Post-local-election thoughts [1]

So here is the first part of our take on the local government elections, Christchurch being the main focus for this first part. It was pleasing to see Justin Lester tipped out in Wellington because he campaigned on taking control of public transport there. However that is only a small consolation because the Government has bent over backwards to make it much easier for public transport around the country to be seized off regional councils by territorial councils. This is actively being sought in both Christchurch and Dunedin. It is all smoke and mirrors because the main obstacle to improving public transport, which the mayors of both cities have been lobbying on for decades, is the amount of subsidies that either local or central government are able to put into the operation of routes. The current level of funding requires that fares make up at least 50% of the running costs of bus services and has not been changed in 10 years, meaning the Labour Government has not addressed this issue in almost 3 years in office.

The fact is that Lianne Dalziel the Mayor of Christchurch who is a master at political scheming and manipulation, a very formidable political campaigner who was seriously underestimated by the unsuccessful challenger Daryll Park, almost as soon as she was elected into the job the first time, lobbied Ecan for a Joint Public Transport Committee and has spent the past two terms wearing down the opposition from Ecan councillors by haranging them at great length about essentially how useless they are at running public transport and how it should be taken over by the city council. The next step was a joint approach last term with Steve Lowndes, Ecan chairman and a fellow Labour member, to the Government, claiming that a Bill amending the Local Government Act was intended to facilitate the transfer of services between councils. The Bill in question that National introduced was nothing of the kind; it envisaged transport being moved into multi-agency CCOs which may have been intended to have a similar scope as Auckland Transport has in Auckland. Since Labour took over the Bill they have pushed through major amendments including gutting all of the CCO provisions and adding the actual transfer functions with amendments into the Land Transport Management Act and related legislation that was never in the original Bill. The result is to make it much easier for these services to be transferred. This amounts to about all that the Labour government has done for public transport during its first term of office and apparently this is the most important priority for them – that their role is to be an enabler for their members who are local government politicians first and foremost. This would have to be a very corrupt policy from central government if that proves to be the case.

The latest claims from Dalziel claim a fully integrated public transport system across Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn will result, and she went further during the election campaign by saying CCC should actually be running all of the services itself, that is, they should own all of the buses and employ all the drivers, cutting out the use of bus companies that are presently contracted to run the services. This has been the end goal for CCC ever since they bought Red Bus off the Christchurch Transport Board back in the 1990s, but CCC has never administered or operated public transport services in Christchurch at any previous time because we have always had regionalised services due to them crossing territorial boundaries. That will not change and makes regionalising important. Also it is very unclear what a “fully integrated public transport” system actually is. At the present time, regional and territorial council staff already work closely together to deliver public transport services in the city, making such claims essentially meaningless.

The problem is that for a political schemer like Dalziel, making it easy for people to live outside the City boundaries, by having public transport services go into Selwyn and Waimakariri and give people in those regions an easy way of getting into the CBD, is contrary to her political interests as the City’s mayor. There has been a similar negative reaction to the development of the Christchurch Northern Corridor in enabling people to drive easily to Christchurch from residential communities further north, and by implication in the south. There is already enough debate in the City about the merits of of the Mayor’s push for the central business district to be the most dominant part of Christchurch, without bringing in the possibility that people living outside the city entirely could have as easy a level of access to the CBD as its own residents, without paying any rates. This is one key reason why the Joint Public Transport Committee has been dominated by the Mayor’s campaign for control of public transport, and why it has failed to consider heavy rail as a possible option for public transport in the city. However, equally concerning has been the Government’s attitude to the development of rail commuter services in the City, in which despite an election campaign promise of up to $100 million in funding, it was handed over entirely to local bodies to make the case for the service to be developed. Apart from the fact that the chosen Rolleston rail corridor is very hard to intensify, CCC for the reasons outlined above is the not the slightest bit in favour of a rail passenger service going outside its boundaries.

