never going to be the basis of a sustainable and resilient city…..
Greater Christchurch has been through some tough times. The new approaches to building and funding urbanisation being developed in New Zealand gives the city an opportunity to create a new and better built environment.