Opinion: Piecemeal planning for Christchurch's red zone puts greater vision at risk
OPINION: Regenerate Christchurch's approach to engagement on the future of the Avon-Ōtākaro red zone falls short of the mark
It acknowledged the special features of each of the different red zones: Brooklands and Southshore with their unique coastal issues, the Port Hills with its own set of concerns and lastly the 450 hectare Avon-Ōtākaro red zone running from the city to the sea.
The agency has indicated that it wishes to start the much-vaunted engagement with communities on a small bite-sized piece of the Avon-Ōtākaro red zone, in particular the city end of the corridor between Barbadoes St and Stanmore Rd.
Unlike the view expressed by The Press in its recent editorial, for those of us who have been advocating for years for community engagement regarding these lands, this is progress that should be celebrated. It does, at last, represent the start of the official process.
Yes it is a process about planning rather than doing, but there is only one chance to get this amazing opportunity right, so it is critical that it is well-considered and inclusive, with communities at the centre of the decisions.
And yes there is significant value in taking on a bite-sized piece of the red zone first to use as a testing platform to trial and hone the process while the agency gets its feet under the table.
The community needs to build confidence in the process because, let's be honest, nothing about the rebuild to date provides communities with any reason to have any faith in agency engagement and planning practices. For too long we have been done to, rather than done with.
It is also useful to test how much community influence will survive the input of the statutory partners, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC), the minister and then the implementation by Ōtākaro Ltd. The latter has after all had its constitution re-written such that its actions no longer have to be consistent with any approved regeneration plans.
Communities need to know that the time and effort they invest in engaging over projects will have significant influence at the end of the process.
Starting with the Avon Loop and South Richmond will test the thorny question of how much, if any, residential redevelopment the community will tolerate in the red zone. This is not a question that could be addressed so readily at the Bexley end.
Incidentally, with regard to the boundary of this first part of the red zone, we believe the downstream end would be better located at Swanns Rd rather than Stanmore Rd, so that South Richmond is not split in two.
Anyway, so where does the approach outlined fall short of the mark?
It falls short because it seeks to compartmentalise and so degrade the integrity of the broad city-to-sea corridor – the very feature that makes the Ōtākaro red zone unique and full of stunning potential.
Many of the proposals for the Ōtākaro red zone are for the full breadth and length of the corridor such as the walking and cycleway network, the native reforestation, the nature playgrounds, the food-growing network, the constructed wetlands and flood mitigation.
There is an interim step missing in the process and that is the need to first define the community values people wish to see incorporated into a framework of guiding principles for the regeneration of this entire contiguous red zone.
Without this first step, we are at risk of losing an overarching vision for the whole, resulting in piecemeal unintegrated planning – and the whole is more than the sum of the parts.
It is this point that Ashley Campbell of Greening the Red Zone makes so well in her blog. And it is for this reason that proposal champions and the public need access to the technical data for the entire Ōtākaro red zone as soon as possible, not just for the first part in isolation.
So yes, while we see value in the approach Regenerate Christchurch is proposing, our support is conditional upon a preliminary engagement on the whole Ōtākaro red zone to establish a framework of values and guiding principles defined by the community.
Evan Smith is co-chair of the Avon-Ōtākaro Network.