The agenda for public transport development for the past three years since a Labour Government was elected has gone entirely into political ideology over enabling local government politicians with greater control over services that run in their areas and leaving them to it. Mike Williams, the former president of the Labour Party, has made it clear he supports the call by Phil Goff, a former Labour Party leader and current mayor of Auckland, for reform of the structure of the Auckland Transport CCO. Giving greater power over the CCO to the elected politicians of Auckland Council is almost certain to result in its public transport development programme being severely curtailed in years to come, as road transport is the dominant preference of ratepayers in practically every city in New Zealand. Wellington will then simply say they are facilitating more democratic control by local politicians, when in reality local governance is so weak and corrupt that it disenfranchises a significant chunk of its electors. Williams also claims that the Auckland structures are the reason for the low electoral turnout in the City despite this being a nationwide trend. The Government has further cemented the view that they are entirely out of touch with reality by saying that electronic voting will be the saviour.

Well having looked at where Christchurch City will go in relation to public transport, we’ll have a look at other considerations in the second part of this series.

Local Government Amendment Bill pushing another political agenda

A Bill called the Local Government Amendment Bill No.2 has just been reported back from a select committee to Parliament. This Bill is of significance because it proposes to make it easier for local authorities to reorganise themselves by attacking each other and taking over services that the other provides.

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of local government structure as it now appears. We have territorial councils that run a city or town and we have regional councils that govern entire regions and have regional responsibilities assigned to them. Before 1989 the regional councils did not exist, but there were a range of regional governance arrangements in place; for example there was Auckland Regional Authority, and closer to home there was Canterbury United Council. When local government was majorly reorganised nationwide the regionalisation arrangements became the norm across all areas, so that ARA became Auckland Regional Council, whilst CUC was essentially superseded by the Canterbury Regional Council. Many territorial councils were amalgamated together into larger bodies. This was done in a very piecemeal way rather than following common sense in a lot of cases, and this resulted in some unitary councils in places like Gisborne and Nelson-Malrborough for no good reason, and in some areas very small territorial councils like South Wairarapa District Council (total population 10,000), Kaikoura District Council (total population 3830), and three councils for the West Coast with an average around 10,000 in each of their districts.

So other words what is the point of having such small territorial councils and the reason is purely political. And what is the point of having unitary authorities and again it is political. When we see that there are clear benefits in the way regional councils and territorial councils are organised with clear responsibilities then the fact there are unitary authorities in some areas means that the regional and territorial functions are combined which creates a clear conflict of interest. This results in the regional function being minimised in most cases in those areas. To be able to look at the issue in this way we have to be able to understand that territorial forms of government are relatively weak and therefore prone to corruption and self interest. This weakness both comes from and contributes to a low standard of candidates for territorial council offices. Local governance is weak and corrupt because the wards that elect councillors are small and are therefore dominated by very local issues. The most local interest that any voter can have revolves around the house they live in. From there things scale up into their neighbourhood and its character. For political blocs to take control of a council they have to campaign across all the wards regardless of their character and therefore in most cases have to campaign on populist parochial platforms that will make the areas they represent more desirable, which usually involves spending lots of ratepayers’ funds. These platforms are in turn captured by interest groups that have the most time and money to spend on lobbying, generally the more prosperous areas in a city or town.

Both major political blocs recognise there are objectives that they can achieve through local government. National generally favours keeping councils locally focused taking as many responsibilities from them as possible or placing them under heavy government regulation. Examples: changing the Resource Management Act multiple times to push through development without public consultation,; mandating interference from NZTA in public transport tendering; forcing councils to sell their shareholdings in electricity retailing and public transport operations; mandating council corporatisation of commercial holdings, etc. National also supports councils becoming unitary so that a layer of bureaucracy is eliminated. Labour on the other hand supports councils that are involved in more things with more deveolved powers from central government, less regulation, more public consultation powers, more assets owned by central government etc. The problem is that both of these differing objectives fail to make local government more equitable. The populist character of local government campaigning and representation is not being addressed. This means that less populist causes such as core council functions and better services in areas such as water and public transport are not well served by local government.

