Cera plan strips inner-city residents of rights

Dave Kelly, a biological scientist, has lived in the central city for 29 years. He is the secretary of the Victoria Neighbourhood Association, though these views are his own. Printed on Perspectives page in the Christchurch Press on 17 February 2015.

a-liveable-city-coverDAVE KELLY argues that Cera’s Liveable City plan will be disastrous for central Christchurch because its main effects will be reducing the amount of residential land and discouraging residents from living there.

In defending Cera’s new “Liveable City” rules for the central city residential zone (February 12), Warwick Isaacs told less than half the story. Some improvements were made after public comment, but he did not mention two unheralded changes in the final plan which are unfair and counterproductive. Liveable City will, perversely, reduce the amount of residential land, alienate existing residents, and discourage prospective residents from buying houses in the central city.

The two new changes are to throw open central city residential land to a wide range of nonresidential uses, and to introduce a minimum residential density of one dwelling per 200 square metres of land.

The first change is hugely damaging: the abrupt reversal of protection of central city residential land from non-residential intrusions.

ccdu-cover-20120820Since 1996, central city residential areas have had rules barring non-residential uses, to stop premises like medical rooms and motels setting up there just because residential land was cheaper. These rules aimed to maintain the number of central city residents, and protect residents from the negative effects of commercial activities next door.

To reinforce those aims, the first three draft plans (City Council versions from December
2011 and February 2013, and Liveable City draft July 2014) all proposed even stronger protection from non-residential uses.

Christchurch Livable city

This is the vision… How real will it be?

The final Liveable City plan has reversed this without warning, throwing open the entire central city residential zone to a wide range of non-residential uses. This directly conflicts with two stated aims of Liveable City: to foster and protect existing residential neighbourhoods, and to increase the number of central city residents.

The inevitable result will be numerous non-residential intrusions into residential neighbourhoods. Even under the old restrictive rules, the Victoria Neighbourhood Association faced dozens of such attempted intrusions in our small area over the last 20 years. Almost all were prevented, thereby maintaining the living conditions of residents.

Liveable City has now deleted the only effective rule which protected residents from intrusions. It is astonishing, with limited residential land in the central city, that Cera actively promotes the loss of residential land through this change.

The second change – the minimum residential density – is unfair to existing property owners.

Nothing like this appeared in any of the three earlier draft plans. This rule aims for higher density by simply making it compulsory. Landowners are no longer allowed to determine how much garden they want. I would not be allowed to replace my existing house with a single new house because my 500 square metre section is “too big”.

That violation of landowners’ rights is hard to reconcile with encouraging new nonresidential uses on residential land. If increasing the number of central city residents is important, why not maintain restrictions on non-residential uses, rather than introducing this minimum density rule?

Why has Cera done all this? Apparently to put the desires of developers ahead of the rights of residents. Liveable City already had numerous other changes which disadvantage residents.

Firstly, it increases all the allowed limits for new developments – like taller maximum heights, smaller setbacks from boundaries, and no requirements for car parking. So the negative effects which new developments can impose on existing residents have increased.

Secondly, if a developer asks to exceed the increased limits, Liveable City specifically bans neighbours from even being informed about most applications. This removal of rights under the Resource Management Act is unprecedented.

Thirdly, even when neighbours are allowed to know about applications to exceed the limits (for height and closeness to neighbours), the rules have been skewed in favour of the  developer.

Saving the developer money is now specifically listed as one of the criteria that must be considered. So under Liveable City, existing – and prospective – central city residents have fewer rights than landowners anywhere else in New Zealand. In particular, we have no say in adjacent proposed developments which could greatly reduce our quality of life.

The irony is that favouring developers at such cost to residents is unfair and counterproductive. Who would buy an expensive central city residence when they have no certainty about developments in the area which might decrease their quality of life and devalue their property? And how do developers benefit from being allowed to build almost whatever they wish, if potential buyers are discouraged from buying what they build?

The other disincentive to increasing the number of central city residents is the impact of
alcohol around residential areas like Victoria St.

Before 2011, late-night bars were in commercial areas like the Strip. Now they are next to
central city residents, keeping us awake at 3 am. Since the earthquakes, alcohol-fuelled revellers have made my street quite unpleasant on weekends, and officials are unable or unwilling to limit the disturbance.

Liveable City makes this worse by telling existing residents that we have almost no rights.
This seems a brilliant way to deter long-term residents – who are an important part of the
population mix that Cera says the city needs – from moving into or staying in the central city.

Under these rules, only a fool or a masochist would buy property in the central city to live in. Better to live outside the Four Avenues where residents retain the rights summarily stripped from those in the central city. Similarly, I expect that many currently living in the central city will sell up before their neighbourhood devalues.

So Cera’s “Liveable City” will produce a central city with less land in residential use, fewer
long term residents, fewer residents overall, and existing vibrant neighbourhoods like Victoria decaying with commercial infill.

A Maori proverb says the most important thing is “he tangata, he tangata, he tangata” – the people. Instead Cera’s plan favours “developers, developers, developers”.

As residents, we have invested our life savings in the city. We know what issues make life
difficult, and what rules are needed to control them. Liveable City simply will not work. I am furious for myself and distraught for my neighbourhood and the central city.

More on this: Liveable City plan treats existing residents as expendable – stuff.co.nz