NZ First tries to claim moral high ground in airport rail debate

Recently in transport news there has been a lot of debate over the shelving of the Auckland light rail to the airport proposals. Much of that has centred around the role played by NZ First which is implacably opposed to the development, to the extent that their representatives have waged an acromonious campaign throughout the news media and the rail community for the abandonment of the light rail development that has been a flagship Labour/Greens policy this term of government.

To understand the nature of this we have to dig deeply into NZ First itself and its political objectives and imperatives. New Zealand First is Winston Peters’ personal political vehicle which evolved out of his split from the National Party in the early 1990s. Although it is called a party and involves other people, it is and has always been unlike most other parties in NZ in the fact that it is best characterised as a populist personality cult revolving around the leader himself. This is best understood when we examine that NZF has only ever had one leader in the past 25 years and they do not have the open democratic process for leadership selection that prevails in other Parliamentary parties. Because NZ First is a split off National, their policy focus essentially follows the same social-conservative theme that is prevalent throughout the National Party, but at the more moderate end of the NP spectrum, causing NZF to be characterised as more into the centre of politics in NZ. The political centre has become much more important in NZ since the advent of MMP and nowadays all parties have to acknowledge it in order to gain and remain in power. However, the major parties in NZ are made up from dominant left and right ideological blocs and generally achieve electoral success by moderating their particular platforms by moderating their core ideology to capture more of the centre. Parties that focus more on the centre must necessarily be seen as combining policies from both the left and right wings of politics and have failed to capture more than a few percent of electoral support in NZ long term.

NZ First at its core, being a split from National, has a bedrock right wing policy approach and tends to cleave more to that side of the political spectrum. When they are inclined to come further left, it is usually by cherry picking key policy areas of from Labour or the Greens. One of those focuses for the past few terms has been in the NZ rail network largely driven by an ambitious Auckland-based member who won’t be named in this post. However NZ First is essentially having a buck both ways on transport development by playing both sides of the fence, campaigning on the same pro-roads platform as National whilst at the same time championing rail development. This leads to many contradictions, which are most visible in public transport in particular. It must be plainly obvious to the majority of public transport campaigners that PT is highly necessary in major urban environments as part of a wider platform of mitigating the adverse environmental impacts caused by unrestricted growth in private vehicle use and therefore, it is necessary at some point to put limits on vehicle usage. The NZ First approach to any form of rail based transport tries to pretend that it is possible to have unrestricted car growth and a viable public transport system, in order to capture votes from both camps. The problem with this is that the two camps are usually implacably opposed to each other (the old left/right political dynamic) and a party like NZF coming into the picture is generally seen to be focused mainly on short term political objectives and not on a long term viable approach to solving the bigger problems that need to be addressed in urban development in cities.

Auckland has been through a long series of processes over many years to attempt to determine future avenues of development of the public transport networks that will be needed over the longer term. There have been some monumental projects undertaken in the last couple of decades, among them are the DART project in West Auckland that doubled and upgraded the urban part of the North Auckland Line from Newmarket to Swanson, the Britomart underground rail terminal in the Auckland CBD, and the City Rail Loop that extends Britomart to allow through train running for greater capacity. Public transport is essential to the future of the city and it will continue to be handled by multiple modes, which at the moment include the Northern Busway and heavy rail. The biggest debate in the last five years has focused around creating several light rail corridors that will extend as far north as Kumeu and terminate at the airport in Mangere. NZ First has been implacably opposed to both Kumeu and the airport being served by light rail, as both areas are also close to existing heavy rail lines which they claim should be the focus of new PT services. This ignores that all the light rail corridors that have been proposed are completely new routes that open up rail access to additional areas of the city that are not currently so served and using the existing heavy rail corridors would not extend the reach of public transport to the same extent. The stage has been set therefore for a fractious and mostly unnecessary debate about the different merits of light vs heavy rail for public transport (the differences are comparitively minor in relation to passenger carriage) and is largely driven by NZ First’s representatives attempting to tap into the small and insular rail heritage community for votes.

