Submissions on the Wellington Regional Strategy close at 5pm today. While the whole strategy could have a big impact on the future of the region (it should do, given what we're spending on it!), I've chosen to concentrate my submission on the section entitled "Good regional form", since that has most relevance to WellUrban. Except where stated, all page numbers refer to the full strategy document (3MB PDF).
There are plenty of good intentions in the "Good regional form" section (e.g. "More homes close to city centres and transport links" p40), but they are let down by the details, by half-hearted targets or by the reality of current policies and actions.
For instance, I agree that the Johnsonville to Airport spine is vital change area for the region, and if anything the planning for it needs to be accelerated (2009 for a planning framework is too slow). But the vision of a compact urban spine served by high-quality public transport is compromised by continued acceptance of greenfield development (such as Lincolnshire Farms), and by treating the Ngauranga to Airport study and the North Wellington Public Transport Study separately.
As another example, the responses to peak oil and climate change (page 54) are inadequate, or let down by the details. This is exemplified by the "Issues/Opportunities" statement on page 9: "Maintaining the current good balance between private and public transport, walking and cycling." It's not good enough to "maintain" the current balance: we must shift the balance towards sustainable modes and be ready for increased public transport demand, unlike this year where the infrastructure was unable to cope.
The explanation continues: "At present we’re high users of public transport, which is good. We need to continue investment in this area and ensure our urban design decisions are 'public transport friendly' and maximise the investments we’re making into public transport."
This is contradicted by the draft Regional Land Transport Strategy, which commits $2.7b to roading projects and only $1.3b to public transport. This mix is far from "maximising" the investment in public transport, especially when only a fraction of the $1.3b "investment" in rail will actually go to improving service or increasing capacity rather than operating costs or deferred maintenance.
Instead of continuing with the "business as usual" approach of favouring expensive roading projects which can only promote a dispersed urban form, I urge you to follow the advice of the Urbanista report (442kB PDF) that you commissioned:
"Apart from providing an excellent transport service to Wellingtonians and assisting in leveraging high density growth from the CBD fringe and out towards the airport, a transit system like a light rail system designed appropriately would make a real statement about Wellington, how it functions as a city, and would be an attraction in its own right." (page 3)Apart from supporting good regional form with public transport infrastructure, it's vital that compact urban form is realised along with quality urban design. To this end, architects should be commissioned to design exemplars of attractive, sustainable infill housing at a range of densities and price brackets, to help prove to sceptical sectors of the public that higher density need not be scary. I also support your affordable housing statement (page 41), since there is currently not enough emphasis on this from city councils.
"Light rail is another option which while costly will add value to the city, will be able to leverage higher density employment and residential development and potentially could be an important urban and economic icon for Wellington and one of its key marketing tools." (page 11)