Lots of plans, not enough progress

CONFUSING: An abundance of data and glossy pictures but where are the tangible results?
CONFUSING: An abundance of data and glossy pictures but where are the tangible results?

Fail to plan, said the ever-quotable Ben Franklin, and you plan to fail.

Christchurch has been deluged with plans and draft plans following the earthquakes - but are they the right plans, and will they succeed in actually making the city a better place to live? Or are they just bureaucratic waffle?

The Christchurch City Council has released a Three Year Plan, an Annual Plan, Area Plans, and a Christchurch Transport Strategic Plan, along with a District Plan review.

Ecan has released a Draft Annual Plan and a Long Term Plan.

Then there is Cera's Lurp (Land Use Recovery Plan) and a Christchurch Central Recovery Plan (CCRP), which includes the Blueprint Plan.

Another plan, the GCUDS (Greater Urban Development Strategy), which the Christchurch City Council describes as "a bold and ambitious plan for managing urban development", appears not to have been updated since February 2013.

Confused? I am not surprised. I bet you have never even heard of most of those plans. Who are they actually designed for?

If you have lots of time and patience, you can read the plans online, once you find them on the relevant websites.

Plans extend to thousands of pages. All have lovely glossy covers and beautiful photographs. They make the obligatory nod to recognising the tangata whenua (actually, I found some of the Maori quotes to be the most profound and a lot shorter). They have fine idealistic goals, followed by masses of data and tables.

Significantly, many of the plans overlap. They have all been prepared at considerable expense and are paid for by taxpayers and ratepayers - us. Are we getting value for money?

For sheer verbiage, it is hard to beat the Christchurch City Council plans. The Christchurch City Three Year Plan (volume one, 324 pages), which features beaming pictures of the previous mayor and council, exclaims: "We have listened."

The plan notes: "Recovery can be measured by the ability of communities to rapidly regain what they have lost and to improve upon what they had through the rebuilding, restoration and enhancement that occurs. The recovery is likely to be at least a decade long process covering much if not all of the period of this Plan."

It is hard to argue with that, but what are the council and other organisations going to do to make it happen?

The council's District Plan review features 13 multi-coloured boxes. Click on "residential" (198 pages) to read the council's objective for housing: "An increased supply and wide range of housing types, sizes, and densities, to meet the diverse needs of the community in the immediate recovery period and longer term including affordable, social, and temporary housing options."

It also talks of the need for "high quality, sustainable, residential neighbourhoods which are well designed, have a high level of amenity, and enhance local character."

Absolutely. Unfortunately the reality is an acute shortage of affordable housing.

Part of the reason that reality does not match vision may be explained by the same document. Prescriptive rules govern every conceivable design detail. Architects have often become frustrated with what they see as nitpicking and restrictive rules. Their sheer complexity also surely explains the delay in building consents.

At least energy efficiency is recognised. In my view, the plan should go further and make solar energy mandatory for new houses. It would also be logical to see design for long-term accessibility being recognised.

Making land more affordable to ease the housing shortage is not mentioned.

Ecan's Draft Annual Plan (172 pages) talks of the need for environmental, economic, social, and cultural wellbeing.

Managing the region's natural resources, especially water, and mitigating natural disasters, including flood protection, is a priority. The Greater Urban Development Strategy and transport planning gets a mention: "This programme aims to achieve an integrated approach to the development of future housing, activity centres and transportation networks in Greater Christchurch."

Hurray! I agree entirely. But how?

Cera's Lurp (Land Use Recovery Plan, volume one a commendable 48 pages) is by far the clearest overarching plan. It sets down 50 actions for local and central government agencies. I agree with the emphasis on housing, businesses, communities, and transport - above all, the need for flexibility.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee writes: "For greater Christchurch to recover from the Canterbury earthquakes the city and surrounding towns need clear, co-ordinated, and efficient planning documents and processes to be in place."

Too right, Gerry. Trouble is, I don't think we have them. There are too many plans.

While planners no doubt have the best intentions, you just have to look around the city to see that recovery is not proceeding as planned.

We need a more specific, simplified road map, as well as quite possibly a wholesale restructuring of local government.

Contact david.killick@press.co.nz.

The Press