National brought this Bill together to provide for new CCOs that would be owned by multiple Councils and organise infrastructure and services such as water and transport services into such organisations. Reorganisations would have to be under the supervision of an increased Local Government Commission with more members and powers than before. Labour has gutted key sections of the Bill, most notably the additional powers and duties assigned to the Local Government Commission and the sections changing the functions of CCOs. probably because the National Party model of a CCO would look more like the ones in Auckland, which follow a more corporate model of organisation that has less direct accountability to elected governance. Since the effect of National’s proposals was to regionalise local government more and the Labour proposals are to territorialise it more, the outcomes of changing this will be more negative for functions that are currently regionalised in local governance. This has come about because the Labour mayors of large cities which do not control functions such as public transport have been lobbying for decades to take over control of these functions regardless of the merit of any such proposals, which in most cases is non existent.

The problem with this Bill that Labour is pushing through (to serve their own political interests) is that the local government weakness is going to become more empowered by this law. A territorial council can instigate a reorganisation proposal out of naked self interest, usually from a political bloc who will claim they can do something better than another group of politicians. An example in Christchurch is the campaign by CCC to take over running local bus services from Ecan. There is no substantive basis for this claim except for naked self interest and political greed from CCC politicians, namely the Labour-Peoples Choice bloc. The much wider agenda is making it easier for territorial councils to seize power from their regional counterparts in every area possible. This means that CCC could also campaign to take over the responsibility for air quality, another area where they have proven particularly ineffective in the past to regulate due to a well funded vocal lobby of heating appliance and car owners who believe they have a right to pollute. Another example could be water quality. CCC is currently one of the biggest freshwater polluters in the city due to overflows from the wastewater system that it steadfastly refuses to fund the upgrade of. The reasons for pushing these measures through are not to improve services to ratepayers, but to advantage political blocs like Labour.

Once the Bill is passed we can expect to see the political blocs in various cities exploiting the very weak reorganisational mechanisms to push through various takeovers and the Government will stand by and do nothing as it is a political advantage to them to have territorial authorities that have more fingers in pies than ever. In public transport, because the existing provision of PT functions by CCC is already very weak, an improvement is unlikely.

Car-centric carriageway clogging culture continues in Christchurch [5]: Political realities

Right now we have a Labour government in Wellington, and we have Ecan headed by a Labour member (Steve Lowndes) and we have the Christchurch City Council headed by a Labour member (Lianne Dalziel).  And this is like political heaven for the Labour party, and as long as it continues we will never actually see any progress in commuter rail in the city. That is because the main focus for Labour in local government is not serving you and me, and standing for anything like they do in central government. It is about getting elected and being in office and having as much power as possible. Local government and other local institutions are what Labour uses to support their national organisation, and train and groom people for national office. So the focus is on getting more political power.

In the transport sphere, we saw that when Ecan was ruled by commissioners and Sir Bob Parker was the Mayor, their focus was quite different in Christchurch PT. They were successful in getting the Riccarton Metro Suburban Interchange built. When the Council staff stalled and welshed and tried to get out of building it, Bazley called them liars and Bob Parker actually got up and apologised, and the interchange got built. What most people missed is that when Lianne was the MP for Christchurch East, she promised to lobby for a suburban interchange to be built in New Brighton. That’s gone very quiet since she became Mayor. We’ve heard no more about any suburban interchanges from her Council in two terms; they are now touting bigger bus stops and calling them “suburban interchanges” despite the earlier plans for proper interchanges that Council staff were putting into annual plans for years in the 2000s.

