“What is the City but the people”  Shakespeare, Coriolanus

Out of the tragedy of the earthquakes there are opportunities to improve what was, in truth, a struggling CBD in Christchurch. In one critical area it is not clear that this is being taken. Perhaps amidst the ruin and suffering there has been an understandable tendency to gloss over the city’s preexisting problems, a natural urge to idealise what has been lost. But as a reasonably regular visitor there before the quakes it was very clear to me that this was a city with a very big problem, a big and increasingly damaging hole in the heart of it; an emptying centre. The city was becoming a classic ‘Doughnut City’, our very own little Detroit: all sub and a declining urbs. A centre that was largely being treated as little more than an impediment to quick driving between identical big box retail malls in the suburbs that encircle it.

It is also likely that this problem will return unless it is addressed directly in any reconstruction. And as there is a clear desire to rebuild a centre to the city it is important that everything is done to make it succeed and prosper. How then to address this? Why has this been such a problem in Christchurch?

It’s pretty easy to see that spread is a risk for a city without the natural containment of say Wellington with its steep hills and roiling seas on all sides to help keep it compact, or the squeeze of our harbours in Auckland. Which means that even more attention needs to be given to keeping dispersal to a level that doesn’t damage the viability of the city.  After a national transport policy over the last half century or so that consciously or not promoted spread [and continues today] and local additions like the place-ruining one way system through the old and charming centre and you get a city under threat of losing its locus.

But perhaps the biggest disaster to strike Christchurch last century, and one narrowly avoided in Auckland, was the removal of the University out to a greenfields site at Ilam. Tertiary education provides a vitality and a sheer number of economically engaged people year after year that no casino, convention centre, or sports ground ever will. Those amenities, while sometimes productive, are about occasional visitors and when poorly designed, especially when they are supplied with oceans of carparking, often do irreparable damage to a city centre. This model actively encourages the suburban or out of town visitor to enjoy the main act and then quickly retreat back to their source rather than engage more deeply with the host place.

While it isn’t practical to move the whole university back to the centre I certainly expected new plans for Christchurch to take the opportunity to tie the University back to the CBD with a new and direct transit link. The core of a new system of movement designed to liberate the condensed city centre from auto-dependency while adding the necessary human vitality. Not only to relieve the city of the burdens and costs of having to accommodate large numbers of cars that will be the result if driving remains the primary system of movement, but also so that it can truly meet the stated aims of the people as expressed here [page 21 of the plan], and claimed to be ‘reflected in the plan’:

From the community’s responses, five key changes formed the basis of the draft Central City Plan:

1. Green city
2. Stronger built identity
3. Compact CBD
4. Live, work, play, learn and visit
5. Accessible city

These changes are reflected in this Recovery Plan.

A key to making these five aims real would be to make damn sure that the first lines drawn on any page are direct and effective transit links between key sources of vitality and the centre that they are trying to revive. And then of course to continue to design the arrangement of new generators of activity around direct and appealing means of interconnection. That successful land use and good transport links go together is pretty elemental planning.

And with the devastation of the quakes there is the best opportunity the city will ever have to identify and protect efficient and integrated new transport routes for the rest of its future. Buses will clearly be the best immediate mode to use this new system as they can quickly and cheaply be reintroduced and levels of service ramped up as the rebuild continues. But to not plan for the possibility of upgrading to more appealing and permanent electric systems on key routes such as out to the university and the coast would be singularly short sighted. But the key is the network, the system, not the mode; and in the plan released yesterday there is no sign of any thought about the role that transport plays in in both forming place and the success or otherwise of it. Identifying and branding a direct university and city connector and making sure that its fast and frequent, and even free for student pass holders, should be there for starters. And it, like all transit routes should not terminate away from the new city’s attractions.

Here’s the plan. It looks like half a plan; no integration between land use and transit. A total reliance on the previous systems of movement that have so contributed to the city’s hollowing out. So the new building forms may well be 21st century but the city pattern will be from the 1950s. Even the destructive one way system may be back:

CHCH Central Recovery Plan

The one piece of transport infrastructure is a bus interchange station, with no indication of routing or integration with any other new amenity. Except it is, I note, handy to the courts. After a page on cycling separation including this sole mention of the university:

Christchurch City Council has expressed a desire to develop a cycle route between the University of Canterbury and central Christchurch. It would stretch across Hagley Park and Deans Avenue, west to the university campus.

There is this page on the Bus Interchange followed by a page on Car Parking which unfortunately looks like the real key to the authors’ thinking about transport; they want lots of convenient yet discrete parking and buses whose movements are kept to a minimum [!?]:

CHCH Bus Interchange

Of course all that convenient but expensively hidden parking will mean a great deal of driving, and therefore wide multilane roads, not narrower human scaled streets. This is addressed nowhere in the 120 pages. Is this want the people of Christchurch said they wanted? Where is the planning for light rail that was often mentioned? Surely here is a chance to spend on a new dynamic and inspiring piece of infrastructure instead of losing that money to vast quantities of carparking structures? While there is hope for a vastly improved commitment to new cycling infrastructure; surely a no-brainer for such a flat city, this is a plan to rebuild exactly what was a big contributor to Christchurch’s pre-quake problem, the opportunity offered by the devastation is being missed, this is auto-dependency by design; green building set in an anti-green city. A very big shame and a very big risk to the vitality and therefore the success of the new Christchurch.

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  1. Spot on, Patrick – and the existing tram gets not a mention, either (except that the word appears in a diagram or two).

    Page 91 says:

    “The Christchurch road network is predominantly radial and there are connections through the central city to the wider network. Changes to the layout of the central city need to be carefully considered in terms of their impact on traffic flow within the central city itself, and on passenger and freight movements across the wider transport network.

    “These wider considerations are addressed in the Greater Christchurch Transport Statement, developed by CERA, the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy partners and key stakeholders. The placement of some anchor projects would mean the closure of some central city roads. Further transport modelling will
    be undertaken before changes are made to the road network within the central city.”

    – so traffic flow appears to be the only consideration.

    Yet another example of the current obsession with mobility, which is purely a means to an end – accessibilty is far more important.

