Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

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.

Location of the new Lincolnshire Farm suburb and business parkThis 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.


At 6:00 pm, April 27, 2006, Blogger s. said...

I've always thought that it's unfortunately kinda naïve to imagine that Grenada and Grenada North (on the east of the m'way) and Churton Park and Redwood (on the west) won't ultimately be connected with sprawl-infill. Then, of course Grenada-Woodridge can sprawl back north-eastwards to Korokoro. And, for that matter, Tawa "East" aka GreenAcres (a misnomer if ever was one coined; how about Parched And Gorse-Ridden Hills) has pretty much reached south to Grenada North; how long before they set their sights north for a linkup with Ranui Heights and Cannon's Creek?

Ugh. Been to Whitby lately?

(And I hope you appreciated the irony in the juxtaposition of this story to the one about the 30 km/hr downtown speed-limit going ahead.)

At 8:17 am, April 28, 2006, Blogger Hadyn said...

So petrol prices are rising...I know let's build a place with 900 houses and numerous businesses but that has no way of getting there without driving!

At 1:28 pm, April 28, 2006, Blogger Baz said...

To green it up some more they could put wind turbines in place *before* people start moving in. And make all the new buildings energy-efficient with solar hot water, maximum insulation, double glazing, the works.

For greater connectivity they could extend the 55 or 56 bus routes (or add a 57). Give it decent cycleways and make it pedestrian friendly. Extend the J'ville train line... OK, maybe that one's not so viable.

At a first glance the location's not too bad (hardly Stokes Valley remoteness) and it's not too far from Petone and the northern 'burbs, from where many of the workers would commute. But the car use figures from the surrounding areas are a definite worry.

Are there any comparable areas of land closer to Wellington?

At 2:12 pm, April 28, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great to see the interest and debate in the project.

Couple of points worth noting - growth in Wellington City will primarily (around 75%) take place in the urban spine and through infill. This area only represents a small proportion of additional development in the Wellington City area and is the last major development site in the City. We are talking around 900 homes (or 2500 people) with 25 ha of business park. Around 80% of the 900 ha site would therefore be protected from development.

On its location, you'll note it is strategically placed between SH1 and SH2 - next to the potential link road between the two. It is therefore very central in a regional context - and much more so than other greenfield locations such as in Kapiti. The link road would also provide great access for businesses which are facing a real shortage of land in the City and therefore turning to more and more distant locations.

You are right the PT is scant in the area at present, but the development would provide a whole lot of better connections between the surrounding communities of Grenada North, Grenada Village, Horokiwi, Woodridge and Newlands, thereby enabling PT to effectively occur. This will perhaps reduce the vehicle reliance you mention as will the chance to work locally - something not really possible for those people in Grenada who as a result own a number of cars.

Anyway - please visit the website and look at the other information there before making up your mind and please make a submission!


dougal.list@wcc.govt.nz - Project Manager

At 2:46 pm, April 28, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

I asked Cr Foster about it at the council urban development meeting last night, and he made a few thinks clearer. The "9000 residents" bit refers to the whole Northern Area Growth Management region (which includes Stebbings Valley and other nearby areas), not just the 900 homes at L Farm, so the Dominion article was a bit confusing.

The business park at L Farm is expected to employ about 1000 people, and while obviously not every resident will work there, at least it's better than the Pegasus Township north of Christchurch, which appears to be purely a dormitory burb. There's also medium-density housing next to the business park and plans for shops, so it certainly represents a more enlightened approach than purely unconstrained sprawl.

Also, Stephen, there have apparently been plans to develop here for decades, so it's not really a surprise, and the management plan intends to keep the development within the outer green belt. At least they have plans for where the sprawl should go!

And thanks, Dougal, for your input: your comment arrived halfway through me writing this, so apologies if I've covered some of the same ground here already. As you (and Baz) point out, it won't be badly connected: but you will still have to have a car to get anywhere. I'd like to see some indication in the plans that real thought has gone into provision of public transport here: some sort of commitment like "there will be buses every x minutes into the city at peak time, with a journey time of no more than y minutes". And maybe there should also be some sort of covenant that owners have to sign saying that they won't object to any wind farms in the vicinity: people keep saying that wind farms should only be in remote locations, but if we keep sprawling, there won't be any remote areas left!

I agree about reading the info on the website: you've got a lot of information there (I linked to some of it) and I only had a chance to give it a quick look over. And yes, this has to be seen in the context of the (very good) "growth spine" concept for most new housing, especially if someone bites the bullet and provides real public transport. Perhaps it's just the timing that depressed me: there's plenty of nice talk about smart growth in the plan, but the first thing we see is a big greenfield development. Maybe when we see some concrete plans for transit-oriented development along the spine it will be easier to see the balance.

Oh, and now Transmission Gully's going ahead, with 91% of the whole western corridor plan to be spent on roading. Yay.

At 3:30 pm, April 28, 2006, Blogger Baz said...

Just to lighten the tone, here's a few suggestions for an alternative name for the place.

Little Pwagmattasquarmsettport
Mega-City Two
New Birmingham
Palmerston Middlish
Temple Darkwood
Tracey Island
Vice City

There I go again, dragging the level of discourse down...


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