The airport light rail development proposals can best be summed up as not actually being focussed particularly on the small number of passengers who would be likely to use it to meet flights. This market is so small that the services would not be able to pay their way if they were focused primarily on serving it. Hence the light rail proposal is for a line that serves urban population catchments around Mangere and for people that work at the airport, rather than flyers. The same impact could be achieved by extending existing heavy rail from Onehunga and is probably a better long term objective because it can serve the actual growth in airport traffic in the longer term when that eventually develops to become more viable, while in the shorter term it enables the servicing of the additional urban population catchments between Onehunga and the airport. However, NZ First is campaigning on a rail line from the airport via Puhinui that would not serve any additional urban population due to it running through the airport noise corridor, on the basis that it is claimed that passenger trains from Hamilton to the south and the greater Waikato could become viable. The problem with assuming Hamilton would be a significant catchment is that it is only about 120 km from there to the airport, which is quite driveable for a lot of people and well served by existing road shuttles that the rail would be hard pressed to compete against, especially on fares. The possibility of getting a lot of passengers from the south is really a very long term outcome that will be driven by massive population increase in that corridor over decades and again, in the short term, is simply a nonsense proposition.

The light rail debate for Auckland has become drawn out due to scope changes by the government that have obscured the important outcomes. The Government has failed to understand the background of the original light rail proposals and allowed itself to be sidetracked into supporting a proposed PPP for a very expensive airport focused metro line. This is as nonsensical as NZ First’s Puhinui heavy rail proposal. Neither of these achieves the development objectives that the original heavy rail (via Onehunga) and light rail plans were intended to achieve. If the Government proceeds with the airport metro line it will be an expensive white elephant around the necks of taxpayers and ratepayers for decades whilst funnelling fistfuls of their money into a Canadian pension fund that will profit handsomely. Incredibly, this has continued to be at the forefront of Labour’s blatant hijack of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project in its present term, and since Labour has now dropped the original ATAP light rail plans in favour of the metro white elephant, it will remain contentious should they win the election later this year. NZ First’s pitch for a heavy rail line from Puhinui to the airport is mostly about capturing votes from both sides of the political divide from being cheaper to construct than light rail and supposedly enabling fast train services to the airport from all around the Auckland and Waikato regions. Neither of these is relevant in the short tot medium term as the economics do not actually stack up. The best outcome really for Auckland is to build the extension of the Onehunga heavy rail to the airport and develop the light rail separately without reference to South Auckland – earlier proposals were to take a light rail line from the city to Mt Roskill without heading further south as ATAP proposes. NZ First taking their high road over stymying Labour’s airport metro project is ignoring the fact that their alternative is not better than various alternatives that have been on the table in recent times. The NZ First Party has employed a range of questionable tactics in its campaigns on the issue due to attempting to straddle both sides of the political fence and their attempts to divide and conquer the public transport landscape are not material to their lack of long term political viability because the key factors concerning this are deeply rooted in the Party’s history and culture and the important differences between it and other Parliamentary parties. Ultimately, whilst we believe there are serious and valid concerns that have been raised by NZ First over the government’s flagship light rail/metro policy platform, they are not in a position to claim any moral high ground in the debate because their alternative is not any more credible.

Christchurch At The Transport Crossroads In 2020 [1]

Whilst we may not be planning to blog as much this year, there are still things that need to be said from time to time. We have spent a few weeks thinking about this post, and just feel it is important to write it. It is partially a different way of writing about some of the issues we were going to put into a different planned article series in late December (which has been dropped due to our change in focus for this year).