  2. The Nats have a complete blind spot when it comes to public transport of course – and are being aided and abetted by their compliant toadies at Ecan who want to slash the bus services and diminish the need for any Central station at all. This of course you well know from your Auckland experience.

    More later…

  3. Yes my thoughts exactly separating the city off by a sea of greenery may look good on a map but won’t create a busy city in which people feel like wandering through at all hours. The original plans focused on minimising parking, and instead on trams and waking. That’s gone out the window instead to be replaced by parking garages and no changes to roads in case in impacts the precious motorways they’re ramming through. This won’t be an envy of similar sized cities it will be a demonstration of how poor planning hollowed out the city and turned it into an endless sea of suburbia. The new city of Christchurch appears to consist of a stadium, convention centre, and court – all places that will be used now and then and not things that will create a vibrant or exciting city. Thanks Brownlee and Key for managing to write The city off and ignore all input from the residents. I don’t fancy people are going to feel any more inclined to stick around after seeing these plans.

  4. I was shocked to read that Brownlee was quoted as saying that they looked into building a 1000+ parking garage under the central square but it was too expensive despite the idea being fantastic.

      1. Well this is just under the cathedral square I am guessing they plan to build 10s of thousands above ground all over the rest of the city.

  5. The relocation of the University campus is not correlated with the demise of the CBD nor was the the introduction of the one-way system. But the construction of government office towers in the Sqaure and on High St most certainly is. Denying the shops along High and Colombo Sts their daily flood of foot traffic and window shoppers was guaranteed to to drive the shopkeepers out to the shiny new malls. Emptying all the older 4 or 5 story office buildings meant the small businesses that had occupied the offices above the shops moved out. Less rental income = less spending on maintenance so by the 1970s south of Lichfield looked totally undesirable. Then we got Cashel Mall and that sucked the few remaining shoppers even further north. Then the corporate raiders stole the best paid jobs and computer networked them out of Auckland (or Sydney). Then the english language schools and backpackers hostel and office building converted into hotels began to revitalise the city centre along with the covered bus Xchange south of the highrise CBD. Spread lots of funky terraced housing and piazzas through the green wasteland north of CPIT and this will recreate the thriving and prosperous central city pattern of the 1950s (when the trams were still recent memory and cars and suburbs were still only for the middle classes).

    The problem is nobody can afford to pay the rates that will be needed. Maybe this plan was dreamt up by Aucklands biggest property development company to ensure the competition is eliminated (the same one that got the monopoly contract with EQC).

    Anyway, surely the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the OECD doesn’t deserve to become the most expensive political disaster too?!

    My paper Post-disaster Housing Reconstruction: Are there common threads in the successes and failures that New Zealand can learn from? is currently in peer review but it includes this table illustrating the consequences of being in the only OECD country where central government doesn’t fund at least 90% of government costs following an extreme natural disaster – in fact this is the most extreme natural disaster per capita in the history of the OECD. Nobody’s going to want to live in Christchurch once they realise their rates are going to triple to pay for all the ministerial monuments in this central city plan.

    All columns per taxpayer except column 5
    Column 1 – Economic cost
    Column 2 – Private property damage
    Column 3 – Emergency rescue, welfare, housing assistance
    Column 4 – Central government contribution infra-structure repairs
    Column 5 – Local Government Infra-structure repairs per homeowner/ratepayer
    Column 6 – Nett Central Government Expenditure
    Christchurch 10500 6667 1600 633 6810 388
    Japan Tsunami 6686 4011 1203 998 485 1917
    Kobe 2769 886 499 409 783 811
    Italy (1980) 1531 918 1148 149 620 1265
    Katrina 965 386 434 165 616 599
    Andrew 819 574 410 62 320 472
    Northridge 418 167 146 40 392 186
    Table 1: Per taxpayer comparison of cost apportionment of the seven most damaging (per capita) natural disasters in the history of the OECD, in 2011 $NZ.
    column 1 = property damage $20bn + sundry insurance costs $5bn + infrastructure damage $3bn + CERF (nett) $3.5bn as estimated by Reserve Bank of New Zealand (Bollard & Hannah, 2012). The contribution from re-insurers ($3700 per taxpayer) is included, however the New Zealand Treasury considers that amount to be a benefit to the New Zealand economy.
    column 2 This cost is actually funded from property owners savings and insurance but is shown as a per taxpayer amount for comparative purposes.
    column 4 Central Government share of infrastructure repair costs.
    column 5 Local government share of infrastructure repair costs does not include central city plan costs but add $2000 for every $400m spent by CCC.
    column 6 Total spending by central government less GST collected on disaster spending, reprioritised Government spending within the disaster region and petrol taxes collected within the disaster region during the rebuild.

    1. Do you have any evidence for your first sentence? UoC 2011: 18000 students nearly 1000 full time academic staff equivalents…. If these were in the CBD they would make no difference to its performance? What would Dunedin be like if it’s university was decamped? UoA and AUT occupy 1.7square kilometres of floor space within Auckland’s severing ring of motorways, and, along with other education businesses and its associated accomodation saved Auckland from the same fate that clearly afflicts ChCh: a hollow centre. No convention centre or casino will deliver this sort of vitality; both social and economic.

    2. Yes let us have a political disaster, we might get a government that has a clue about public transport and consultation.

  6. Half-baked, badly thought-through urban planning. So typical of New Zealand. When will we ever grow up and join the world? To quote David Lange’s father (Dr Roy Lange) – “Disgusting”.

  7. It’s Brownlee. I am afraid I didn’t really expect better. And I think the cycling section is weak in any specifics – ONE cycleway is mentioned? – so not really optimistic about the “vastly improved” network there either.

  8. Couldn’t agree more, I was pretty disgusted when I read it (Christchurch Resident of the last 5 years here). There is no improvement to the transport in CHCH. We already had a bus interchange, they’re just putting it back. No effort to plan for the declining use of cars and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of public transport.

