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The Public Transport Debate in Christchurch Needs An MRI

A major new Christchurch sub-division, built around an integrated transport hub.

That’s the vision of Anthony Rimell, Chair of the Christchurch Tenants’ Protection Association, and Riccarton Ward City Council Candidate.

“For some time local, regional and central politicians in Christchurch have agreed that ‘something needs to be done’ about housing and urban development: integrating where and how we live with how we get around our city. The answers to this have varied from letting the market decide through to pushing for an over-arching plan for the city.

So as a city we have agreed there is an issue, but cannot agree on how to tackle it - or even exactly what the issue is”, Mr Rimell said.

Mr Rimell went on to say “Recently we seem to be inching toward the view that the market alone cannot decide, and that we need an integrated plan. This has been helped by the impending fiasco that is the Northern Arterial Motorway that will dump more cars every rush hour onto the already congested streets of St Albans, in particular Cranford Street. The car parking of these additional cars is also a vexed question.

Groups such as the CHAT Club have sprung up, promoting the place of rail in any transport plan. And it is true that developing our city requires a genuine mix of vehicle options.

Aligned to this, the Minister of Urban Development has promoted the need for integrated housing mixes: new developments that include State/ Social Housing, low-cost rental housing, and whatever replaces/ augments Kiwibuild. Again, it is true that developing our city requires a genuine mix of housing options. As Chair of the Tenants Protection Association, I see the provision of high quality, affordable housing stock as a central issue.

So both issues require a proper mix; and sensible town planning. What is missing is a way to bring these two key issues together. Or rather, the will to do so in a city that has built its future around cars and private sector housing developments.”

Mr Rimell’s solution is a bold one.

“What we need is an initiative that encompasses the core tenets: one large enough to show how such a combined approach can work, yet sufficiently ‘boundaried’ that people are open to the investment required to make it work.

I’m suggesting Christchurch needs an MRI: The ‘Middleton-Rolleston Initiative’.

“Middleton is the name of the rail shunting yards in Christchurch where Kiwirail’s freight is redistributed. Local transport guru Brendon Harre has identified this spot for consideration for an infrastructure initiative because it is reaching its peak usage, meaning it will increasingly become a choke point for traffic on the roads surrounding the railyard.

“Rolleston is seeing a huge upswing in industrial/ commercial warehousing complexes. It is near enough to the city that it has convenience, but far enough out that land is available at affordable rates for development. There is space to construct a purpose-built freight facility with capacity for future growth. The Lyttelton Port Company opened up the Midland inland container port in Rolleston in 2016 for these reasons.

“What connects Middleton to Rolleston is the main trunk rail line and a soon to be completed highway”, Mr Rimell went on to say.

“The growing risk as Rolleston develops (industrially and as a housing community) is that the highway will see more trucks. But there is an alternative.

I propose that:
• the Middleton Yards be moved to Rolleston. A strong option would be for Kiwirail to co-locate with Midland Port. This allows Rolleston to build on what is already in place: cementing Rolleston’s position as the centre for rail freight in the Greater Christchurch setting.
• the Middleton area then be developed with a mix of State/ Social housing, affordable rental (for students) and affordable owner-occupied housing. The area is twenty five hectares in size. Brendon Harre has estimated that the area can accommodate 2,500 or so homes.
• Finally a heavy rail passenger train link be installed from Rolleston to Moorhouse Ave, stopping at Middleton, as the first link in a city-wide rapid transit network: installing a passenger train station in the new Middleton development creates a strategic hub.

With upgraded supportive infrastructures for cycling and Christchurch’s core bus-priority routes, the nearby large Westfield mall, the university and other destinations are easily accessible. For example, The Orbiter bus route can easily be amended to have a stop at the Middleton Train station.

The first link of the rapid transit network would allow passenger trains to travel to and from a new city centre train station somewhere on Moorhouse Avenue.

What this initiative will show is how it is possible to create a modern urban environment that delivers a wide range of housing options and promotes alternative transport options from as far as Rolleston and then on into the city centre/ a main shopping centre/ the University.

Christchurch will gain a new housing and urban development that promotes a range of housing options without increasing the city’s car dependency.

Rolleston gains a major commercial development that ensures the city can grow its rail transport system for another 50-100 years.

“The initiative allows us to see how this approach will work in practice in a relatively short time (we could see the moving of the shunting yard and the commencement of housing development by the end of 2023); giving all key players achievable targets to work towards.

“There’s a lot more to this proposal that needs to be worked out. But I believe it needs serious consideration.

“I’m calling on the Christchurch City Council, the Selwyn District Council, the Minister of Housing and the Minister of Transport (and Urban Development) to work together to prepare a strategic plan to assess the feasibility and viability of this initiative in a timely manner.

“Christchurch – and New Zealand – needs to improve the way it integrates housing with transport. We need this MRI”, Mr Rimell concluded.


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