Disaster has forced Christchurch to become more diverse, more mixed, but "reverse sensitivities" could threaten established industrial activity in Woolston, writes John Walley.
OPINION: Very few people like to be close to bad smells, noise, airports and factories. This "not in my back yard" mindset has its own acronym - Nimby.
There are the Nimbys who have an established position - "we were here first" - and seek to impose standards on those who come later, and then there are the Nimbys who bring their standards with them regardless of any pre-existing rights.
The people who purchased houses (cheaply) on the main runway flight path at London Heathrow knew about the airport and sought to buy low- cost houses (low cost because of the noise issue) and campaigned to have the airport operating hours restricted.
Such a campaign to restrict existing use devalues one party and returns value to the other; who clearly understood the established rights at the time of purchase.
These mobile Nimbys threaten the structure of our communities; motivated by a speculative gain from impacting the existing rights of others, hiding behind the smoke and mirrors of obvious sensitivity and perceived community outrage - would you like to live on a flight path? But they bank the gain that flows as existing use rights are extinguished.
The planners call the problems that come from mobile Nimbys "reverse sensitivity".
Tolerances for noise, smell and dust are different in an industrial area than in a residential area.
Most would argue if an area is quiet, dust and smell- free it is right and proper that those qualities are not degraded by an activity moving into the area. Equally it should be that existing use is not threatened by an influx of larger numbers of more sensitive people into an industrial area.
Should this happen, established use rights are threatened, along with investment, employment and economic activity.
Every community needs jobs and industry. Some industries come with problems: dust, smell and noise which can be minimised and improved over time, but cannot be eliminated when these problems are by-products of the process. Jobs are the tradeoff for any residual or periodic problems associated with these activities.
The mobile Nimbys are motivated to perceive these residual problems as significant, using every opportunity to whip up opinion against any previously acceptable use as unacceptable.
In normal times this creates problems, in a disaster recovery situation it becomes a more serious issue. Industry and manufacturing has been a lifeline for our city through our disaster, the sector kept going and, through the efforts of many, maintained activity.
Our disaster has forced our city to become more diverse, more mixed. Different sensitivities have been pushed together and sadly, we have not seen an expansion in the tolerance of established use.
Minor problems become significant when more sensitive people are present to witness them. We all know that dealing with problems becomes all the more challenging when earthquake damage insurance difficulties and weather extremes are in the mix.
The reverse sensitivities in Woolston are not new; noise and smell have always been potential issues, however these existing uses need to be tolerated as many jobs are threatened, being replaced by a handful of hospitality and retail jobs. Does that make any sense? How would you feel if your job was threatened in this way?
A current example of this is the hospitality and retail development in Woolston. Recently a Press article outlined how the developer has been pressing to get the land rezoned to mixed use for many years and had somehow managed to do so in the aftermath of the earthquakes in spite of the Christchurch City Plan.
Plan changes on the fly that are not notified are a huge threat to established industry. Already this development is exacerbating the reverse sensitivity issue, compounding and soliciting complaints against, and threatening jobs in long- established activities.
Developers often use the media and public emotions to their advantage, obtaining support from people who readily jump to the conclusion that superficially attractive developments are preferable to smelly old industry; there is little consideration of the ramifications for existing businesses and jobs.
As a community we have to determine that established use matters - everyone knows about the flight path before they buy the house. If we are to have industry it has to be somewhere.
Woolston has a long history as the industrial heart of our city. It is the only area with infrastructure for trade waste and large electricity supply; if these activities are driven from Woolston the companies and hundreds of jobs will leave Christchurch and New Zealand.
Woolston needs to be protected as the right place for industry in our city; if new mixed use cannot accommodate what is already there, then there should be no compromise of the zoning requirements.
John Walley is chief executive of the New Zealand Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
- The Press
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