  9. Calm down guys! I am blown away by the plan, I think it is visionary, ambitious and will create a wonderful city centre for future generations. This plan is intended to attract investment to the CBD. It is not a plan for the entire city, nor is it a city-wide public transport plan. I think a core of shared streets, fringed by quality green spaces is pretty damn cool, and will be unique to NZ. This plan is closing a large number of roads within the CBD and opening them up to pedestrians – not sure how you can spin this as a Brownlee road fest!!!
    Keep in mind that the light rail from the city to the University proposed previously did not have a dedicated right of way and would have mixed with general traffic along busy arterial roads. This was hardly a visionary scheme, and would have resulted in a very slow service along one 5km route. In my opinion it would not have done anything towards public transport in Chch, and would have cost $400m. Further to that, if it was extended to a city wide network the projected cost was $1.8b! If NZ taxpayers want to pay for that, fine, go ahead, perhaps we can delay to CRL to pay for it???

    1. Kevin I’m just calling for a real integrated land use and transit plan and route protection with proper RoW for future transit; no billion dollar bill just some smart thinking.

      Without this you’ll be getting a cutesy little faux centre ringed by roaring traffic- good luck with that.

      1. Again, I think you need to calm down. I agree that route protection is needed, obviously this is a crucial first step in developing an effective transit service. However nothing in the blueprint precludes this from occurring. Nor does it preclude improvements to cycling. The blueprint is not a city wide transit plan! Perhaps this document is what you are after?


        ‘cutesy little faux centre’? Please avoid using pathetic comments such as these in the future. This arrogant attitude towards views conflicting with your own is bringing this otherwise excellent blog down.

        1. No angry comments noted above Kevin. Anyway just talking about light rail is a bit of a distraction, that was a bit of a pie in the sky idea unfortunately, in the short term anyway. However the as everyone who reads this blog should know, transport, land use and urban design heavily integrated. The main fault with this plan is that is fine for land use and urban design, however totally ignores transport. Chch CBD needs much higher public transport and active mode uses than they previously had pre-quake. Whether this is by tram or bus it doesn’t matter, but there are no ideas at all to make sure this will happen. The plan seems to hinge around having heaps of well designed car-parking buildings hiding behind every block!
          An reasonably cheap idea would have been turning the tram into a proper CBD wide shuttle, preferably free, or nominal cost. Also utilizing modern LRV’s would be good too. Is fine keeping buses away from innermost streets, but then a city wide shuttle is required, and light rail much much better in these cases.
          Also don’t see much evidence of all these roads being cut off, apart from a few cut off by stadiums etc.

  10. I’m a little surprised by the negativity. Its not really a transport plan. Its a blueprint for getting the central city back on its feet through investment and big anchor projects. I think its a fantastic plan. I’m sure a detailed transport plan will follow, and based on what I’ve read, well designed cycleways and bus priority will surely feature widely through the CBD. Light rail would be nice, but very expensive and I’m not convinced it would be cost effective. I think focusing on bus priority and cycling is a better option.

    1. The CCDU have made it quite clear that one of their five tasks for the next 100 days is to develop the transport plan that supports this central city plan, e.g. work out need for one-way streets or not, routing for PT, etc. That makes sense to me; transport is a means to an end, not an end in itself. You need the landuse first to assess how to manage the likely travel demand.

      I think between the Frame, Avon River corridor, low-speed zones, and traffic-free areas like the Square, cycling will actually be very well served in the new central city. But the more important stuff will be the biking connections out to the suburbs and CCC has been working hard on that in the draft Chch Trpt Plan; there will be a lot of emphasis on cycle routes to attract a wider range of people.

      As for light rail, I think we get a bit hung up on which PT technology we’re using. Far better at this stage to identify (and protect) key corridors for priority PT, worry about what propulsion system to use later. It may be for example that a snazzy Bus Rapid Trpt for example may do the trick for some corridors at present. Either way, that investigation is still to come.

    2. Well you say it’s not a transport plan – but it is. A bus exchange no bigger than the pre-earthquake one has been tucked into a corner despite the lack of room for expansion (already identified as necessary) and the traffic flow problems it will create.

  11. So where in this central business district does the business go?
    All I can see are government this and precinct that? Not much there for shopping, offices and service industries. What about residents?

    They run the risk of having a very quiet, abandoned CBD a lot of the time.

      1. Agreed. It’s got Canberra written all over it. I prefer a bit of muddle and organic development.

        From elsewhere in the thread…

        “While it isn’t practical to move the whole university back to the centre”

        Why not? It moved out, so it can move back in. Gradually, of course. The current rebuilding task is going to take probably twenty years and so there is plenty of scope for gradual movement of functions within the city. I like the idea of a city center university (mixed in with the other buildings… not in a university “precinct”) much better than a stadium. My experience is that stadiums tend to blight the areas in which they’re located and look out of scale. Cardiff’s being a good example. Or most of those in American cities. Wellington’s is an exception because it is on the extreme edge of the CBD and is sitting in a blighted area already… between the non-public wharfs and a main road, and physically inside the vast waste-of-space that is the rail yards.

        Then the corporate raiders stole the best paid jobs and computer networked them out of Auckland (or Sydney).”

        Hey… That’s Auckland’s agglomeration benefits you’re talking about! We need those to make our rail tunnel business case stack up.

        1. Obi beat me to it. I said the same thing further down the page about the university: Everything about this plan seems “can-do” (possibly even too much “doing”) but in the process the single best activity for a city centre of Christchurch’s size (university) has been put in the too hard basket.

          Does anyone know why the UoC won’t move back into the City Centre? Were they given the choice? If so, why did they refuse? As Nic R so eloquently put it, do they have “rocks in their head”?

          1. Essentially it’s financial I suspect. You have a helluva lot of (reasonably intact) facilities already invested in Ilam (and a lot more room to grow); given the current parlous state of the uni’s finances they’re hardly going to want to spend even more money to reconstruct in town.

            Mind you, they already have some involvement in the Health Science sector in town and that will only increase with the development of the Health precinct. And it’s likely that a lot more students will be attracted to live in the new central city if good quality accommodation and entertainment/amenities are provided there.

            Let’s not forget that there are already thousands of students perched on the edge of the new central city at CPIT (>5000 FTEs and ~20,000 actual students).

            It’s one thing to say that uni could be gradually shifted back in, but in reality that’s a pain in the butt for anyone who has to switch between campuses during the day. And unlike the 1960s, when it would have been only a few thousands affected, there are now over 15,000 students and staff to uproot.