Christchurch is a really badly planned city for public transport, and nothing much is going to change as long as the Government passes the buck on it. Whilst Labour did make an election promise for $100 million to establish a commuter service from Rolleston, like other Labour public transport initiatives around the country, this has fallen flat due to general political incompetence. Largely, this is due to the slavish political obeisance of the Minister of Transport to Christchurch City Council politicians. The way the power structures work in the City, these politicians have absolutely nothing to gain from any type of transport system that is not road-based. The Minister has spent far too much time listening to the lobbying of the Christchurch Mayor and not enough on actually understanding all of the issues at stake and the benefits that come from designing a public transport system that works across the whole Greater Christchurch area. It comes about because even though both central and local governance in Christchurch City is nominally Labour affiliated, the city council politicians only follow this in word and not in deed. The ideological focus of the “People’s Choice” political bandwagon in local Christchurch governance is, in practice, nearly indistinguishable from Independent Citizens or other National-affiliated right wing groupings.

So the only actual action on public transport reform we have seen from central government is to pass a law allowing the transfer of management of public transport systems between regional and territorial councils. This issue is largely irrelevant to the way these systems operate, and is unlikely to produce any real improvement in the way public transport systems are operated in Greater Christchurch at present. In fact, it is likely to work against improved systems of public transport being introduced in future, and we believe in fact this is a political calculation by the powers that be. We also note that the Mayor of Christchurch has been one of the chief cheerleaders for this legislative initiative, but we wouldn’t be prepared to put money on her being able to serve her full term at present due to questions being asked about her electoral finance returns at the last two elections. To put it another way, we have to ask what pressing issue the Mayor is trying to solve by campaigning to take over the operation of our bus services. We think it is becoming increasingly clear that it is essentially a political power game being played by Christchurch City against the regional council and territorial authorities further out, and is actually against the public interest.

So what are the political calculations involved? Firstly, let us conclude this first instalment of this two-part article by looking at how a local politician’s mind works when their territory is part of a larger urban area that is governed by multiple councils. This fact in places like Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch has been addressed to a large extent by the local government reforms of 1989, which created regional councils to govern public transport systems over multi-territory metropolitan areas. In Auckland, of course, there has since been the further amalgamation of local areas to form the Auckland Council. Prior to that, in the early 2000s the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) was created to separate public transport management from the other roles of Auckland Regional Council (ARC). Auckland Transport is the successor of ARTA but with increased powers and responsibilities, for example management of Auckland roads. In Wellington, some smaller councils were amalgamated into the larger territories of Kapiti, Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt, Porirua and Wellington City, but there is no present political impetus for a “Wellington Council” type of amalgamation. Wellington, however, did have bus services operated by Wellington City Transport (WCT) which was controlled by Wellington City Council. Christchurch, since the inception of public transport well over 100 years ago, has always had these services regionally managed; CCC has never been in control of them. This function was originally performed by the Christchurch Transport Board (CTB) (Christchurch Tramway Board in earlier years) and their function was handed over to Ecan (Canterbury Regional Council) in 1989.

Prior to the various local government reforms that have occurred, public transport was in some areas regionally managed from an early stage (Christchurch was the first area out of the three mentioned above to have this type of organisation) and in Auckland this system was introduced in the 1960s. In both Auckland and Wellington, the all important commuter passenger services were always managed in a regional fashion, firstly through the district offices of NZ Railways and latterly through the respective regional councils. This however has never been popular with the mayors of the largest territories. In such a politician’s small mind, they are seeking to maximise their political power by concentrating as much of the population of the larger metropolitan area as possible within their territory. They also want to make it more difficult for people to live outside their territory and commute to work within it. Therefore it is in a local politician’s interest to have control over all of the transport systems in their area. A regional transport system such as commuter trains that makes it easy for people to live north and south of Christchurch and commute quickly and rapidly into the city to work has long been despised by Christchurch mayors because these residents are not paying rates into the City coffers. These simple political facts go a long way to explaining part of the reason why Christchurch City Council does not have any interest in furthering the development of commuter rail services in the region. We will look into another key part of that reason in our second article.

