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Christchurch City Council (Council) are currently consulting our community on the proposed disposal of the land between Hunters Road and Morgans Gully. The Diamond Harbour Community Association (DHCA) will be writing a submission reflecting the range of views on the process and community aspirations as we understand them. We hope this article will help you to develop your perspectives and encourage you also to make a submission to Council by 16 November 2021.
The Association has organised a public meeting, where the options will be outlined, and Council staff members will attend to answer questions. That will be in Community Hall Green Room at 7pm Thursday 4th November.
This is the third attempt in two years by the Council Property Section to dispose of the land. The first attempt was headed off by the Community Board in May 2019 which decided the Council should retain Ngatea Point (below Bayview Rd between Hunters Rd and Morgans Gully) for strategic purposes. The Board also approved preparation and registration of conservation covenants for Morgan’s and Sam’s Gullies.
Despite this clear direction from the Community Board, in April 2021, the Council Property Section inserted in the draft long-term plan (LTP), disposal of the land. Despite information in the LTP being hard to find, an active campaign in the community resulted in 140 submissions. The LTP submission analysis, which is embedded in the recent consultation material, states that 3 of the submissions supported immediate disposal, 88 were ‘opposed’ and 49 had ‘alternative’ solutions. The analysis says that the land should be sold but concludes that would be ‘difficult and risky’ and recommended to Council the current targeted consultation process.
Most households have received the Council explanatory pamphlet describing five options, and more details can be found on https://ccc.govt.nz/the-council/haveyoursay/show/438.
The purpose of this article is to examine what may be desirable and to discuss the merits of the options. This is written from the DHCA perspective, but the Association encourages as many people as possible to be engaged and make a submission regardless of what option, or other ideas, you prefer.
The DHCA supports some housing development on the land as that has been its ownership purpose for more than a century; it is zoned residential and there is demand for more land as there are no new Church Bay sections. We consider the housing to be provided should cater for a wide demographic and age range, providing accommodation for young people, families, retired people and those who wish to downsize. Good design should be encouraged including the use of sustainable materials. Homes should be highly energy efficient, and options should be available for a spectrum of tiny homes, town-houses and stand-alone dwellings. Offering shared facilities, light shielding and integrated walking (including the school track) and cycling routes should be encouraged. Awareness of the changing environment due to climate change and the need to be flexible in response to that is important.
Selling the land in one large block will be unlikely to achieve all of these goals. Good housing and subdivision design may not be mandated by Council beyond the requirements of the District Plan and there probably would not be community consultation on subdivision proposals. An option that provides for later stages of input is desirable. Submitters on the LTP expressed concern about more houses and cars increasing pressure on services and transport infrastructure. The increased use from land development will require adjacent streets (Hunters Rd, Bay View Rd, Ngatea Rd and Whero Ave) to be upgraded and will put more vehicles on the main road. Some other infrastructure has recently been improved (e.g. new water mains and fibre).
Most LTP submitters said that if the land is to be sold, the gullies, (including their plantings and tracks) and the school track need to be protected first. Council has now recognised that an easement is required for the school track and have proposed covenants for the gullies. We would prefer that at least Morgan and Sams Gullies are made into Council reserves now, as placing them into private ownership will lead to more complex relationships for the people who are working on restoration. With covenants, will local people who have invested a huge amounts of volunteer time into restoration, be responsible to the developer or Council or both? A covenant on the ‘Unnamed’ Gully by the school, or its retention as Council freehold, may be more suitable, as restoration has not commenced, and the area is still grazed.
In the rush to sell, property sections have been created that do not reflect local conditions. The sections at the top of Whero Ave overlap with the covenants and include recently planted areas. In addition, the land includes a long-standing garden that should be offered to the adjoining landowner. The land at the top of Ngatea Rd is also used for access and parking by local residents. Council has now suggested that an area could be set aside for a cemetery (for when Stoddart Point is filled) and with the additional housing and the increase in the school roll, room for school expansion would be desirable. Submitters also proposed a range of alternative uses for the land (e.g. horse riding, dog walking, bike track, community garden, parkland and afforestation). These ideas can be considered in more detail if there is a combined community and Council planning process for the lands’ future function.