          2. Yes Glen is right with so much else broken there is little chance to move the campus. But there are two other moves that should be pursued; a direct and branded transit link to move the Ilam campus and the CBD into a practical and conceptual union, and the evaluation of decamping of new departments back to town as a matter of policy… with good [not driving/parking] direct links a city sub campus should work perfectly well… Wasn’t there a plan to bring the Music faculty into the city before the quakes being discussed?…. The City needs the Uni and visa versa.

          3. The eastern frame would be the ideal place for a university. It would maintain the leafy green border without the severance, but more importantly inject a whole lot of life into that side of town. Lots of students, who are also shoppers, diners, theatre goes etc, and likely to be residents too… plus as Stu has recently pointed out to me university students also represent a huge labour pool for the service industry.

            Perhaps we could invite the University of Auckland to set up a campus there? /troll

          4. Haha Nick R – I’m going to plug for Massey to also set up a new Christchurch City Campus. Imagine the competition between the universities punting down the Avon!

            More seriously, Canterbury University has to shift back to the CBD to make it work, or a high quality passenger transport link needs to be put in to link the University back to student accommodation and a thriving social scene in the CBD……oh wait we had a plan for that, Bob’s now discarded light rail. Christchurch is really going to be struggling to find that thriving level of activity that will support a CBD. It won’t come from a stadium, but it might just work if students can be attracted back into town – some serious thought needs to be out into “hard-wiring” the university and the CBD together.

  12. There is a huge issue that no one else seems to be picking up on and that is the impact this will have on future land prices. We have been having a number of discussions recently on what happens when you limit supply. In this case the CBD will ringed off by The Frame and will also have height restrictions imposed to keep buildings below a certain level. Once the CBD has been rebuilt the place will be much more attractive but with no way expanding the CBD the prices are going to go through the roof. That will flow through to commercial rents and then goods and services. All up it is going to end up making the CBD a very unaffordable place which will further help to push businesses away from it.

    1. Matt, the truth is like everything down here, the response so far has been pretty muted. There are a huge number of issues this plan will cause. Although to be fair I don’t read the paper so I expect a lot of letters will be published, and we haven’t heard from any of the other political parties yet, I guess they haven’t had time to look through it. So far a few buiilding owners complaining that their buildings are going to be seized and knocked down has been the main level of negative reaction.

  13. @Nick R: so Adelaide is also ‘framed’ by a park in this way. I’ve never been there – how does it work? Is it a good thing? I notice courtesy of google streetview that they have trams, and also that U Adelaide is right in the centre… also that Adelaide’s street grid looks a lot more fine-grained than Christchurch’s

    That aside, my thoughts FWIW:

    First that the ‘precinct’ idea has a bit of a worrying one landuse, one area look to it, which is a rather old-fashioned planning model, very much at odds with mixed use which promotes the all-day activity and interaction that makes a place feel alive. Some of those precincts (justice particularly) aren’t going to see a lot of activity outside 9-5. Perhaps those precinct designations aren’t intended to be rigid – I hope not.

    Second, the height restriction seems like a huge mistake. It will restrict the potential for intensive development, which can really make a CBD come alive with large numbers of workers (or residents if some of it is apartments). I know that post-CTV building it must be difficult to think about building high again, but properly constructed tall buildings aren’t notably more vulnerable than low-rise ones.

    Third, what is a ‘residential demonstration project’?! Why nothing more ambitious in terms of people actually living in the city proper?

    New Zealand just doesn’t really do ‘urban’ does it? It’s hard not to see this and the painfully slow process from which the CRL may yet fail to emerge as yet more evidence of that cultural reality. Unfortunate for a country where the vast majority of the population live in cities.

    1. Hi David,

      Adelaide is my favourite Australian city; but I’ve not yet visited Melbourne, Sydney, or Perth so my sample size is small and selective (mainly because I only work in cities with bad transport systems!) :). The city frame in Adelaide tends to work well and provides good recreational opportunities close to the centre, except that it’s much larger than this, so you get more mixing of commercial and residential land uses within the frame. You’re right to note that Adelaide has a fantastic street network, consisting of a coarse grid of arterial roads supported by fine-grained laneways; commercial activities locate on the former and residential the latter.

      Now, turning to the Christchurch Recovery plan. I personally liked the city frame park and the shared streets will be great, if they’re well-designed, not too vast, and traffic volumes are managed to sufficiently low levels. That’s about it.

      From a cursory view much of the rest comes across as bland, single-use precincts with too many large and infrequently used facilities located downtown (Convention Centre, Stadium etc) that seem to crowd out other activities. To see what becomes of these sorts of precincts, just wander around the Cultural Centre in Brisbane. You will see a lot of large expensive “Te Papa-esque” buildings, but not much going on outside of school holidays and weekends.

      You only have to wander down the road to Southbank or West End to find where the real Brisbaners are hanging out. Funnily enough the same types of mixed use town centres are popular in Wellington; I love Te Papa but when in Welly I’ll spend most of my time in Te Aro :). And in Auckland I don’t go far from Parnell, the City Centre, Mt Eden, Kingsland and Ponsonby. I.e. the most desirable are mixed use, focus on architecture, and charm.

      The two worst elements of the plan are, as you note, the height limit and the “residential demonstration project”, where the latter is somewhat strangely located outside the city centre and a long way from the bus station. You can be quite close to city living; but without the transport benefits! Much of the other major initiatives seem, strangely enough, to suit the Casino.

      Anyway, I don’t want to be too negative – it’s up to people who live in Christchurch to decide whether it’s what they want. I will say, however, that at this stage I see quite a few red flags popping up from an transport/land use/urban design perspective. Ultimately I fear that all the big public buildings will turn Christchurch into a sterile wasteland like Canberra, which is my least favourite Australian city :).

        1. I’ll be surprised if you don’t like Melbourne when you get there, Stu! Sydney, maybe less so.

          How this plan works out as you rightly say will depend on how well traffic volumes are managed, which in turn will depend on parking and provision of other modes. The outlook on that front, as the original post points out is not so encouraging. But to be positive: it’s good to see thinking about multiple uses and about making something that could be a central city. It’s not easy to plan your way out of the mess that the earthquake made of things, and it’s also not easy to plan your way out of low density sprawl (as Auckland’s efforts clearly demonstrate!).

