First steps into Christchurch's residential red zone

An aerial photo over Christchurch's residential red zone, August 2016.
David Walker

An aerial photo over Christchurch's residential red zone, August 2016.

OPINION: Regenerate Christchurch has signalled the start of what we have been waiting for since the red zone decisions in mid-2011 – a process for determining what will become of these lands.       

True, the Draft Outline for the Ōtākaro/Avon River Corridor Regeneration Plan, released by Regenerate Christchurch in December, is a plan for a plan, but it is a start and should be celebrated.

We want to inform and stimulate debate on the Outline and inspire you to provide useful feedback to Regenerate Christchurch.

Christchurch's residential red zone on one side of the street, housing on the other.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Christchurch's residential red zone on one side of the street, housing on the other.

The geographical scope of the Regeneration Plan is confined to the red zone lands and included road reserves, waterways and riparian edges – a total of 535 hectares. Limiting planning to these lands alone will limit the true potential of the wider area and restrict possible integrated outcomes.

READ MORE:

* First steps for Christchurch red zones announced, concrete plans yet to be made
Green dreams for Christchurch's red zone 
Making sense of the Avon red zone
Five years on, the red zone is green

The remains of a park bench within the Avonside Loop in the red zone.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

The remains of a park bench within the Avonside Loop in the red zone.

There are 14 publicly-owned parks and reserves, and five vacant or to be vacated Ministry of Education school sites contiguous with the red zone lands. These could be considered for land swaps to enable land uses on these sites that complement the red zone land uses.

Then there is the existing green-zoned residential neighbourhoods adjoining the red zone. Some of these areas could be re-zoned through the Regeneration Plan to allow better edge treatment and higher density housing along the interface of residential and green space amenity, leading to improved market values.

Changing the scope to include adjacent publicly-owned lands, former school sites and existing residential neighbourhoods would enable better and more innovative outcomes.

Landscape architect Geraint Howells has argued that housing should be part of the red-zone mix. He is pictured on ...
Iain McGregor

Landscape architect Geraint Howells has argued that housing should be part of the red-zone mix. He is pictured on Waygreen Ave in the residential red zone.

Meaningful and genuine community engagement is critical.

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The Christchurch community is still dangerously disengaged from the incredible opportunity the Regeneration Plan offers. If we do get involved, past experience does not give us confidence that our views will be taken into account in decision making.

The development of the Regeneration Plan must reverse this trend and inspire the Greater Christchurch communities to become involved.

The residential red zone in Christchurch.
Evan Smith

The residential red zone in Christchurch.

Involving the community will lead to better decisions, and importantly will help to heal and empower communities who are feeling marginalised.

Since its establishment, Regenerate Christchurch has expressed the desire and intent to engage with communities in a meaningful way, and their practice to date has reflected this.  They are already engaging more with the public than they are statutorially obliged to.

However the Outline does not truly reflect this approach. There needs to be greater clarity around how and when engagement will occur. Community engagement needs to be explicitly embedded into every step of the development and approval processes. Regenerate Christchurch must activate, reassure and motivate the community so they commit to giving their energy to influence decision-making.

Broken tennis courts at Wilding Park, near the residential red zone.
Iain McGregor

Broken tennis courts at Wilding Park, near the residential red zone.

That is a big ask, given that Regenerate Christchurch has only six months to develop the plan.

After five years of little public progress it is disconcerting that the plan for such a large, environmentally complex and critical area is allowed only six months for its development.

This is reminiscent of the rush to develop the Christchurch Central Blueprint and Recovery Plan when the community had little say in what happened.

The residential red zone in Christchurch.
Evan Smith

The residential red zone in Christchurch.

We would strongly encourage and support a longer and iterative engagement and planning process with multiple feedback loops as the plan is developed.

We have one chance to get this right. Let's not rush it and get it wrong.

We are already nearly a year into the five-year life of Regenerate Christchurch. Realistically there is little chance of realising any plan in terms of significant progress on the ground in the next five years, yet the plan will expire with the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Act in 2020.

While the Regeneration Plan can effect changes to existing planning instruments, this will not guarantee the durability of the plan or its potential to protect the integrity of the corridor and prevent it being broken up for piecemeal development. Nor does it provide for the overarching governance that is required to ensure both durability and integrity of the plan in the long-term.

The Regeneration Plan needs to continue to apply beyond the expiry of the Greater Christchurch Regeneration Act. Without this clarity at the outset, the community will not be confident that the time and energy they invest in the process will have long-term influence.

The Outline refers to the importance of these lands to the regeneration of "eastern Christchurch" and "Greater Christchurch".  This constrains the vision that is required here. 

The future use of these lands could make as significant a contribution to the economy of the South Island and New Zealand as any new convention centre or reinstatement of State Highway 1. It therefore needs to be given as much priority in terms of consideration and government investment.

There needs to be a wider context than only local impacts, and a longer timeframe than the next electoral cycle.   The true value of social, cultural, ecological and environmental benefits must be factored in, and land uses established that will add to the sustainable economy of the South Island for at least the next hundred years.

Together we can create a compelling vision that acknowledges the past, engages the present and inspires the future. 

To do this we must all take a keen interest in what happens to these lands and the plans that are written for them. You can make a start by giving your feedback on the Draft Outline before 21 February.

Evan Smith is Co-Chair of Avon-Otakaro Network and Sylvia Smyth is Programme Manager for Eastern Vision. 

 - Stuff

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