“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/

 

 

Car-centric carriageway clogging culture continues in Christchurch [2]: “An Accessible City” – summary

One of the great things that came out of the post-earthquake reconstruction in Christchurch in the early to mid 2010s was the “An Accessible City” concept which was based on the submissions of a large number of people from all over the city. It was adopted by Otakaro Ltd (one of the lead Crown earthquake recovery agencies in Canterbury) as the replacement transport chapter of the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan in October 2013 and was signed off by Ecan, CERA, CCDU, CCC, Te Runanga O Ngai Tahu and NZTA. This post is essentially about the plan and most of the content is extracts from it. The plan opens with the diagram shown below which creates the concept of a “central city road use hiearchy”.

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Clearly this is a sound concept: ensuring that some roads will be prioritised for public transport and some for cycling helps to make those modes more viable in the central city and therefore promote these environmentally friendly alternatives to reduce traffic congestion in the Four Avenues.

The next thing we read in the plan is “Part 1: Accessibility” and this sets out the key concepts, summarised as “The buildings, open spaces, streets and facilities within the central city will be safe, accessible and people friendly”. This is further expanded into statements about the function of the transport system, namely that it will focus on certain routes that prioritise public transport and cycling over cars, as well as minimise mode conflicts and provide enjoyable journeys for different types of users. This also includes the implementation of speed limits within the CC.

The plan then expands into a section referring to each mode and here we will summarise the detail. The Walking section refers to the changes made in the Core to make some streets pedestrian-only and others restricting traffic flows so that these areas would be safer for pedestrian use. Vehicle speeds within the Inner Zone would be no more than 30 km/h to ensure pedestrian safety. The Walking section seems to have been the one that was most readily implemented and with the fewest compromises to date, partly due to the adoption of the existing pedestrian malls into the plan.

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The blue shaded area must be the “inner zone” referred to above. The large green rectangular area in the middle is The Square and the purple rectangle is the Bus Exchange. The key routes shown above are Colombo St (north-south through The Square), Worcester Street (east-west through The Square), Oxford Terrace (east / south side of the Avon), High Street (diagonally south-east from The Square), Cashel Street (east-west two blocks south of The Square), Lichfield Street (one block south of Cashel Street on the northern side of the Bus Exchange), Tuam Street (south of the Bus Exchange), Rolleston Avenue on the east edge of Hagley Park, Victoria Street (diagonally upper-left), and the new laneways going north-south between Manchester Street and Madras Street on the east side of the inner zone. The main problem has been the halt placed on further AAC development in 2017 which means Victoria Street and High Street alterations may not be completed as envisaged.

Cycling is the next section covered. This map shows the key cycling routes within the CBD.

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These are similar to the walking routes. Much of the work up to the end of 2017 was completed as planned. Since 2018 with work being put on hold, High Street and Victoria Street in particular are unlikely to be completed as originally envisaged. St Asaph Street’s cycleways were very controversial, but the revamp demanded by some sectors of the business community was scaled back and only minimal changes were made.

The next section is “Main Streets” referring to Victoria Street and Colombo Street South as areas that would be prioritised for walking and cycling as well as having appropriate public transport priority measures where applicable. There would be limited on street parking provided for short term use.

Next is “Bus interchange and public transport”. This map shows the key public transport network in the central city.

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Victoria Street bus priority has been put on hold at the time of writing this due to significant opposition from businesses in the area and this will remain a major bottleneck for peak time public transport operations as there are hundreds of bus journeys through the street to reach northern destinations.

Car travel is next. In the inner core the expectation is that traffic speed would be limited to 30 km/h. Salisbury Street and Kilmore Street are listed for conversion from one-way to two-way operation but this has yet to occur and it is uncertain when this work will proceed.

This map shows the expected outline of the road network.

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Tuam Street has been converted to one way as predicted in the plan.

Next section is “Parking and service access”. Here the key problem is there is no requirement for any business to provide for its own off street parking. Consequently we now have the ridiculous situation that landowners are threatening legal action against the Council to force them to provide on street parking outside their businesses. This is the single greatest issue that has forced the abrogation of the Accessible City plan in the last couple of years.