          The trick is somehow thinking outside the box you’ve built yourself into. Really game-changing plans make what seems normal now (lots of driving) redundant, the difficulty being that they render the assumptions by which their BCRs or other metrics get evaluated wrong, and so they can be a hard sell. It’s easy to be critical of this plan (as it is of the Auckland spatial plan also) but negotiating the economics and politics and the ingrained assumptions of our present auto-dependence to sell these things to the public and to central government is HARD! Although in Christchurch, as in Auckland, I think the public are ahead of central government on many of the issues, which is sad.

      1. The biggest problem with precincts is what do you do when you need to make yours bigger? The University had that when they shot out to Ilam in the 60s – preceded by Teachers College and others. The bus exchange is a prime example – the space they allocated for it is too small and it won’t be able to grow.

  14. well there are still several blocks outside the frame that can develop. However for a long time these will be largely empty, probably bought by Bunning, Warehouse, and become a big box retail mall. Alternatively will become car parking. However I don’t think this will be an issue for several decades, if everywhere inside frame is built out will be a big success!

  15. Disappointed (but not surprised) by all the negativity here guys. The plan’s far from perfect, but considering the enormous problems that the city faces there are no silver bullets (especially when you consider that people like Bob Jones were seriously saying that we should abandon the CBD and turn it into a lake!)

    When you consider that the biggest problem in Christchurch pre-quakes was sprawl and the weakness of the CBD, there’s actually a lot to like about the plan, as it brings back a lot of activities that were previously scattered around the city. Examples – stadium was previously in Phillipstown (now Addington) to be located in the central city; swimming pool, gym, sports centre and cricket oval were at QEII, way out in the suburbs, but will be moved to Hagley Park; convention centre and library were on the northern fringe of the CBD, now going to be directly on Cathedral Square. Obviously bringing back the university would trump any of those projects, but sadly that’s just not realistic.

    Secondly, not sure where everyone’s getting the idea that the place will be full of carparks – my understanding is that parking would be maintained at roughly pre-quake levels, though possibly with more of a move to off-street rather than on-street. Considering that the plan proposes closing a number of roads, removing through-traffic from the Square and Oxford Tce, and making part of only Cambridge Tce buses and local traffic, I’m not sure why everyone is convinced that this is 1960’s-style thinking wrought anew.

    As for “where in the central business district does the business go?”, that’s really up to the private sector, but trust me there’s no shortage of empty sites in the CBD to build offices, retail or apartments on.

    Lastly, even though Brownlee has obviously had a big influence here, by and large the new plan is similar to what the Council proposed in their plan last year, which in turn was based on input from a huge number of residents. I think you’ll find that, outside of this blog, most of the projects will have pretty wide support in Christchurch. Calling the plans for the city a “theme park” and a “cutesy little faux centre” is a pretty condescending attitude, and to be honest is actually an insult to Christchurch and everything the city’s been through.

    1. Hi Joelio, why are you not surprised by “all the negativity”? I know the blogosphere is sometimes a struggle, but we here at ATB genuinely try to mix the good news with the bad. If you have general comments on our negativity, please email us at the email addresses provided under the “Contact us” tab at the top.

      Now, you talk about the stadium, cricket ground, and recreational facilities being “scattered around”. But to me they are precisely the types of low-intensity, low-value uses that should be scattered around wherever there is cheap land and space. At least on the periphery of the city centre, rather than in it. Now, in the case of the cricket ground that can be delivered on existing recreational space; so no problem with that being brought in, as it were. Not that cricket is the life of a city.

      I may have missed something but why is it unrealistic to bring the university back into the city? I personally think it’s crazy that UoC would pass-up this chance to relocate. Little better way to increase awareness of your university (and UoC is failing here IMO) than by having a campus located downtown. CERA can do everything else so why not just force the uni to move? I also think there’s valid questions to be asked about whether the plan has an appropriate distribution of business/residential activity, or whether it’s too focused in a few areas. And while I know this is not a transport plan, but transport is I think the single most important thing to city centre quality of life.

      While I realise that right now many Christchurch residents are preoccupied with how cool it would be to have a stadium downtown, but I do wonder if will they still be thinking about this in 30 years time? Or will they instead be wanting a centrally located bus station that is well-connected to the rest of the urban area? Or a similarly well-connected network of wonderful and safe cycle lanes? My main point is that what people say they want now (off the back of the Earthquake) may not be what they want in the future (when normal everyday life resumes). Hell, the people that currently make-up Christchurch residents may not even represent your target residents of the future. Guess what I’m saying is that sometimes asking existing residents what they want does not give you the best answer.

      Just questions: Christchurch and the Government needs to come up with the answers itself. If this is the answer then that’s fine, but please don’t blame us for asking questions from our somewhat distant but possibly also more objective position.

      1. I guess the thing we need to remember is that this is a recovery plan – not a normal “city plan”. The problem is that at the moment there’s nothing in the central city but a wasteland. There’s little incentive for businesses to relocate back in there, because passing trade has been so reduced and many businesses will be afraid to “take the first step” and risk going back into that area.

        That’s why I’m not sure that I agree that the stadium, convention centre and so on are “low-value” activities. They’re the sorts of things that attract big crowds into one place, and once the event is over then those same people would more than likely spend their money in the restaurants, bars, and shops that will establish in those parts of town. Obviously a stadium can never be the “heart” of a city, but in my view you need these big anchor projects to kickstart the recovery – as without them, it will be hard to get the ball rolling and gain the “critical mass” that makes it worthwhile for businesses to locate in the CBD rather than the suburbs.

        And yes, having the university back in town would be the ideal, but unfortunately the university themselves have pretty much ruled it out. While a few buildings at the uni suffered damage, it was pretty minor compared to what the CBD suffered. Most of the campus is intact, so moving would mean abandoning a huge amount of perfectly-good space. If they did decide to move, what would happen to the current campus? Presumably it would just become a huge office park – but again, encouraging suburban office parks isn’t what we want to do to help the CBD recover!

