Should the people of Christchurch prepare to kiss goodbye once and for all to the vision they expressed for their city through the massive Share an Idea consultation back in 2011? It appears vested interests, impatience, fear and political ill-discipline are aligning to scupper the last pieces of the ‘An Accessible City’ plan for Christchurch’s central city transport network. 

It’s no surprise Gerry Brownlee appears to be cheerleading this betrayal of the community’s vision, as he has long placed the wishes of his developer-constituency above those of the people. What’s more surprising and troubling is it appears for the first time city councillors are also now poised to abandon the people of Christchurch as they prepare to capitulate on the An Accessible City plan.

Recent reports  indicate that the majority of frustration with the plan comes from the disruption currently being caused by roadworks. This is an understandable frustration, but it is also a temporary effect. In essence, we see the Council preparing to let go of a long-term vision that will define the shape of the city for decades to come, in order to mitigate the nuisance of current road works. That is short-sighted in the extreme. We all knew recovering from the earthquakes would take time and patience – how many times did we hear that it took 20 years it took to rebuild many European cities in the wake of the blitz – but now, as patience wears thin, it seems some Councillors are getting the jitters. To his credit, even Brownlee has recently acknowledged the need for patience as many of these problems will resolve themselves as works are completed

Our leaders may tell us they’re not abandoning the plan altogether, just looking at compromises. They forget (perhaps unsurprisingly given how many of them were not there when the people spoke clearly through Share an Idea) that the current An Accessible City Plan is already a compromise. It has been compromised and watered down through successive iterations. The City Council had developed an admirable central city transport plan, based on Share an Idea, in 2011 which was bolder than the current version. This was later taken over by Brownlee under the auspices of CERA, turned into the transport chapter for the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan, and amended to give much greater weight to the developers of the central city – at the expense of the democratic contributions of the thousands of citizens who had shared their ideas.

This watering down led to a greater focus on car parking and car access. Of course once it become a Recovery Plan, Brownlee had the final word and further contributions from the people were stymied. It follows then, however disappointingly, that as CERA has morphed into Otakaro Ltd, the developers have found a new lever to further bend the ear of the Council and apply further pressure to dilute the plan. But, when have the community had further opportunities to contribute to this conversation? I would suggest never. The Council have had one voice in their ear chipping away constantly, aggressively – resorting now to the good old fashioned black mail of ‘legal action’ if Council and Otakaro Ltd don’t capitulate, or at least compromise. And this is the nature of short political memories. Everyone wants to be the reasonable person who compromises, forgetting that everyone before them has already compromised, continuously. The shrewd, cut-throat commercial minds of the development community know this game all too well, and they know they will win it. They just need to persist, one compromise leads to another and eventually, An Accessible City is killed by a thousands cuts. And we all get the multi-laned, fume-filled auto-town we resoundingly rejected through Share an Idea. A 20th century central city for the 21st century.

While the developers have been busy yelling at the Council (and yes, from all accounts they have at times been literally yelling) and threatening legal action, the Council has bent over backwards to placate them – going back to the drawing board on parking provision and road layout countless times. But when have we, the people, the same ones who voiced our vision loud and clear through Share an Idea, been invited back to the table to share our ideas on Share an Idea again? I think we’d all have to agree, never. Which isn’t a bad thing, we made our vision clear and shouldn’t have to tell them again – if only they could, or would, remember.

So, a message to our elected Council and your CEO. Before you send your staff off to sharpen their pencils and see how many more cars and traffic lanes they can squeeze into the central city, perhaps return to Share an Idea again. Many of you won’t remember it, or may never have had the opportunity or inclination to look at what the people of Christchurch said they wanted, because you weren’t there. But we were there. And we’re still here. See how the feedback from thousands of Christchurch residents in Share an Idea squares against the tirade of self-interest you are being deluged in by central city developers. Then look at how the central city transport plan has evolved (or devolved) over the years, and ask yourself ‘whose turn is it to compromise’? And while you’re at it, ask yourself this – has the need and desire for a progressive, vibrant, low-carbon, people-centered central city reduced, increased or stayed about the same over the past 5 years?

Hopefully the answer to both of those questions will help you, as a Council, find the right way forward through this difficult predicament you find yourself in. Don’t worry, we’ll be right here, watching. We won’t threaten legal action though, we’re more civilised than that, besides Gerry made sure that wasn’t an option in a recovery plan.

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Wake Up NZ is a team of dedicated truth-seekers from all over New Zealand. We are committed to disseminating information that the mainstream media fails to bring to you.

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