After Christchurch City Council last week voted to reject government-imposed housing-boosting regulations, someone told me I would feel vindicated if the Environment Secretary intervened, as I had warned.
Nothing is further from the truth. I want to be proven wrong.
This week I am sending a letter to the Secretary of the Environment, repeating the same words I have used to ministers, officials and the Special Committee since the draft National Policy Statement – Urban Development (NPS-UD) was first published: “A partnership between local and central government would yield better results than a blunt, one-size-fits-all legislative approach.”
I stand by these words. Ōtautahi Christchurch needs a customized solution.
let me be clear We don’t say no to intensification. We must allow more housing options in certain parts of our city if we are to avoid urban sprawl and support our ever-growing population.
That is why we have put a strong focus on working with our neighboring communities on spatial planning for the greater Christchurch area. We started the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy in 2007.
After the earthquakes, this strategy gave the government a blueprint to enable the rapid construction of replacement housing.
The government also took the opportunity following the earthquakes to expedite a rewrite of the Christchurch District Plan. By order of the government, approval and notification requirements have been reduced, residential and commercial use have been made possible and the residential density has increased in various areas.
We were just beginning to see the impact of these changes – in the form of over-intensification and decreasing canopy cover – when the government introduced the NPS-UD.
Our inner city already allows at least 50 households per hectare. We have height limitations that reflect the post-earthquake environment and our ground conditions.
Our medium-density neighborhoods allow for at least 30 homes per acre.
This means that we are already actively promoting intensification in the city center and within walking and cycling distance to core services and transport corridors.
For this reason, I could say to the select committee and ministers that we can make the NPS-UD work by targeting increased development in areas where we know we can grow, rather than an ad hoc Allow development with Peppercorns in areas dictated solely by developers.
I warned ministers that their proposal could lead to increased intensification in the outer suburbs, where land is cheaper, moving households further from the city centre, suburban centers and public transport routes.
This is the opposite of what every city needs.
At the same time, we have recognized the need for minimum housing densities in the urban parts of the cities in our neighboring counties – Lincoln, Rolleston, Kaiapoi and Rangiora. We all agree that there should be higher density around city centers as this will help support the case for mass rapid transit.
We don’t want to wait until we have Auckland’s transport woes before acting – we want to be ahead of the curve.
Our residents have made it clear through repeated deputations to the council that they are deeply concerned about how the intensification rules will affect their neighborhoods. They are concerned about the loss of green space and tree canopy, as well as the adverse impact on the amenities and quality of life of local neighborhoods.
We have aspirations to become a national park city, but the latest survey shows that our city’s tree canopy is decreasing.
Trees offer more than just amenities. They support biodiversity and provide shade. They are the lungs of our city and are essential to reducing or offsetting emissions and combating climate change.
I’m pleased that last week all but one councilman voted to introduce a plan change that would require those who subdivide their lots to have a 20 percent canopy or pay financial contributions to the council in order for us to buy land and plant trees. This is why financial contributions are such an important tool.
We’re not like Auckland or Wellington, which are hilly and have natural canyons that cannot be built on. We are a flat city, so we have to actively ensure that there are green spaces.
We support the government’s goals of tackling the housing shortage and enabling the provision of a wider range of housing options. A blanket rule change is not necessary here. We have a wide range of spaces available where people can share to create more living space.
I will ask the Minister for a tailor-made solution for Ōtautahi Christchurch that meets the government’s goals but protects the quality of life of our city and our treetops.
As a city, we cannot afford to provide more subdivisions than necessary at the expense of our trees, which are an important part of our climate action and our identity as Aotearoa’s garden city.
As I said at the beginning, one size doesn’t fit all.
– By Lianne Dalziel, Mayor of Christchurch