        As I said – the plan’s certainly not perfect, but some of the posts on here are making it out to be completely meritless, which I think is a bit unfair.

      2. “While I realise that right now many Christchurch residents are preoccupied with how cool it would be to have a stadium downtown”

        I get the feeling that they’ve turned the public consultation in to a shopping list. Someone (in the public) thought a sports stadium was cool. Another thought a convention center was cool. Another thought a casino would attract stereotypical rich Chinese gamblers. So the plan included a stadium, a convention center, and a casino, even if these things don’t really make sense when you think about them hard. Infrastructure like convention centers really only makes economic sense in centrally located cities with lots of facilities and good international transport links. That means Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Auckland at a push. To expect that sort of activity to be viable in Christchurch is like expecting it to be viable in Newcastle, NSW.

        The big question I have is how any of this proposed development is economically viable. Commercial rents in Christchurch were a fraction (a third?) those of Auckland or Wellington before the earthquake. Do we expect these to increase by several multiples now that the CBD is an urban wasteland? What is going to cause people to want to move their businesses and homes from the suburbs in to the CBD?… I don’t think a casino and some greenery along the river is going to be enough. Maybe declare it a tax-free free-trade-zone for the next 20 years… then offer 20,000 foreigners the opportunity to immigrate to NZ as long as they occupy an apartment in the Christchurch CBD for the first five years?

      3. This encapsulates really the debate that existed before the earthquakes. It was mainly the mayor who championed the central city, the Council was divided over it, it was really about politics to a large extent. A lot of businesses have moved out and signed leases well outside the CBD. The whole thing is being pushed along far too fast. The city is recovering and could do so without this push by the government (in the name of economic stimulus) to make the whole thing happen within the next 5 years. I guess they hope enough will be happening by 2014 to help them get re-elected. But I would not expect them to get another term because the whole thing has the potential to blow up in Brownlees face. He can’t get it happening as fast as that without heavying the council (i.e. us ratepayers) to fork out more money hand over fist and that’s a pretty big risk when you consider the number of other faux pahs he has made on other fronts so far.

  16. From the Press
    “The exchange will cover an area of 5500 square metres and will include parking for 12 buses”
    From the Christchurch plan
    “This system will have sufficient scale to cater for growth to 2041”.

    Note: Hamilton Transport centre 8000+ sqaure metres and has parking for 26+ buses.

    1. Does that suggest they’re not planning for much growth? Or that they’re not expecting many buses to terminate/start downtown? If it’s the latter than that’s fine: The previous network was rather radial (with the exception of the rather strange metroglider) and could have benefitted from some pendulum routes that operated from one side of the city to the other via the City Centre, rather than terminating there.

      1. You might want to have a look at the draft Regional Public Trpt plan:

        There is an increasing focus on a hub-based network, somewhat reflecting the increased travel to nodes outside the central city. Also more rationalisation of bus routes so that instead of (say) 12 routes/hr coming along a particular corridor there might be only 6/hr now. Hence less actual capacity needed at the bus interchange I guess.

        1. what I’ve heard about the RLTP is that it looks great on paper, but is trying to do what Auckland is doing with 30min frequencies, and no infrastructure improvements! So will generally be a disaster, as focus on cutting costs to meet firebox recovery targets, not forward thinking like CBD plan at all! Remember Ecan still undemocratically run by govt appointees, entirely because of rural water issues!

      2. I’m pretty sure that the plan is for no buses to start or terminate downtown – as is more or less the case currently. Almost all the routes are through-routed to another route on the opposite side of town, but pass through the exchange as their mid-point.

      3. Christchurch actually had most of its routes pass through the city centre, and then onto somewhere else, so much better than Auckland in that respect, although easier due to square city. Almost none terminated in the city. However a big inner city station, even if its not a terminus, needs to have alot of stops to snare there is no congestion at peak times. 12 just doesn’t seem very much to cope with ambitious growth to 2041. Chch was also good at non CBD routes like the Orbiter, which went round in a circle through the suburbs. Also is the Metrostar that passes passes east -west but goes north of CBD. Chch in the late 90s was a long way ahead of other cities in network design, and making useful, clever and cheap improvements. Having no awkward folk like NZ Bus and most buses run by City Council probably helped too….
        Made the network great to use for young teenager like myself, and also helped push me from being a rail nut to thinking about public transport network design as well!

  17. I’m a little surprised by the knee-jerk negativity expressed by Patrick and some of the commenters here. The devil will be in the details, but there seem to some interesting ideas in the plan.
    There actually seemed to be quite a bit of attention paid to transport. The much-derided bus interchange is located directly across the road from the site of the existing bus interchange. I suspect the planners pushed it as close to the edge of the frame as they could in order to minimize the number of buses actually passing through the city centre. That way they can accord greater priority to to walking and cycling within the CBD itself. Christchurch has actually had pretty good cycling infrastructure for a long-time – no gold-plated totally seperate cycle routes, but the council have been adding painted cycles lanes to roads for years. A top of the line covered cycle park facility in the bus interchange (perhaps something similar to the Milennium Park cycle park in Chicago) would certainly make a statement about the priority of cycling. As it is, the reduced CBD will be so compact, you could walk anywhere inside the frame from the bus interchange in 10 to 15 minutes.
    I believe the “residential demonstration project” is supposed to be exactly that – a demonstration project to give both developers and potential residents ideas on what a range of mid-rise housing within and on the edges of the CBD might look like. It was somewhat unclear from my reading of the plans whether the frames will be purely parks, or will have buildings set in them in park-like surrounds. But I imagine nice housing on or overlooking the frame would be pretty popular.
    I think the real opportunity in the plan is mixed-use developments which combine ground floor retail with office space and/or residential space on the upper floors. The key to reviving Christchurch’s CBD is getting a critical mass of people working *and* living there – if you have residents, you have life and activity on the streets after businesses close at 5.
    Concerns I have about the plan? The convention centre for one, both in the amount of space allocated to it, and its priority in terms of getting built. I can see why they want to do it for economic reasons, but all the convention centres I’m familiar with tend to be big concrete boxes that contribute little of the sought-after “vibrancy” to street life. The plans for the performing arts “precinct” and central library on the square are more promising.
    I think the main danger of the 28-metre 7-storey height limit is that it might impose a high degree of homogeneity on the CBD. Every developer is pretty much going to want to build to the height limit to maximise their returns. Apart from the height-exempt hotels, the city could probably use one or two “feature” buildings.
    One element of the plan that I will be very interested in is seeing how the “urban design panel” works in practice. Instead of having lots of rules and regulations, a 3 person design panel will review all the proposals to make sure they fit in with their neighbours, and stop the cheap-and-nasty tilt-slab developments. I think they may play a key role in ensuring Christchurch ends up with an attractive CBD that people want to work and live in.

