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Urban development strategy – Greater Christchurch

Fast facts

Publication title: Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy

Subject: Urban development and land use strategy to manage urban growth in the greater Christchurch region

Location: Urban area of Christchurch City Council, the Lyttelton Harbour Basin and the eastern parts of Waimakariri and Selwyn districts

Population: Population 414,000 estimated in 2006; projected 549,000 by 2041

Timeframe: From 2004, and implemented from June 2007

Strategy aim: Improving the quality of life, focusing on urban boundaries and concentrating development within the existing urban form

Proposed settlement pattern: Sixty percent of all future growth to be accommodated in intensified development within the existing urban area, with the remaining 40 percent in greenfield areas

Website link:

Case study researcher: Janet Reeves, Context Urban Design Ltd


The Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy (the Strategy) is a broad-scale, long-term land use strategy for the greater Christchurch area prepared under the Local Government Act 2002. It aims to provide a basis for managing growth in the region in a proactive, integrated and sustainable manner. The Strategy will be implemented through tools such as the Regional Policy Statement and amendments to the Regional Land Transport Strategy, district plans and Long Term Council Community Plans (LTCCPs). The Urban Development Strategy Partners (the UDS Partners) are Christchurch City Council, Environment Canterbury, Selwyn District Council, Waimakariri District Council, Transit New Zealand (Transit NZ) and the community.

The Strategy area encompasses eastern parts of the Waimakariri and Selwyn districts and the urban and some rural areas of Christchurch City, including the Lyttelton Harbour Basin.

Key growth issues addressed by the Strategy include:

  • dispersed urban growth in the greater Christchurch area resulting in a loss of connectivity between living and working, with people travelling increased distances

  • increasing traffic volumes and congestion

  • high-quality open space becoming increasingly scarce, as densities increase

  • increasing urban development putting pressure on suburban centres and townships to maintain their individual and district identities

  • maintaining neighbourhood character in infill housing areas

  • maintaining the quality and quantity of groundwater so it remains suitable for human consumption without treatment

  • developing infrastructure to support an aging population.

Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy study area.

Aerial of Christchurch urban area from the north.

Urban development strategy process

By 2004, Christchurch City Council, Waimakariri District Council and Selwyn District Council had individually completed plans or projects on the future growth for each council. There was, however, no agreed long-term or comprehensive vision beyond these plans and projects amongst the councils, their respective communities and Transit NZ. Several key combined growth issues across the boundaries of the UDS Partners were therefore not being addressed. Land use and settlement patterns, transport, utility servicing, business needs, recreation and community facilities and the natural environment needed to be integrated and planned together.

When the 2004 strategy process began, the UDS Partners recognised that the greater Christchurch area functioned geographically as one social, economic and cultural entity, but with decisions often being made in isolation. An urban development forum was established in March 2004, with terms of reference adopted by the UDS Partners that established the process, scope, governance and management structures for the forum. The Urban Development Forum (the Forum) comprised elected members from the four councils and key stakeholders. The Forum met regularly (once every two months on average) throughout the preparation of the Strategy, from April 2004 until April 2007. The staff and consultants of the UDS Partners were responsible for managing the project, reporting to the Forum and their own councils.

Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy process.

The first step in developing the Strategy was undertaking extensive background research, including population projections for the Strategy area. This led to the identification of a series of issues, grouped under the headings of land use, transport, community identity and natural environment. These were summarised in a brochure that was widely distributed in February 2005, which marked the beginning of the involvement of the public. In April 2005, the public was presented with four potential growth options for the area:

  • Option A: concentrating development within Christchurch City and at larger towns in the surrounding districts

  • Option B: balancing development between existing built areas, with some expansion into adjacent areas

  • Option C: dispersing development in the greater Christchurch area away from established urban areas

  • a fourth option known as the ‘Business as Usual’ or ‘Do Nothing’ option.

A communications and consultation exercise was used to raise the community’s awareness of the options and encourage participation in the process. Over 3,250 submissions were received with 63 percent favouring Option A and 22 percent choosing Option B.

