Greenfields land on the fringes of Christchurch may be reclassified as residential to accommodate up to 5,000 new homes for the city if the Environment Court decides in favour of revised urban limits for the east of the city.
The announcement comes on the same day as the government is expected to announce it will offer to buy about 5,000 of the worst affected homes in Christchurch, allowing insured residents to take cash for the 2007 value of their homes.
Environment Canterbury Regional Council, which had originally been against extending the limits before the series of earthquakes hit the region, made the announcement saying the land may be released, although it is dependant on the decision of an Environment Court hearing being held in Queenstown this week.
A number of parties are seeking to have land reclassified as residential inside the region's Urban Development Strategy (UDS) urban limit. The UDS is maintained by Environment Canterbury, Christchurch City Council, Selwyn District Council, Waimakariri District Council and the NZ Transport Agency
Yet although The UDS partners had already settled a number of disputes with parties seeking reclasificataion of land, they are not withdrawing the remaining court hearings, saying the Environment Court had to be satisfied that what was being proposed meet with the purpose of the Resource Management Act (RMA).
Change of mind
Environment Canterbury, as well as Christchurch City Council and other councils in the region, had been against the idea of pushing out the urban limits. Environment Canterbury Commissioner Peter Skelton told interest.co.nz that was indeed the case before the series of devastating earthqukes hit the city, leading to the change of mind.
"We were opposed to extending the limits until the earthquakes came along," Skelton told interest.co.nz
"In terms of the East part of Christchurch, that’s been the main motivation for agreeing to extend the urban limits to bring some more land in," he said.
However the change of mind would not mean the Environment Court cases would be scrapped.
“Because the court still has to be satisfied that what’s now being proposed meets the purpose of the RMA, and that’s what this hearing is about this week,” Skelton said.
“Of course, urbanisation of any greenfield land within the urban limit would still be subject to a plan change process under the Christchurch City Plan and Selwyn and Waimakariri district plans. This is to ensure that infrastructure requirements integrate with existing and other planned developments and that any new or upgraded infrastructure is affordable to the community,” he said.
The move would add further land to the market, “and that must be beneficial in market terms.”
“But what effect that will have [on prices], I’m not an economist, but it’s got to provide people with more choice and so forth than they otherwise would have,” Skelton said.
Prior to the Environment Court hearing, the UDS partners had worked towards reaching agreements with ten of the property owners and developers who had appealed against Change 1 of the Regional Policy Statement. They were Prestons Road Ltd, Franco Farms, Case Family, Oakvale Farms Ltd, Fulton Hogan Ltd., National Investment Trust, Memorial Avenue Investments Ltd., Equus, Calder Stewart and Lincoln Land Development.
Draft consent orders for each proposed agreement were then submitted to the Court for consideration.
“Under the extraordinary circumstances following the earthquakes, the UDS partners made the pragmatic decision to review the urban limits in orderto provide additional land for potential development. There was a clear need to review the urban limits once it became clear that some parts of Christchurch, particularly in the eastern suburbs, may no longer be suited for housing," Skelton said.
“The Urban Development Strategy has shown that it can be responsive to the changing needs of the community and has demonstrated its continuing relevance for the future of post-earthquake Greater Christchurch.The proposed new urban limit now rests with the Court,” he said.
- A number of parties had appealed against the Canterbury Regional Policy Statement, Change 1 which gives statutory backing to the Urban Development Strategy.
- Prestons Road Limited are seeking to include additional land within the UDS urban limit, a number of others, including Mills Hills (Highfield Park) to the east of the Prestons Road development had appealed mainly on the basis of sequencing - i.e. the timing that development in certain areas could occur.
- The Urban Development Strategy partners now support the inclusion of Preston’s land within the urban limits and the changes in sequencing as agreed with individual appellants. They worked to reach separate agreements with these ten landowners/developers prior to the start of the hearing, but the proposed agreements are still being considered by the Court.
(Updates with Skelton interview.)