  18. Auckland fool has view about Christchurch!

    I’ve just re-read my post am pretty sure that it doesn’t deserve the emotional reaction that some have had to it. It’s clear that I am discussing the plan not the city itself, and if I am critical of the plan it is out of a desire to see it improve. This is not negativity. Negativity would be to sit up here in Auckland and not give a toss about what is happening in Christchurch. Frankly that would be a lot easier too. Yes I am not in Chch but perhaps that allows some objectivity in my view? No mater, I understand that it is a very intense time.

    Anyway these are not issues for one place alone, we have had a our share of pretty plans in Auckland too and it is clear that they should be treated with some scepticism. In two ways specifically: Ask what will actually get funded and who benefits directly, and then ask what idea of the city does this plan express?

    For example existing property investors seem suspiciously happy with the new plan in Chch; are we sure that they haven’t had a bigger role in this than may be desirable for the city’s long term future? That is certainly consistent with the current government’s modus operandi; a privileging of corporate interests over the commons.

    Like the Auckland plans the general aims expressed in the plan are all wonderful, I could write a loving post all about those, but surely what really matters is whether the detail supports these big words and is likely to lead to them becoming a reality. With Christchurch [and to a lesser degree in Auckland too] there is a lot at stake. In each case, in different ways and at different scales, it is a matter of whether a successful city exists or not.

    As is underlined in a number of comments above [Obi, Stu, Nick, and others] I remain concerned that this plan is too much about showcase projects that are of great value to certain interests but alone do not a city make. So, stepping right back, it feels to me that this is plan dominated by the idea that a city centre is a place to visit but not to be. And this is also, from all our understanding of what makes a successful city, a mistake. It is an outdated view that sees the city as separate from much of life; a suburnan/urban divide, and was also the idea that was threatening the centre of Christchurch before the quakes [and again one entirely consistent with government policy].

    I do really hope that these fears are misplaced and that the grand aims of the plan become a reality for our second biggest city, but for that to happen the people of CHCh are going to have keep on the case…..

    1. “I remain concerned that this plan is too much about showcase projects that are of great value to certain interests but alone do not a city make”

      I agree with this. Shops, cafes, and lots of cheap office space will bring people in to the CBD every day. But most people never go near a casino, a sports stadium, or a convention center. Coincidentally shops, cafes, and lots of cheap office space is what is needed urgently to ensure that Christchurch remains a viable city and that the population doesn’t start to move elsewhere looking for better employment opportunities.

      But at least no one has suggested building an iconic opera house as a priority 😉

  19. Moving the university was never a realistic option. Its well established in the Ilam campus. The university had comparitvely little damage compared to the CBD, so would have meant abandoning a largely undamaged campus. The reason it was moved out to Ilam in the first place was because of the lack of space in town. Now the CBD is even more compact than it was before, so it would be crazy to move back. The housing is cheap for students in that area (or at least it was when I went to uni there before the earthquakes), certainly wouldnt be cheap in town. It has quite good bus connections with the rest of the city with the Orbiter (circular bus route around Chch).

  20. The approach taken with the previous BusXchange was that was to have a row of bus stops on the right hand side of each platform with a wall with automatic door in it. Passengers would be told which door to queue at to catch their bus. When the bus stopped the back doors on both the bus and platform opened a few seconds before the front doors opened. This way the boarding and exiting passengers didn’t clash. Since the majority of passengers baording at the exchange used cards the loading occured in hald a minute or so. Thus 12 “parking spot” can accommodate up to 240 buses per hour. It’s a throughput focused design so it makes very efficient use of space, which is good for passengers making transfers. Of course, it works best when routes are paired to make crosstown routes with tight travel times so there is no need for a bus to park up waiting for its scheduled departure time.

  21. Patrick, I was referring to the relocation of the University in the early 1970s being a major contributor to the decline. In a direct sense it could not have been a significant factor in the CBD decline then because it was a very small univerity then. But if you were arguing that the Government should have brought the emergent deadzone south of Lichfield to develop a new university campus between the polytech and the original campus rather than relocating to Ilam then I agree that that would have revitalised the central city, especially with the student hostels that were built at Ilam. With capital that has been sunk into the Ilam campus I can’t see the current Government relocating the campus back to the CBD although if they could sell it Google or Facebook for a South Pacific hightech business park the idea might fly financially.

  22. Stu Donovan
    July 31, 2012 at 10:55 pm · Reply
    We’ve just had a brilliant planned mucked around with by central government so don’t be too surprised that locals don’t take too warmly to comments or suggestions from ‘objective’ outsiders, even when they are based on experience/expertise. I would be interested to hear your assessment of how the government’s plan compares with the council’s draft plan.
    Draft Central City Plan background information section has all the appendices that explain the rationale and reasoning behind the focus on walkability, clusters, and mixed use redevelopment outside the compact CBD.

  23. 12 bus bays can provide a huge amount of capacity if as in Christchurch the buses are just driving through and not parking there.

    If each bay had a bus arriving every 5 minutes using a large bus with a peak capacity for say 80 (standing and seating) you could move 23,000 in the peak two hours. Ramp that up to a bus every 2 minutes and you could move 57,000. Use higher capacity buses and the numbers that can be moved cab be increased significantly further.

    Just how many people are going to be working in this small low rise new Chch CBD?

    It isn’t the number of bays in a bus station that matters but how thay are used. Aggregating demand onto a small number of high capacity bus routes into the city as Chch are proposing is a very efficient way of serving the city. Better than having great convoys of buses through the city with many buses only carrying 20 or so at most as it was pre quake.