“Way finding” is the next section and refers to the type, level and design of street signage and other visual information for users of the CBD.

“Implementation and monitoring” is the next section and gives timelines for developing the different aspects of the plan.

“Statutory direction…” is the section which directed the adoption of the AAC chapter into the CCRP. The following sections in the document show the changes in the wording of the District Plan transport provisions.

So that sums up the “An Accessible City” plan. This was put out to consultation and work began to implement it. This will be described in the next article of this series.

Car-centric carriageway clogging culture continues in Christchurch [1]: Introduction

In recent months there has been a lot of work being done by Council to determine a possible solution to traffic safety issues at the intersection of Harewood, Breens and Gardiners Road in north-west Christchurch. This intersection currently sits around 62nd in the list of the 100 most dangerous intersections in the city and therefore does not qualify for major improvement works in the next decade (Long Term Plan) which will address only the top 20 dangerous intersections.

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The Council’s reports on the issues initially recommended that traffic lights should not be installed on this intersection and it should be changed into a left-in, left-out intersection. So far so good. However, after undertaking more reports and public consultation, a bizarre recommendation that the LILO option be modified to allow a right turn from Harewood Road into Gardiners Road was added to the options. Apart from the increased risk of an accident by allowing a right turn, it would be possible for people wanting to go straight through from one side to the other to just drive through the gap in the median strip, thus foiling the LILO safety improvements.

The reporting found that there was no evidence of increased safety from installing traffic lights at this intersection. This is easy to understand – because accidents are often caused when people run red lights. Of course, the fact that we have never had more than one red light camera in the whole city, and that the Council does not want to spend any money on buying more of these cameras, is also a factor. The volumes of traffic actually using this intersection at the present time do not justify traffic lights.

However, the Waimāero/Fendalton-Waimari-Harewood Community Board met last Saturday and completely ignored all the expert advice and reports and voted unanimously to recommend that traffic lights be installed at the intersection because a vocal group of residents had been demanding this and because it is an election in a couple of weeks and most of the board are standing to win back their council seats. Now, we know that similar things do happen from time to time across the City where staff get overruled for similar proposals. An example we saw recently is the Sumner Road – Bridle Path Road intersection at Ferrymead Bridge, which was going to be made a LILO intersection when the bridge was renewed and widened to four lanes some years back. This intersection instead had traffic lights installed. However this is a quite different situation in that there is no convenient access to Bridle Path Road elsewhere for traffic except by making a huge detour down Tunnel Road to Heathcote several kilometres long. In that case the traffic lights were quite justified. The Harewood-Gardiners-Breens intersection case is very different. There was to have been a signalised pedestrian crossing to cater for school students, and there are numerous other streets nearby that can be used to access either of the side streets.

This decision essentially amounts to having a very expensive signalising of this intersection (over $1 million) put in place for a handful of residents who are apparently unable to drive a few hundred metres further via another intersection nearby. But there is more to it than that. Installing the lights will make this route more desirable to use and therefore guarantee an increased traffic volume on the side streets, creating more problems for the people who live along them, and helping to ensure the streets in the area become clogged up with increased numbers of cars. The issue is simply that here is a community board that believes only cars matter. The same board wants to stop money from being spent on a cycleway in their area, and they have also voted down  improvements at Greers Road and Memorial Ave intersection that would speed up bus routes. All of these situations illustrate why community board should not have decision making power over transport networks in their area, because selfish local interests will take precedence over the needs of the entire city.

We’re also aware that the High Street redevelopment proposals have been having hearings at the Council in the last couple of weeks. Despite the efforts of a few people such as us with well presented safety rationales, no doubt cars will also reign supreme there because of the nonsensical belief that ratepayers owe every business a free supply of on street carparking outside their front door. This issue has, however, been exacerbated by the greedy developers’ political party abolishing business requirements to provide off street carparking with the recent changes to the District Plan, another act of stupidity that the Council appears to be remarkably slow to address. In the High Street case, the businesses have asked for even more carparks to be provided over and above what has been designed in. Obviously this is a complete folly when we look at the rest of the City pedestrian malls which are doing a roaring trade with no car access to their front doors.

