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

Monday, May 07, 2007


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There seems to be a lot of misinformed commentary going on about the changes to infill rules, and some commentators and developers give the impression that the intention is to reduce the amount of infill overall. But the council's news was clear: "The first part of the review is a District Plan Change (DPC 56), to tighten some key technical rules and standards", but "The second part of the review is a discussion paper ... which suggests the city takes a more strategic approach to where infill and areas of greater housing density be allowed in the future". The intention is to stop the bad and inappropriate developments now, then guide the development of high-quality infill in the best locations.

Perhaps the council hasn't helped itself by cracking down first, without any explicit information about where the infill should be going. Diligent readers of council planning documents (and of WellUrban, of course) will know that the "urban spine" concept is behind all this, with explicit "Areas of Intensification" in Johnsonville, the CBD, Adelaide Rd and Kilbirnie. Some of the documents mention these explicitly, but the general idea is that there's a lot of consultation and analysis to go through before anything is finalised.

Random infill just results in suburbia without gardens, and I don't think anyone (except developers, of course) wants that. Residential density only achieves its social, environmental and urbanistic benefits when it's located where there is mixed use and good public transport. Filling in backyards in the distant hills of Karori or Churton Park, where there'll be two buses a day if you're lucky, will only result in more car-dependent people and more congestion, not more people walking to work and the shops.

The best things to read are the discussion paper (729kB PDF), the plan change documents, and Cr Andy Foster's well-reasoned article from last Friday's Dominion Post.


At 7:20 pm, May 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are 56 buses per day in Churton Park. Somehow, I think people would cope.

At 7:41 pm, May 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Karori has quite a lot of buses as well. Poorly chosen examples.

At 10:29 pm, May 07, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Poor wording, perhaps, rather than poor examples: when I wrote of "the distant hills of Karori or Churton Park", I didn't mean to imply that all of those suburbs were "distant hills". I was trying to specify the particular, most far-flung sections of those suburbs that are indeed distant hills and have very poor access to public transport.

I chose Karori as an example because on page 9 of the infill discussion document I linked to, there is a map showing the frequency of public transport throughout Karori, as an example of the sort of GIS analysis that should form part of the council study. Karori Rd, of course, has pretty good service, and it would indeed be good place to encourage infill close to there (it's also a centre for shopping, schools etc, which is just as important). But there are other hillside sections of Karori that have little or no bus service, and infill there would just put more people in a place where they'd have few options other than driving.

And as for "coping" in Churton Park, you presumably don't mean "coping without a car", since only 1% of households there have no car. Even with 56 buses a day, more than 4 times as many Churtonians took a car to work rather than public transport.

There are other demographic factors, of course, but the point is that no-one would make an active decision to live there without a car. The fact that 63% of households there have two or more cars indicates that if you do fill in your back section, pretty much all the open space is going to be used for parking. And wasn't the whole point of living in suburbia to have a big section?

At 11:14 pm, May 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Public transport to Churton Park isn't really that good. Of the 56 services a day:
- 19 do not continue to Wellington (terminate in J'ville).
- 15 do not start in Wellington (originate in J'ville).

J'ville line train connects with some of the bus services starting and finishing in J'ville but is not particularly attractive due to the lack of integrated ticketing (ie pay more for a trip that takes longer).

At 7:48 am, May 08, 2007, Blogger Nikolai H said...

Hi Tom,

Can you possibly send your email address? I've got something to discuss vaguely related to your post of 1st April.

ddnharris at gmail.com

Thanks, Nick

At 11:11 am, May 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "most far-flung sections" of Churton Park have direct line-of-sight to the bus route. As do a large number of sheep. And the far-flung ones are brand new, they aren't infill targets.

Seriously, the problem is not a lack of public transport. The problem is that the people who live there are dicks. That's a general issue, not one confined to use of public transport, but it is very much the case.

At 6:08 pm, May 08, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"The "most far-flung sections" of Churton Park have direct line-of-sight to the bus route."

Is line-of-sight enough? I've got line-of-sight from here to Mt Kaukau, but I'm hardly going to walk there. The route has to be close and convenient, and there are parts of Churton Park nearly 1km from a bus stop, whereas 400m is usually taken as a reasonable walking distance to a bus stop. There's considerable variation in PT use throughout the suburb: at the '06 census, some parts had fewer than 10% using PT or active modes, whereas a few parts had 20-28%. I haven't been able to do a proper geospatial analysis of it yet, but I'd suspect that the difference is due to PT access.

"And the far-flung ones are brand new, they aren't infill targets."

You're right: it would probably be too hard to shoe anything in between all the McMansions. That won't stop some people trying, though.

"The problem is that the people who live there are dicks."

I couldn't possibly comment...

At 7:53 pm, May 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, line-of-sight is enough for those parts. It's not actually terribly far in practical terms - not more than ten minutes' walk. I don't see that as a driving factor anywhere.

There won't be infill simply because the suburb is surrounded by farmland (you can see sheep from the bus route, too); there's plenty of room there to build as many McMansions as you like for years to come.

That does mean still more outwards creep - in a few years' time, I imagine that they really will start to be impractically far from bus stops. I wish the council had an actual development strategy for the area, rather than just redefining the suburban boundaries every
couple of years. It's very frustrating.

"I couldn't possibly comment..."
It's true, they are. It's a thoroughly unpleasant place in that respect.

At 10:11 pm, May 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we want to get back to the level of public transport use that we had before WWII then we have to get back to the urban population densities that we had back then. ALL quarter acre sections must be in-filled now, not when Petone is already six feet under water. The matter is so urgent the government must pass legislation forcing property owners to do the ethically correct thing. Once we get back to right population density public transport will be so profitable that bus operators will be fighting for the rights develope new routes. Subsidies on public transport in low density suburbs are unsustainable.

At 5:14 pm, May 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who cares about buses in Churton Park! The point of this plan change is to protect the visual amenity of residential areas. I'm not convinced this proposed plan change goes a long way to achieving that. Granted, there are some cowboys out there cramming in units wherever possible and without any concern for privacy, daylight exposure, and residential amenity etc. They make it impossible for those of us (yes I'm the 'us') who have ample land to create a stylish and practical small scale residential development. I've been affected by this 'surprise' plan change both finacially and in terms of time spent. Council are placing undue weight to the proposed plan changes over the operative rules. It's absurd to think that something that has yet to go through public submission can dictate your consent application - particularly where the proposed rule may change as a result of the hearing process. What's up with that?

At 8:56 am, May 31, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"Who cares about buses in Churton Park! The point of this plan change is to protect the visual amenity of residential areas."

That's a small part of it: the main part of the whole strategy (limiting ad-hoc infill while encouraging targeted infill) is to ensure that infill goes where it can have social and environmental benefits.

"It's absurd to think that something that has yet to go through public submission can dictate your consent application - particularly where the proposed rule may change as a result of the hearing process. What's up with that?"

That's to prevent developers rushing things through during the necessarily lengthy submission process, thereby circumventing the upcoming rules.


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