Max Christoffersen: Development disease spreading like the plague

Hamilton is expanding and you only need to try to take a quick trip across town to realise the city’s roads aren't coping.

Hamilton is expanding and you only need to try to take a quick trip across town to realise the city’s roads aren't coping.

OPINION: While stuck at the Mill Street lights, I started tapping my fingers on the steering wheel, keeping time to whatever was on Free-FM.

I was making a cross-town trip to pick up Trade Me winnings and thought it'd be a quick ride across town.

Things were moving slow.

Twenty-five minutes later and now stuck at the Dinsdale roundabout, I started tapping my fingers on the steering wheel, keeping time to whatever was now on Free-FM.

The trip was taking longer than I had planned. A lot longer.

While heading across town it was suddenly becoming clearer, Hamilton is chocker. It's full of people doing the same quick-trip-across-town that takes an hour or more. I was just one of them.

Call it progress if you must, but someone, somewhere, buried deep within the bowels of city council, had planned this roading mess.

And I was caught in it.

It became a critically stark picture as I made my way out on the back road to Auckland through Flagstaff and on to Ngāruawāhia. I was shocked to see new houses stretching out into the distance as far as I could see.

Hamilton was expanding and stretching and moving ever outwards and I'd missed most of it.

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After a good hour negotiating my way back to the sparkly new highways that would take me east, I wondered if the drive to build new homes ever considered infrastructure that can't be changed to accommodate the increasing demands of new residents?

The city's new-to-town families will likely have cars and possibly, more than one. Those cars, if they come to the CBD, will drive down the exact same bitumen strips I learned to drive on. Most are no wider or better or "faster" than they were when they were first laid.

As if to exacerbate the congestion, Victoria Street is now two lanes reduced from the earlier easy drive of four. Which council planning committee bozo made that ridiculous decision?

Today, driving through Victoria Street is a claustrophobic experience. It's tough to negotiate the lights, roundabouts, buses and judder bars, while ignoring that hemmed-in feeling as car doors open, occasional pedestrians cross the road and tumbleweeds roll through the streets.

I avoid Vic St as much as possible, not because of the parking issues but because it is such an unpleasant drive.

Today, the city's main roading infrastructure is clogged like arteries in the body. Hamilton streets are lined with plaque and cholesterol in the form of new residents' cars and there is no easy fix.

It's symptomatic of the same development disease at work everywhere. It's an expand–at-all-costs approach that has long-term consequences that few councillors are willing to stand up to.

Most councils play nice guys with developers because Wellington wants it that way. Essentially Hamilton City Council by proxy becomes an extension of the government's election manifesto to build the country's economy on the back of new immigrants.

Well, that political sycophancy is driving the city into the ground and making driving around it dangerous to both physical and mental health.

The deeply flawed council planning processes that created the city's traffic nightmare raised its head again at the recent city council meeting to decide on the viability of free parking in the CBD.

It was an extraordinary demonstration of council group-think at work, where despite any documented proof of the wisdom of the idea, free parking was passed for public consultation at ratepayer cost of $14 million over 10 years.

OK so let's back the car up a bit (if there is room). The obvious question to ask is what is the problem that free parking will fix? What exactly is the issue and what are the costs? Define the problem and then outline well researched solutions.

Simple right? Nope. Not in this chamber, not in this council culture.

It appears the problem is the decline of the CBD and free parking is the council's solution to the lack of foot traffic and business closures.

Only, there is no evidence that confirms free parking is the magic bullet to fix CBD retail problems including Lower Hutt where free parking was trialled and labelled a $600,000 failure.

Free parking doesn't work because it's not the problem.

The problem is a combination of multiple factors converging together, ranging from internet growth to retail culture in transition and the Base offering convenient "one-stop" shop access to the growth area north of the city.

The solution to the decay of the CBD is turning it into an accommodation district with retailers there to serve local residents and businesses. Retail in the city's CBD is over and it is too late to turn back the tide. It is a global trend.

As I drove out of town, I started singing along to whatever was on Hamilton's Free-FM.

It was an easy drive back to the coast. Once I got there, I read the day's news: "Tauranga CBD could be overwhelmed by the speed of change." Yup. It's everywhere.

 - Stuff


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