A newsletter on the submissions was widely circulated in late 2005. The newsletter commented that there were similar concerns throughout the area, with most submissions recognising the need to protect water, valuable soils and open spaces, safeguard community character and provide well-planned communities linked by good transport systems. People also wanted energy-efficient housing based on sound, sustainable urban design principles and concentrated development patterns that included recognisable villages or centres of activity. The community expressed a desire for the councils to work together more closely, and was adamant that it be given a chance to respond to any draft strategy, once drawn up by the UDS Partners.

A health impact assessment of the Strategy (Canterbury District Health Board 2006) was carried out to predict its potential effect on the health and wellbeing of the affected greater Christchurch population. The assessment compared the ‘consolidation’ option (a combination of Options A and B) with the ‘Business as Usual’ option, and was used to link urban design, health determinants and health outcomes. It concluded that urban design had a strong influence on health outcomes.

A community charter was launched in June 2006. The charter introduced the vision and set out the guiding principles, strategic direction and actions for implementation of the Strategy. This charter was derived from the consultation feedback, analysis of the options process and relevant guiding national policy documents, particularly the Sustainable Development for New Zealand Programme of Action (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet 2003).

Two, week-long ‘Inquiry by Design’ workshops held in August and September 2006 were led by consultants from Urbanism Plus. Over 100 technical staff from the UDS Partner councils and relevant government agencies worked together to develop the proposed settlement pattern.

The sessions adopted a design-led approach to translate the wealth of statistics, research and outcomes of consultation into a broadly agreed urban form. Different combinations of social and cultural elements, environmental, growth, conservation, movement networks and land use concepts were designed and evaluated. Residential growth and intensification designs were tested to analyse different growth options and opportunities, for example, in Rangiora, a town north west of Christchurch.

This resulted in the development of preferred growth options for open space, waterways, transportation, community facilities and centres of employment and commerce in, for example, areas such as the south-western sector map. A comprehensive list of spatial planning actions was identified and used to inform the Strategy.

Inquiry by Design workshops.

Preferred patterns of urban development developed in Rangiora and areas north of Christchurch at the Inquiry by Design workshops.

Rangiora testing of possible intensification design options in the Inquiry by Design workshops.

South-western sector map, with the preferred spatial planning options with patterns of growth, networks and land uses from the Inquiry by Design workshops.

The draft Strategy was released in November 2006 for public consultation and submissions. Over 300 submissions were received and these were considered in early 2007 by a formally constituted hearings panel, comprising representatives of the UDS Partners. This resulted in minor amendments to the Strategy. The amended Strategy was adopted by the UDS Partners in April and the final document launched in June 2007.

Strategy implementation

The Strategy contains implementation actions grouped under six strategic directions: enrich lifestyles, enhance environments, encourage prosperous economies, manage growth, effective governance and leadership, and integrate implementation.

Key tools for implementation across the boundaries of the various local authorities are identified as:

  • a new chapter in the Regional Policy Statement on urban growth, the settlement pattern and infrastructure, covering the greater Christchurch area

  • amendments to the Regional Land Transport Strategy to incorporate the strategic transport system for the area

  • amendments to LTCCPs

  • making changes to city and district plans – to ‘localise’ the Strategy’s strategic planning priorities

  • identifying priorities in both Land Transport New Zealand’s and Transit NZ’s 10‑year programmes.

The Strategy contains a memorandum of agreement that binds the UDS Partners to supporting and endorsing the Strategy and its co-operative and co-ordinated approach, with a three-year review period.

An Urban Development Strategy Implementation Committee (the Committee) has been established and will operate until 2010. This is a joint committee of the Christchurch City Council, Selwyn District Council, Waimakariri District Council, Environment Canterbury and tangata whenua. Its purpose is to overview and drive implementation of the Strategy. The Committee has delegated authority to execute the Strategy Action Plan. It has been charged with numerous tasks, including leading the integration of plans and policies and aligning them with the Strategy, ensuring sufficient organisational systems and resources exist and facilitating engagement with the community. As the Strategy points out:

The challenges here should not be underestimated. It involves in many situations, a different way of working and not just doing one’s own thing. (Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy and Action Plan 2007, p 178.)