Council has stated that taking into account grazing income, it has a net expenditure of $15,000 every year it holds onto the land. A cost breakdown provided to the DHCA shows their annual grazing income to be $2886, their maintenance costs $545 and they charge themselves $16,484 rates. This does not factor in its annual capital gain derived from its years of land banking, which will be substantial. In other words, it does not cost Council to hold on to the land in real terms. What they are seeking is the lump sum cash injection from the sale.
If Council is determined to sell the land, then we believe it should sell it in stages. A staged sale will enable a range of land-use proposals to be considered at each stage, so that different uses or types of housing or other development happen on each ridge. Rather than abdicating responsibility to the private sector and cutting community input to decision-making, a staged development will enable complementary designs to be created, reflecting developing community needs. In addition, rather than going directly to tender to sell parcels of the land, Council should ask for RFP (Request for Proposals) which then can be assessed against Council criteria developed with community input.
Considering the aspirations outlined above – which of the Options come closest to meeting them in your view?
Option One: Complete covenant and sell. To dispose of the land as one sale, is simplest for Council and gives them immediate revenue. However, it creates the greatest risk and uncertainty for the community even if the gullies are reserved and the walking track protected. A developer may be sympathetic to community aspirations and committed to the most sustainable urban and subdivision design, or alternatively they may go for cookie cutter section sales and the meeting of minimum Council District Plan standards. Given that development will be relatively slow (as demand is steady but not heavy) there may be decades of gradual development controlled by one private company.
Option 2: To retain as a Park. While some open space on the ridge tops and some future urban small parks is desirable; the gullies provide a lot of recreation and Diamond Harbour is currently well served by Greenspaces. The provision of more housing and other uses including open space, seems a higher priority.
Option 3: Council develops the land. While most people would agree Council’s role is not to be provider of housing sections (apart from social housing), a commercial relationship with property developers in consultation with the community, could see housing and other uses that meet multiple needs in a sustainable manner. The financial risk can be minimised by contractual partnerships with the private sector. The demand can be easily assessed by examining land sales and building consent records. This appears to be the most favourable option, if it is progressed in stages using an RFP approach, however caution and recent experience dictates that community aspiration may well be overshadowed by Council ambition to maximise return and push for standard housing development.
Option 4: Transfer ownership to the community. This brings the decision-making back to the community. However, establishing a land-owning entity (e.g. a Community Land Trust, Community Housing organisation, etc.) to manage future development may present a challenge. Finding people to take this on in a voluntary capacity could be difficult given that local residents are already stretched helping with school, community centre, medical centre, church, clubs etc. The entity would also have to then make community-based decisions, and it may struggle to achieve consensus. Raising the funds or loans to buy the land from the Council would also be difficult, however a staged buy-out of the land from Council may mitigate this challenge. There are several people resident in the community, or associated with it, who have commercial experience and access to funds, however they are more likely to seek straight purchase from Council and not wish to engage in time consuming community organisation governance. The participation interest level in the community could easily be tested as part of the ongoing consultation should this Option or Option 3 be preferred by the community.
Option 5. Status Quo. Given that we consider that there is no annual expense to Council holding the property (if you put aside the rates charge), the Status Quo is a satisfactory fall-back option if Option Three or Four do not proceed and is more desirable than Option One. It still retains future options for development, preferably as some variant on Option Three or Four. Under this scenario Council can still go ahead with reserving Sams and Morgans Gullies and developing restoration options with the community for the Unnamed Gully.
What is your preferred Option for the land? Is it a combination of elements from the above options? We recommend you be clear on what you do not want, as well as what you like when making your submission. Council Property Section are keen to get a mandate for Option One, so if you do not want that, oppose it in your submission and suggest your other alternative.
Remember submissions close 16 November 2021. Feel free to copy your submission to the DHCA (at email@example.com) to help us shape our views.
Article written by Richard Suggate, Pete Simpson, and Joy McLeod (for the Diamond Harbour Community Association).