Urban Development Strategy drives LURP decisions

So we have a lot of discussion about parts of the LURP (Land Use Recovery Plan) in Christchurch, some of which is fairly unpopular on the ground. However, much of what was implemented was already long planned, and was pushed through with implicit support from the Mayor and other local politicians, who are now speaking with forked tongues in certain respects.

The Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy has been around for decades and it has its own website at http://www.greaterchristchurch.org.nz/. Here you can read in a lot of the detail about the UDS and how it came about. There was a statement in there that I can’t find exactly at the moment, but it has basically put in projections for population growth and then said that 60% of this was expected to occur within Christchurch City limits and that this required intensification. What has happened as a result of the LURP is that the Government’s earthquake recovery powers have been used to speed up the process of implementing the UDS. This was actively courted and sought with the full knowledge of the Mayor and other Councillors, the UDS having been in the meantime updated in 2016.

Likewise we have the development of the Northern Arterial motorway which has been widely lambasted, well that was part of the agreed expectation of the UDS for more effective transport links through Greater Christchurch as is the Southern Motorway. I guess we can agree there are questions about the lack of public transport provision and whether rail passenger services should have been provided for. But no one can really dispute the need for transport corridor improvements as a result of the UDS because some of the population growth is expected to occur outside Christchurch City and part of that will be in the Greater Christchurch part of Waimakariri District.

So the bigger issue is that the UDS is in full force and it probably can’t be stopped or reversed. Furthermore there can’t be an expectation of reversing the changes to the District Plan that have been put through in support of the UDS. I think the real questions are about how to intensify, or how to develop improved transport links, rather than stopping them from happening. So the initial response to the Northern Arterial has been the DEMP, which has been fiercely opposed by St Albans residents. As a result new provisions are being looked at to make greater allowance for public transport and other measures, which is a good move. However the Mayor of Christchurch’s statement that the Northern Arterial was unnecessary, was really a lot of nonsense. Perhaps the implementation of improved transport links in the form of the Northern Arterial is an important issue, but I read her statement as criticising the provision of improved transport links to the north, per se, in that it would make it easier for people to commute into the city, by whatever means, and therefore give people more options to live outside the City than she would like them to have.

From this it’s only a short step to impute that the Christchurch Mayor would not exactly be keen on a rail passenger service to Rangiora and I think that is highly likely to be the case. Indeed, as we already know, the push from CCC politicians is to take control of the bus network, thereby fragmenting the public transport system of Greater Christchurch. But what we really need is a Greater Christchurch UDS public transport strategy to get behind rail development, and we also need Central Government to revise its policy to shift the emphasis from a Rolleston rail service to a Rangiora service. That makes a whole lot of sense, anyway, since there has been a lot of interest already in Rangiora passenger rail services, and not a whole lot in Rolleston.

The Joint Public Transport Committee therefore needs to shift its focus from being a political vehicle for the Mayor of Christchurch’s campaign to fragment the public transport system of Greater Christchurch, to working on the rail proposals. At the moment we have a Regional Public Transport Plan that is largely about Christchurch City because that is what dominates the work of the JPTC. So there is no explicit mention of rail in the plan, and that is the first thing that needs to be changed, as well as provision for better bus services in Waimakariri District. This is being addressed in the proposed changes to the Northern Arterial DEMP but the JPTC should have been taking the lead in that instead of being a follower to political imperatives.

This is why the work of the Chat Club and Axel Wilke’s campaign for Ecan councillorship is so much of an interest for me. Once the local government elections are over, I think we all need to step up our efforts to campaign for a better public transport system. A lot of that will obviously depend on who is elected. Watch this space.