Christchurch Local Government Elections 2019: Key Issues

Christchurch will very soon be facing the Local Government Elections in 2019. In my opinion this is quite a significant election because of certain policy directions taken by the Council in the post-earthquake reconstruction of the city in the last couple of terms.

Talking Transport has ably summed up the election process here. One of the issues I raised in the comments is whether the City would do better in terms of city wide planning if territorial wards and boards were eliminated, and all representatives were elected from across the City and the boards were focused on policy areas rather than territories. At the moment the biggest concern and one which I have articulated on various occasions is that each community board gets to decide how to plan its own transport networks in its own areas. This frequently results in a narrow parochial local interests taking precedence over city wide issues, in which the role of transport networks in enabling people to move across the different parts of the city to reach a destination is made less important than the “rights” of residents in the local area. It is likely that this is a key driver of a car-centric culture in Christchurch and other major cities, due to the parochialness that is inherent in territorial local body politics.

The key aspects of the election which I will address here are as follows:

Firstly there is the regional council elections and the shift from a council that is partly appointed commissioners and partly elected councillors, to the restoration of a fully elected council. There are numerous environmental concerns that people are hoping will be more fully addressed by the change back to a fully elected Council. As far as this blog goes, public transport is certainly a key area. Due to government funding cuts but also a lack of commitment from the appointed commissioners in the last term, the public transport network has certainly slipped. In the first term of the commissioners we had the Hub-Spoke reorganisation of the bus network which brought with it the improved passenger facilities at Northlands and Riccarton, particularly the much maligned suburban passenger interchange at the latter, something CCC would have never built without a lot of prodding. More recently, the Joint Public Transport Committee approach with territorial councils has brought proposals to improve the PT network on the assumption of increased central government funding. The key aspects I would like to see happen better under the regional council are some gaps like an effective complaints procedure for public transport users, better communications with users who don’t have the use of social media or smartphones, and greater transparency and engagement with rail passenger service proposals. From my perspective I am personally endorsing the campaigns of Axel Wilke in Christchurch Central, Tane Apanui in Christchurch North and Rik Tindall in Christchurch South/BP. The first two having campaigned on improved PT options in particular and being in areas that will be key to rail passenger development. I am not particularly aware of pro-rail candidates in the other CRC wards. It is concerning to see Peoples Choice have stood candidates in every ward, selfishly oblivious to the possibility of vote splitting with similarly aligned candidates standing on independent platforms.

Secondly we have the territorial elections which for greater Christchurch are in Waimakariri District, Selwyn District and Christchurch City and it’s in the City that the greatest controversies have been raised that are likely to create the impetus for a big change in the look of the new Council. The key areas that I believe are a flashpoint for discontent in the City at the present time are:

  • Rates rises of 65% overall in the term of the current 10 year LTP.
  • The backlash against “An Accessible City” which was highlighted in one of my recent posts. Although the Council has backtracked on changes to High Street and Victoria Street, opposition to the redevelopment of St Asaph Street was only partly addressed by the Council which ignored concerted campaigning to reverse the removal of much of the carparking along the street. The lower speed limits and impacts on other thoroughfares such as Manchester Street and Tuam Street will also be relevant. This also can flow through into concerns about public transport priority measures such as bus lanes in outer suburbs like Papanui and Addington.
  • The impact of the city wide cycleway developments in the removal of carparking in many streets where these cycleways run and the overall substantial expense which many feel is being pushed through whilst roads in other areas are not being repaired to a reasonable standard.

I must make clear in this blog that I generally support the AAC and cycleway developments as being a long overdue rebalancing of transport focus into other modes of transport because prioritising cars will simply keep creating more congestion that can’t be ignored. This post is simply intending to identify where City politics is going amid concerns that transport focus is dominated by a vociferous car-focused lobby that fails to address many of the legitimate concerns about environmental impacts of large volumes of motor vehicle traffic upon neighbourhoods and other transport modes.

Whereas in the 2016 election the AAC opposition slipped under the radar and there was only one serious challenger to Dalziel (from the left of the political spectrum) in 2016, there was also no identifiable right-wing challenger and there was a record low turnout of only 37% in voting. This election there is clearly a mayoral candidate likely to attract significant support from the CBD business mafia and higher income neighbourhoods over ongoing concerns about the AAC, rates rises and cycleways, and with ward candidates tapping into similar suburban concerns, the Council could shift significantly to the right. The issue of rates rises is unlikely to be able to be addressed unless either the stadium project is suspended or major asset sales occur; cycleways can be put on hold and the Accessible City street level changes reversed in a number of areas.

So the elections will be fascinating to observe and the outcomes fairly important for the future transport directions of Christchurch.

 

 

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