Instead Labour in the Council has focused on a time wasting exercise of seeking to take over the city’s public transport network. It’s always a goal when there is a Labour controlled council to achieve what they’ve wanted for decades. Once upon a time, Denis O’Rourke was an elected Labour member on the council. Unfortunately he is another politician well past their use by date, who is the chairman of Central Plains Water Trust, that great CCC Labour initiative (started by Garry Moore) to make money off an irrigation scheme that will intensify farming and increase freshwater pollution. O’Rouke was first appointed to CPWT way back in 2000. He lost his council set in 2004, and was unable to gain any office in 2007 Ecan elections, or 2010 elections for CCC and CDHB. He then stood for NZ First on the party list at rank 7 and was elected in 2011 and 2014, but with a drop in rank for 2017 he did not return to Parliament. O’Rourke as a Labour councillor made incessant attacks upon the regional council, claiming they should be abolished. It was obvious this included taking over public transport, but there was no progress towards this achieved during his time on the Council.

It is clear from around the country that Labour are empire builders at local government level and are looking for power and influence over everything else so we should be extremely wary of a situation where they are in control of both central and local government and are looking to feather their nest. For this reason we believe the best way we could see public transport advanced in Christchurch, including commuter rail, is if the Council swings to the right at the present elections. Another example of this is a Labour councillor who is currently being investigated (his name is all over the media at the moment) who has said he opposes Government moves to mandate intensified development in parts of our cities. It is only with that type of development and proper planning focused along transport corridors, such as rail lines, that we will see a development of the city of Christchurch that is properly designed for mass rapid public transit. Just the fact that the government being Labour giving a nod and a wink to its members who have power in the City Council and Regional Council is a recipe for stagnation, not for good policy action that will move the City forward.

Hence, we have to wait for the local elections to see which way things will go in the development of public transport in Christchurch.

Car-centric carriageway clogging culture continues in Christchurch [4]: MFM campaign highlights transport funding debacle

We welcome debate on the public transport system here and are interested in any proposals to improve the system. It’s abundantly clear in our other posts that we are concerned that the City Council has not given public transport a high enough priority to development of a public transport network in the city, by being prepared to fund its component of public transport adequately. The Minto For Mayor campaign has raised the question with its free buses campaign policy. The state of funding for public transport is in many ways similar to other key public service areas (like social housing) where the priorities the Council has are completely wrong. People ask about PT funding when large amounts have been spent on cycleways, and as the MFM campaign has highlighted, millions of dollars have been given in rebates to apartment owners that would have paid for the social housing upgrades, proving the Council has definitely got its priorities wrong.

In this light the campaign by the current Mayor to take over the running of public transport system in the City has to be seen for what it is – primarily about the gaining of political power and not about improving the system. A prime motivation for this campaign is for CCC politicians to remove a major source of criticism from public submissions to Council consultation over public transport infrastructure from Ecan. We have observed this over many years through multiple Council administrations. As long as the Mayor or Councillors can shut down public criticism of their failures to properly fund or support public transport they can pull the wool over people’s eyes better when it comes to election time. This applies to other policy areas as well, so it is important to have this understanding

The Mayor of Wellington who is also a Labour member (it is almost always Labour politicians who want more political control and power for themselves) is obviously very interested in the type of political vehicle that we have in the JPTC and is proposing a similar agency if re elected for Wellington, so that he can gain more power over the bus system they have there. Like the JPTC this political creation would have no actual decision making power over the actions of Wellington City Council or GWRC. When our JPTC did the recent Regional Public Transport Plan four things in particular stood out:

  • The plan was almost all about Christchurch passenger transport excluding other local authorities requirements.
  • The rapid transit corridors run only to the city limits.
  • The rapid transit corridors parallel the existing rail corridors.
  • All of the onus to do things under the plan was for Ecan to do stuff. There was never any onus under the plan for Christchurch City Council to do anything. CCC wants a network that gives them maximum advantage without putting anything into it themselves.

So ostensibly whilst this plan is supposedly about Greater Christchurch, in reality almost all of it is about Christchurch City.