A significant feature of the Strategy is that it commits the partners to shaping the future of the sub-region in accordance with urban design principles and practice. This will be achieved through a series of actions that will ensure good urban design is an integral part of the planning and regulatory framework of all UDS Partners. Mechanisms, such as urban design strategies, structure plans and masterplans are to be developed to inform future district and city plan changes.

The most obvious outcome of the Strategy to date has been the release of a proposed Plan Change No 1 to the Regional Policy Statement in the form of a new chapter 12A entitled ‘Development of Greater Christchurch’. This chapter provides direction for the growth, development and enhancement of the urban and rural areas of the greater Christchurch sub-region for the period to 2041. The methods for achieving the plan change are specific and directive, with all UDS Partners endorsing it prior to its publication. This was a major shift in how policy has been previously developed in the greater Christchurch area.

Evaluation of urban design principles


The Strategy takes a long-term, 35 year view of the development of the greater Christchurch area. It sets development in a wider context than simply council administrative boundaries. The Strategy has used urban design principles, backed by community consultation, to plan the urban form for the entire sub-region. There is a clear distinction between urban and rural areas, nodes of higher density activity within the built-up areas and provision for controlled expansion on the edge of the city and around townships. The integration of land use, transportation and infrastructure planning is a key component of the Strategy. It seeks to understand the history, stories and features of localities so that they can be integrated into planning and design for expansion and intensification.


The Strategy has highlighted community concern at the perceived loss of both rural and urban neighbourhood character. A strong message permeates the Strategy that future growth and intensification will need to be controlled and managed to conserve and enhance existing character and identity, and also promote high-quality new places and spaces. One of the priority actions is to develop an urban design strategy to apply the principles of good urban design, reflecting the character and diversity of the communities in the greater Christchurch area.


Within the sub-region, the Strategy provides for the continuation of a range of urban and rural living environments, varying in size, price, density and location. Further choice will arise as new approaches to intensification are adopted and higher density, mixed use neighbourhoods evolve. The centre of Christchurch is the cultural, economic and social hub of the greater Christchurch area, providing a variety of activities and experiences not found elsewhere in the region. The revitalisation of central Christchurch continues to be a priority with the implementation of the Christchurch Cities Central City Revitalisation Strategy.


A major component of the Strategy is to maintain and develop key transport networks and corridors across the greater Christchurch area to connect markets, transport hubs and communities and to provide a framework for the public passenger transport network to be developed further. Higher density development should be located within walking distance of transport corridors and activity centres. At the local level, the Strategy signals that development, whether in greenfield, intensification or key activity centres, will be of a form and design that provides good, safe connections within the area and to surrounding areas. For example, the draft Regional Policy Statement requires that outline development plans (structure plans) be prepared prior to any change in zoning of greenfield areas in the District Plans. The outline development plans are to show, among other things, principal through-roads, pedestrian walkways, cycleways and bus routes, both within the development and connected to the surrounding area.


Consultation with the community was important and incorporated a range of creative methods. These included a consultation booklet, website, articles in the councils’ newsletters, posters, media releases, a mayoral forum and public lecture, and a roadshow, with 32 sessions at 18 different venues within the study area. A hybrid electric–petrol vehicle, provided by Honda, was branded with the Strategy’s slogans and images and used as a display at all roadshow venues throughout the consultation period. The regional newspaper, The Press, ran a special week-long series of feature articles entitled ‘Where will we grow?’. These articles helped to raise the profile of the project and increase the number of community submissions.

In the implementation stage, the Strategy will bring together the plans of neighbouring territorial authorities in a creative way that has not before been achieved in Canterbury.3 The new chapter 12A in the Regional Policy Statement introduces specific and directive policies to reflect current-day urban design and sustainable development best practice. It sets out urban limits designed to provide sufficient land to cater for predicted population growth and provisions for the progressive release of specific sites. This will ensure there is timely, efficient provision of infrastructure and that a critical mass of people live in an area sufficient for a community to develop and facilities to be viable.

