The funny farm
Tonight, the city council is holding a public meeting about the urban development aspect of their draft long term plan. It covers many topics, but a key part of the strategy is to ensure that most residential development occurs with in a compact spine that runs from Johnsonville via the CBD and Newtown to the airport, with only minimal greenfield building. But in today's Dominion Post there was a stark example of the sort of greenfield development that they will be allowing: Lincolnshire Farm.
This will consist of a "business park", up to 900 new houses and a 4-lane road linking Grenada to the Hutt Valley. The Dominion Post article claims that 9000 people will live here, but that must be a mistake unless they're expecting a lot of Catholic families. It will be located between Grenada Village, Woodridge and Horokiwi, which must surely be the official definition of "the middle of nowhere".
At least the business park will provide some local employment, but any residents who work elsewhere will be absolutely reliant on cars. It's 3km from the nearest train station, bus services in the vicinity are generally pitiful, and I don't really see anyone cycling to work from here. The structure plan (436kB PDF) for the development makes plenty of soothing noises about the importance of transport and connectedness, but there is not a single mention of any form of public transport.
That makes its "connectedness" comparable to nearby suburbs, and if you look at the 2001 census data for the surrounding area units, you'll see that 70% of residents took a car to work. Of the rest, many either worked at home or didn't go to work on census day: walking, cycling and public transport accounted for only 17% of work trips. Even if we assume that (due to local employment) only two thirds of households will have a resident who works in town, at that rate the commuters will be cramming over 400 extra cars into the city. For a 30km round trip, that's an extra 12,000 vehicle kilometres per day, with all the associated pollution, congestion and expensive imported oil. Oh Joy.
The stated urban development outcomes for the long term plan are for Wellington to become: more liveable, have a stronger sense of place, more compact, better connected, more sustainable, safer and more prosperous. How does this support these outcomes?
More liveable: part of their definition includes "a variety of places to live", so I guess this provides single-family homes for those who demand them, but shouldn't a "liveable" place have more within walking distance than a couple of shops, some greenery and an industrial park? Given the trouble that the council is still having providing a community centre for Newlands, what's the bet that most trips for entertainment, education or culture are going to require a long drive?
Stronger sense of place: an isolated valley with no urban history and a name derived from an English county?
More compact: hardly!
Better connected: this includes being "pedestrian-friendly and offering quality transport choices". But if you live here, you'd better buy another car for the spouse, and one for the kids while you're at it. 35% of households in nearby Grenada have three or more cars.
More sustainable: this is supposed to include "reducing our ecological footprint by applying sustainable design principles in all aspects of urban development and urban living". What's the ecological footprint required by 12,000 vehicle kilometres per day?
Safer: how will the city be safer with all those extra cars on the road? They might as well just call this place "Dunnesville".
More prosperous: which is supposed to include "Continuing with compact city principle" and "Promoting the Central Area and main centres as ideal locations of commercial activity". This is diametrically opposed to those goals, and unless you count the individual economic benefit of cheap housing. And with petrol at $1.70 a litre and rising, how long will it take for the short term savings to be erased?
I realise that there's always going to be a significant section of society for whom an isolated sprawlburb and a garage full of SUVs constitute a vision of heaven on earth, so we're not going to eliminate such developments entirely. But I hoped that I've pointed out why sprawl like this has to be kept to an absolute minimum if Wellington is going to grow in a sustainable way.