The funding situation that specifically relates to the MFM campaign is they have said CCC should fund free buses. Now it is questionable if NZTA will give its usual 25% subsidy for a completely free service. So far we have been told the free bus services policy will not get an NZTA subsidy and possibly not an Ecan one either. In which case the amount CCC would have to put in would greatly increase. So at this time the financial basis of this campaign promise is a bit suspect. That part of the policy aside, the key issue that relates to the existing level of CCC public transport funding is that it is wholly inadequate, as are most aspects of CCC’s public transport policy in general. Community boards are delegated the decision making power over bus routes and stops in their areas. This means that these decisions are dictated by local residents rather than the needs of bus passengers. The result is there are many questionable decisions over routing, bus priority and stop placement that do not take into consideration what is the best way to run a public transport network for the greater good, instead it comes down to what is the least inconvenient for people who drive cars and who don’t want a bus stop outside their house. It also means bus priority lanes and other measures are considered less important than lanes and parking for cars.

So the conclusion of this post is that CCC overwhelmingly favours cars in its transport funding decisions and public transport is well down the list in priorities. The failure of the public transport system can be partly sheeted home to these priorities.

What is the best administrative structure for public transport?

In New Zealand, since 1989, public transport around the country is governed by regional councils, whilst territorial councils are responsible for funding road-based infrastructure for PT that uses roads, such as buses. Where rail is a form of PT, the local infrastructure, however, is generally under the ownership of the regional council, the rail line and corridor being owned by the Government. Unitary authorities work in a similar way to a territorial council that has taken over regional functions. Auckland is in a unique position of being a unitary authority with all of its transport and roading functions placed under the control of a CCO, a company owned by Auckland Council which it only has governance oversight of, not direct operational control. This essentially means the board of Auckland Transport is not elected directly by ratepayers and therefore not accountable to them.

There is no perfect system for administering public transport because the sticking point is the source of funding for local infrastructure. Ratepayers in local government areas are very reluctant to see their rates being spent on public transport infrastructure, or road space being prioritised for public transport ahead of cars. So in Christchurch, bus priority takes forever to implement, and bus shelters and interchanges tend to be scarce. Residents opposing the operation of a bus down their street is also an ongoing issue.

Rail has a relatively easy ride compared to road transport because the rail network is a central government asset, and they are not directly accountable to local ratepayers. The operation of trains has to be contracted out, but the regional council governs the service just as they do with bus services. The crucial difference is that local ratepayers cannot hobble the operation of the train services. Train services are also different in that local infrastructure such as stations is owned by the regional council rather than by a territorial council.

Public transport therefore works best when it is governed by a non-territorial authority. This is precisely the reason for the system we have now. The problem is that as a long as roads are under the control of a territorial council, which is guaranteed to kowtow to the owners of private motor vehicles, public transport will always remain second priority and second rate because the money will never be found from rates to fund the infrastructure that is needed to improve the services.

The solution for road based public transport is probably to keep the governance of the services themselves at regional council level as is the case now. The second step that is needed is for central Government to fund public transport infrastructure directly, through either the regional or territorial council, preferably the former. Therefore for example, giving the regional councils the powers necessary to designate and manage a public transport network and the necessary infrastructure, is probably the improvement necessary to ensure that road based PT systems operate much better than is possible now. This essentially would mean giving the regional councils the power to override local councils in the matter of bus routes and corridors, and the funding to build the supporting infrastructure themselves. At that point, the operation of a road-based public transport system is similar to that of a rail network.

There are those who argue that the answer is to give full governance control to the territorial authority. This will result in the services being subsumed to the all-dominant motor vehicle interests. In short it is not going to improve on the current system as funding will still be at the whim of ratepayers.

CCC’s demands for takeover of regional functions is contrary to public service and good management

Christchurch City Council has recently been at the forefront of campaigns against the use and management of water by Canterbury Regional Council. The particular issues that have come up are the granting of consents to Cloud Ocean Water for water bottling, and the level of nitrates that is permitted in the artesian water supply aquifers in Canterbury. These campaigns are related to other Council campaigns against the regional council over air quality and public transport.