    1. Sorry, does not work. People have to transfer, which means transfer facilities and time wasted, which people will not want to do, if you want them to enjoy the convenience to get them out of their cars.

  24. Still like this rail plan the best (see link below), and it could be implemented for approximately the same cost as a lightrail line from CBD to University/Airport that the council mooted. The council had suggested LR would be $400million. I don’t think the Uni is all that critical, aside from impracticality of moving a uni that is already broke, there are already educational facilities near to the CBD. Maybe you could have some sharing of resources between institutions, but I’d say that would be about it.


    A great plan that reaches a great part of the cities populations. Links virtually all of the main suburban malls/employment centres with the CBD. You could eventually link the “Central station” in Colombo St/Moorhouse Av with Riccarton with a LR link that would go via CBD (and hospital) and utilise the existing city loop to run various patterns in peak periods or events etc.

  25. I really liked the visionary document they produced about a year ago. That was the document that reflected the preferences of Christchurch, and it was something beautiful.

    A pity redevelopment has been turned into a very different beast indeed. Brownlee and his appointed apparatchiks have taken control, and will build the city they envision. Good luck Christchurch, you’ll need it.

  26. Kevin and George I thought it was kinda obvious that I was disappointed in the changes that have been made to the council plan…. I was trying to criticise the plan itself and not the actors who influenced it in order to at least give an impression of not always being so let down by the current government…. ah well, I suppose if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…..

    Mr V I can’t really comment on rail in CHCH, I have seen the tracks and it is single line in places isn’t it, except for those areas with a freight workload? Has there been a local passenger network there? I know that the siting of the Catholic Basilica was in part chosen to be near the network [tragically as it turns out; built on sludge and now a wreak] so there must have time when it was well used…?

    1. There used to be a passenger network back early last century, in addition to the tram network. The rail network (incl Lyttleton tunnel) was actually electrified until around the 1970’s when it was pulled out due to dwindling use etc.
      The plan on buswatch blog is so simple in it’s observation of what would be needed to have a circular commuter rail route that would link most of the major Chch suburban centres with the CBD (Hornby, Riccarton, Northwood/Belfast, Northlands, Addington, Airport Business Park etc).
      I believe this could be built for a comparable amount of money to the city-university light rail line, although would have a far greater potential customer base on day one of operations than the soletary light rail line mooted by the council ever would.
      You could start/terminate trains from rolleston in the south, rangiora to north and Ferrymead/Heathcoat to the east, (with seamless bus connection to Lyttleton). The tunnel is pretty busy with freight so probably couldn’t justify rail all the way to lyttleton initally. But connecting all these centres, particularly to the north which since the eq. have gained population seems to be a no-brainer. Longer term the line to rolleston could use the west coast line to link Darfield (another satellite town) into the network.

      Obviously at present the line through Chch to the north is mostly single track. But the line coming up from the south is double tracked for alot of the way, although not all the way to rolleston. The new line that the buswatch blog plan calls for via airport would be double track (if not triple to allow an exclusive freight line). This would provide longer-term security for freight movements and allow for trains to run in a loop around Chch, keeping freight seperate from the commuter system. In the longer term if the present north route was also double tracked or had more passing loops you could have two general loops running in opposite directions to allow easy reach of all destinations.

      Given that Auckland will have some spare trains in the near future, what better time to begin to setup a commuter rail system in Chch.

  27. The whole CCDU plan is a complete crock and its release was stage managed as a photo opportunity for the National Government. They even embargoed the release of the information on it until 6 pm so Gerry and John could monopolise the TV news broadcasts.

    As you can see there is a little bus exchange tucked away in a corner where it won’t get in the way of all the other great precincts they have. It is next to the justice and emergency services precinct, I bet you they decided they didn’;t want to put any of the other precincts there so they put the bus exchange next to it.

    The size of 6000 metres is practically the size of the current exchange and is supposed to cater for patronage to 2041. This is an absolute load of bollocks. The City Council had already identified the need for a bigger develepment that was going to be more than twice the size and had purchased the land on the site of what is currently Central Station. It was going to be underground.

    Because of the very restrictive nature of this plan there will be no room for the bus exchange site to be expanded and there is nothing that inspires me to believe traffic flows in and out will be adequately catered for. The new site is one block south of the current site meaning it is further from the city centre. Being right in a corner the flows of buses in and out will be effectively limited to two directions instead of four as is currently the case.

    It is when you start to look at the CCDU plan in that much detail that lots of cracks appear in it, one of which is the enormous cost of which the Government expects the City Council to front up with at ratepayers expense. An example, a repairable library in Gloucester Street can’t be put back into use because the plan has dictated it is in the wrong place. So a new library has to be built. Libraries are expensive because they have to be very strong to take the weight of all the books. That is why the current one held up so well and why it can be repaired. To get the precincts in the right place people’s land will be taken by force and their buildings knocked down. The Council is being pressured to sell its assets to pay for some of the cost. John Key said he didn’t think the council was willing to commit enough money “for what they will want to do”. That is a load of rubbish. He really means “for what we want them to do”. This plan has had no public consultation and it is going to be implemented by fiat of the government using their enormous powers, and Gerry has made it clear he expects to be able to use them.

    The whole thing that the government has imposed on us through CERA and its arms is so repugnant and vile that you have even got a mild mannered person like me who likes to keep a low profile getting involved in political activism against it. There are surely going to be more protest marches and who knows what yet. The whole thing will turn into a political disaster for the government, it just shows like the debacle over your Sky convention centre in Auckland, and numerous others, the Nats have no principles worth believing in, it is all expediency.

  28. The Nats don’t believe in public transport. They believe in frivolous and expensive Roads of National Significance. Christchurch is going to get more of those, too. The plan for the bus exchange is basically the status quo, except another block south of where it was before. Too small and no solutions to the traffic congestion. The council will be told like everyone else to naff off with the original replacement plans they had, which was for a much bigger underground station. Better not have the council spending too much money on frivolous unnecesessites like public transport. They have to spend all their money on the convention centre, the stadium and the sports complex. Because Gerry Said So.

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