This evening we caught sight of the MaRTI presentation at Turanga. MaRTI is a proposed redevelopment of the Middleton rail yards for urban housing. The concept is certainly well conceived. There remain various questions relating to where Kiwirail would relocate the various functions that are currently performed at Middleton yards. Aside from the container terminal and the freight sheds (which until relatively recently were still under Toll Freight control), Middleton also houses the main locomotive depot for Christchurch.
One suggestion is moving the rail yards out further west, between Islington and Rolleston being options. The main challenge there is to get Kiwirail’s freight from customers around Christchurch to somewhere that is convenient for them. We would guess this includes freight from points to the east of Middleton as well as parts of the city. Middleton is the key freight yard not just for Christchurch but for a lot of the surrounding area north, south and west of Christchurch. Kiwirail has a few other sites in Christchurch City but they only have limited facilities for specific types of freight or servicing; they are at Lyttelton, Woolston, Waltham, Addington and Hornby.
Since viewing the presentation, Kiwirail has stated they have no intention at this stage of relocating from the Middleton site. Also, as Talking Transport has highlighted in its MaRTI debrief, “some officials have raised concerns with us that some ideas may counter to what is being planned through the ‘proper channels’. This could only be a reference to the existing work of the Joint Public Transport Committee, which is attempting to wrest political control of public transport, and with it all transport and urban planning, firmly into the grasp of City Hall, despite the fact Greater Christchurch is a partnership between four local government authorities and central government. The reason for this is that City Hall is focused on the dominance of the city centre, the “Four Avenues” as we know it, or the CBD, although the latter is in actuality a subset of the former. There is already a great deal of political conflict going on over the CBD-vs-suburbs debate and this is obviously a part of it, when the “official channels” want to focus on owning all of the transport infrastructure and operations, and directing it towards the CBD. This conflict is very apparent already with the JPTC playing down the merits of rail as a means of moving people outside the Christchurch city limits, and similar reactions (from the Mayor of Christchurch) to the northern motorway corridor, both options which will make it easier for people to live outside Christchurch City limits and travel into the city for employment. This shows why the Government should be stepping in and overriding the city council with its selfish parochial political power plays.
The key concept for the development of intensified housing along the corridor is to have a lot of it. The debate is whether to have large developments around a few stations, or smaller developments spread all along the corridor with stations every kilometre or so. In New Zealand to date the latter has tended to be the predominant model as it is used in Greater Wellington and Auckland. Redesignating land within (for example) five hundred metres on each side of the rail corridor for its entire length is the way this could happen. However a strong case would exist to exempt those commercial areas that make heavy use of rail, which are at Woolston, Waltham, Addington, Middleton and Sockburn. These areas should be kept as compact as possible otherwise no improvement from the status quo will be achievable. The Main South Line is already difficult to develop a suburban passenger business case for due to the historical fact of planning designations placing a great deal of industrial development along much of its length so this is something of an obstacle to making it a viable residential transport corridor. Christchurch has obviously lacked the sort of foresight that was integrated into the development of Auckland and Wellington, especially in the development of the Hutt Valley as a rail served residential area in the 1920s for example.
If Middleton is not an option then former rail land at Waltham and Linwood could become viable alternatives for large scale development. As it stands, without the impetus that developing a large site like Middleton would produce, it is difficult to get the intensification happening along the rail corridors. The real challenge is that the District Plan targets different areas for intensification, and the City Council will not want to change that. This illustrates the uphill battle against the established town planning schemes to get an initiative like this off the ground.