However, it is important and relevant to note that Christchurch City Council is at the forefront of promoting irrigation development and the resultant outcome of increasing farming intensification in Canterbury by its direct involvement in establishing and operating Central Plains Water Trust, which is an organisation that is facilitating the development of irrigation in Canterbury. This raises quite a concern about the political motives of the City Council in campaigning in relation to these issues and whether the obvious conflict of interest severely compromises the moral authority of CCC at the forefront of these issues.

CCC first became involved with this issue back in the day when it owned a gas company (On Energy) which was acquired through its former operation of Southpower as an energy retailer. When Government electricity restructuring forced retailing and distribution networks to be separated, Southpower was broken up and the lines network became Orion, which remains in CCC ownership through Christchurch City Holdings Ltd (CCHL). The gas company was not directly affected by the restructuring, but it did get sold eventually as CCC sought to divest their involvement in energy retailing, and so the funds released were then available for a new investment vehicle. At that time, the City decided they would get into the investment opportunities that would be available from developing an irrigation scheme. This is somewhat similar to the controversial Hawkes Bay Regional Council’s Ruataniwha irrigation scheme and ran into similar consenting issues over the large scale water reservoir that the scheme required. But whilst HBRC has abandoned its scheme for the present, CPWT’s scheme continues in a modified form without the reservoir, instead having smaller storage ponds distributed in different areas.

The real concern however is that current CCC campaigns against water management by Ecan are directly in conflict with its involvement and commercial interests in CPWT and as such, these campaigns appear to be less about actually improving water management and more about political objectives. They can be seen as part of a wider issue of CCC wishing to muscle in on some of the work that Ecan does and take it over. This is already seen in broad attacks by the Mayor of Christchurch on Ecan’s existing management of public transport and air quality in the city. Many of the candidates in the current elections for the regional council are sitting CCC councillors and board members. Their interest in becoming elected members of the regional council appears to lend itself to the suggestion that their role on becoming elected is to grease the wheels to make it easier for CCC to succeed in its takeover campaign. CCC’s interests in water management are directly related to its objectives in developing the City as the dominant economic power in the upper South Island and therefore in ensuring there are sufficient water resources that will not hinder growth of the City. This also drives the key objectives in other areas, which are to challenge the regional council and become the dominant political force in the Canterbury region. Currently the regional council has a supervising role over certain activities carried out by territorial councils and this is the source of endless political bickering and infighting from these councils towards the regional council. The objectives for territorial councils are for increased political power and influence, without necessarily achieving better outcomes for their people. Major concerns with CCC to date have been that they have not effectively managed water demand, which is important with a limited and precious resource, nor have they managed their freshwater or wastewater reticulation infrastructure in a way that ensures these resources maximise public safety. But the most serious concern about CCC is that while attacking the commercial extraction and exploitation of water by the water-bottling companies, and while attacking the pollution of the city’s water supply by nitrate run-off from intensive farming, the City Council also seeks to enrich itself from the commercial extraction and exploitation of water for intensive farming activities that produce nitrate pollution. The same conflict issue exists with public transport where the City profits from the operation of a bus company that receives contracts from tendering to run some of these services.

There is a great deal of merit in the Regional Council’s services remaining vested in that body and not being usurped into Christchurch City Council’s functions with the extremely weak accountability and myriad personal political interests that reign supreme in territorial council and by which any purported improvements in the management of the public interest in assets such as water or transport networks would soon be lost in the greater scheme of wheeling and dealing to buy political favours and outcomes. There are numerous examples of this that already exist within Christchurch City. Social housing is a key example that has proved to be a major political embarrassment for CCC in the last few months running up to the local elections whereby the housing has been run down for many years and in some cases is not worth spending money on to upgrade to current governnment-set rental standards. The city’s freshwater well heads were found to be unsafely constructed, requiring a rushed upgrade programme with mandatory chlorination in the interim, and at the time of writing, this has been extended until the City can prove that the supply pipes, which are in very poor condition in parts of the network, are able to be upgraded in a timely way. In public transport, the City is seeking to have a road based transport network, which ignores the environmental benefits of rail and the economic efficiency of re-utilising its abundant existing capacity without constructing new corridors and duplicating infrastructure in a proposed light rail network. This is also likely, as with other existing aspects of public transport that the City is responsible, to fail to be funded when ratepayer support is required. Ultimately when there is no oversight of the public interest, as is being achieved with the current split of responsibilities between regional and territorial councils, the public is who loses out. Territorial councils have too much power to suppress the public interest and in this case, transport administration is very poorly administered by CCC which has devolved the decision making power to local community boards, giving residents too much dominance over roads and other transport networks.

 

Minto campaign gathers steam

The Minto For Mayor campaign is gathering steam. On Friday I was at the Bus Interchange where a campaigner was handing out flyers explaining their free buses campaign promise.

minto

The other campaign issues are also being articulated in news media appearances, including this one talking about social housing in the city. We note in particular the comment that the Council is prepared to hand out free rebates to apartment owners. This highlights the inequality of funding in the City that characterises the failure to properly resource and support the public transport system in the City.

Car-centric carriageway clogging culture continues in Christchurch [3A]: Accessible City sabotaged (2)

In my last post on this topic I addressed the way that the Accessible City plan has been sabotaged by wealthy elite interests. These interests and the council’s craven cave-ins to them are substantially responsible for many gaps in the provision of services and inequality in the way citizens are treated by the Council.

Simon Barnard writing in his Cycling in Christchurch blog highlights this very succinctly in a recent post called “Local Government – Muddling through Democracy“. One example he highlighted is the High Street redevelopment. I made a submission on this project but the Council staff have stuck to giving priority to car traffic and parking in ths street and have ignored the submissions like mine that questioned why it was necessary to deviate from the AAC treatment developed for this street.

I today spent about an hour walking around the CBD precinct. Here’s an example, the Terrace development faces onto Oxford Terrace and the section directly in front of it is pedestrianised, or open to one way traffic at 10 km/h. This is quite a small section of road to be closed off to traffic and it being like that actually adds a lot of atmosphere to the outdoor dining areas of the various restaurants and bars that would be impossible to have if the road was clogged with two way traffic at rush hour. There is actually a lot of foot traffic through these areas of the malls. There is also a great deal of carparking close by. In this case there was a carpark right at the end of the strip where the Terrace buildings sit. People would be able to drive in there and park with very little inconvenience to their visit to the restaurants or bars. Having the road closed is also safer for people accessing the premises which can often be very busy at peak times of Friday and Saturday nights.

I took the opportunity to walk through High Street again and was able to confirm my view of the area which was taken into account in my submission and has not changed. In respect of High Street and Victoria Street, they have to be seen in context and that context is that they are part of a CBD streetscape and they really are just parts. There are loads of surrounding streets that are still open to cars and aren’t being closed off. The impact really is limited from changing these streets around. There is plenty of carparking space and road access nearby.

However I don’t support the more extreme views taken by some of for example the cycle lobbyists who have suggested the whole CBD should have been completely closed to cars. Likewise there are those who are aggressively defending the amounts being spent on cycleways around the city. The very large expenditure on cycleways is probably out of wack with the rest of what is being spent on roading in general.

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.

 

 

“Planning For Successful Cities”: NPS on urban development out for consultation [1]: Background

Earlier this week the Government (HUDA and MFE) released a discussion document on its proposed National Policy Statement on urban development. Consultation is now being undertaken in relation to the issues raised in the document, until 10 October 2019 at 5 pm.

The key issue raised in the DD is that significant problems exist in current urban planning and growth that are producing negative outcomes such as severe housing unaffordability, falling home ownership, increased hardship and homelessness, increased household debt, intergenerational inequality, congestion, poor transport choice and urban pollution. The Government therefore proposes its Urban Growth Agenda to provide the improvements needed to address issues such as these. It suggests some important issues that it aims to address are reducing car dependency, fixing the present broken system for funding and financing infrastructure, and ensuring central government works more closely with local government, the private sector and communities.

The following is a summary of the chapters in the DD and my responses to it. These responses will form the basis of my submission that I intend to produce for this proposal. Christchurch is one of the key growth areas identified in the government’s press release and public transport forms a key part of the solutions needed in the city. At the same time there is existing and substantial concern that the last government’s pro-developer agenda expressed through the combined impacts of the replacement District Plan and the Resource Management Act amendments pushed through in 2009 have gone too far in their impact on neighbourhoods.

As we already know, recent governments have attempted to fund ways to promote increased housing development in the major centres to increase the housing supply but this has produced quite a mixed bag of results with concerns particularly identified over National’s policy shift promoted as “reducing red tape” that has given developers greatly increased rights to develop without considering the impact on the environment such as through increased vehicle traffic in existing streets, removing trees, lack of carparking on site, etc. There have been numerous higher density housing developments recently in Christchurch that have created these concerns, but a much bigger one currently occurring in Merivale is the expansion of a local shopping mall which is likely to end up in court because the impacts are far from being “less than minor”.

The newspaper reporting on this NPS release has suggested this is “a government plan to sideline nimbys” and this could be a problem if it is an accurate statement. I am certainly hoping this proposal is a reasonably balanced one. Whilst it is undeniable that intensification of housing is always going to create challenges for some residents, the worst cases in Christchurch to date have resulted from the District Plan requirements being regularly flouted and concerns over streets becoming clogged with traffic and parked vehicles. Since the release refers to “high quality streets, neighbourhoods and communities” I certainly hope this is adequately addressed. Another issue that is important to be addressed is social housing development. Housing New Zealand is a key concern with their post-earthquake trend of pushing through many new complexes in parts of the City and changes in their tenant case management since the change of government, but CCC’s SH developments are also capable of creating similar challenges.

This NPS is expected to replace National’s NPS-UDC from 2016, by broadening its focus and adding significant new content. The key relevance for Christchurch is the existing Urban Development Strategy which has in turn resulted in some key initiatives taken by the preceding National government. The key ones which were relevant are:

  • Changes in the District Plan to produce increased intensification in various areas of the city.
  • Developing the Southern Motorway to enable faster road transport to/from Selwyn District.
  • Developing the Christchurch Northern Corridor motorway to speed up road transport to/from Waimakariri District.

These have all raised their own issues. Intensification has already been mentioned above. The key issues with the motorway developments have varying impacts. The Southern motorway project has been largely focused in recent years on bringing the existing SH76 through to join SH1 at Weedons, creating a bypass of the main urban areas of the south-west of Christchurch, so that freight and passenger vehicles can reach the city more quickly and conveniently from Selwyn District. SH76 joins onto Brougham Street, the main arterial route for freight to and from Port of Lyttelton. As this area has been intensively developed along these lines for decades, there has not been too much of an issue with the motorway expansion, which on SH76 itself has seen widening to four lanes completed just after the earthquakes, west of Barrington. However, the last National Government put forward an election campaign proposal to four lane SH1 from Rolleston to Ashburton which was dropped by the incoming Labour administration and has raised some local controversy. West of the city, SH1 which has run on that route for many years via Russley Road and Johns Road, was widened to four lanes and a bypass was built to go around Belfast at the northern end, the roundabout at the Memorial Avenue intersection was replaced by an overbridge and on/off ramps, the bridge with its large arches being a prominent landmark in the area. The Christchurch Northern Corridor, currently nearing completion has been the most controversial proposal. Although it runs mostly through greenfield land and the designations have been in place for decades, it will funnel a large volume of traffic into the existing roading network through Cranford Street and St Albans Residents Association has been highly active in campaigning against it and this is ongoing at the time of writing.

A key part of the counter proposals to address the impact of the CNC has been the proposals to develop a rail passenger service between the City and Rangiora and this has been well addressed by this blog and the campaign will continue. I will share some thoughts about the upcoming elections and the possible impacts in my next post. The NPS discussion will continue in part [2] of this series/