The proposed change to the Regional Policy Statement also outlines what the Christchurch City Council needs to do to cater for intensification, including the selection of areas for specific council initiatives. The Council will develop urban intensification plans for all such selected areas. The way the Strategy helps direct ‘from above’ would not have been acceptable had Environment Canterbury unilaterally developed an urban development strategy.


The Strategy is working towards a sustainable urban form, with clear boundaries between urban and rural areas. It sets out parameters for growth to curb the bias towards lower density greenfield development, a dispersed settlement pattern and unsustainable urban sprawl. It adopts a ‘consolidation’ approach, with a target of 60 percent of all new housing to be in intensification areas in Christchurch City by 2041. The emphasis on intensification will make use of existing infrastructure, reduce the need to travel, enable energy savings and safeguard agricultural land and rural landscapes.

Greenfield development will continue, particularly in the early years of the Strategy’s implementation. Christchurch City Council is working to develop and encourage intensification and has outlined an indicative distribution and sequencing of household growth on a location-by-location basis. The Strategy strengthens the existing settlement patterns and structure of the sub-region by defining three broad activity corridors, which link the sub-region with the wider area, and by reinforcing several existing activity centres.

The Strategy promotes quality urban environments that are responsive to natural systems, where water quality, reduced energy usage and waste minimisation are considered at the building design and construction stage. Incentives, education, collaboration and new and extended monitoring systems have all been identified as necessary to ensure the implementation of this element of the Strategy.


The process of preparing the Strategy has led to the adoption of collaborative ways of working and improved working relationships for both governance and management with all UDS Partners.

Those who participated gained immensely from the process. Not only did they find it enjoyable to broaden their perspective on the role of urban design in achieving good health for the community, but they were also inspired by the opportunities presented through the necessary collaboration between a range of sectors and stakeholders. (Geoff Fougere, Chair, Public Health Advisory Committee, personal comment.)

The Strategy seeks to anchor this collaborative approach throughout its implementation by setting out a vision and parameters for urban growth and the means for achieving it over time. Lead and support agencies, cost implications, implementation tools and timing are all set out within the Strategy to ensure that everyone is working together toward the same end.

The success of the Strategy is directly related to the quality of the working relationships between the agencies responsible for its implementation. The essential difference between the Strategy and earlier growth management initiatives is the long-term formal commitment to collaboration between key agencies. (Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy and Action Plan 2007, p 124.)

Lessons learnt

Political co-operation

Political will and co-operation were essential to the development of the Strategy. The mayors of the greater Christchurch area were willing to work together. Similarly, the chief executives agreed to collaborate. The selection of the then Mayor of Banks Peninsula, Bob Parker, as chairperson of the Urban Development Forum proved to be a good choice, not only for his skilled facilitation, but also because of his neutral position.

The development of the initial round of LTCCPs helped to shift thinking to a collaborative and integrated way of working. A major and ongoing challenge will be the setting aside of parochial interest by the UDS Partners, in favour of a sub-regional view, throughout the implementation of the Strategy.

Project leaders

Mid-way through the process, following the departure of the initial project leader, the project suffered something of a hiatus. This was resolved with the appointment of external consultants Ken Tremaine and Bill Wasley as management team project leaders with experience of similar strategies in the Bay of Plenty (Smart Growth) and South East Queensland.


The UDS Partners focused on setting and meeting key dates. It was imperative that the Strategy was adopted by the UDS Partners prior to the local body elections in October 2007 and looming private plan changes. In addition, timing was crucial to tie in with local and central funding cycles and to keep faith with the community.

Adequate resources

Initially, the project was not well resourced, having only a few council staff dedicated to it. The UDS Partners realised the Strategy needed to be made a priority, so staff work schedules were reorganised and experienced consultants appointed. Now that the Strategy document is complete, the ongoing challenge will be to ensure that sufficient resources are directed to implementing its actions. Both intra- and inter-organisational multi-disciplinary teams will need to be continued or established and sustained over time.

Implementing actions

The Strategy sets out several actions to implement. Twenty of these are identified for an immediate focus and include preparing and implementing district plan changes, which can be lengthy and costly processes. There is the danger that ‘business as usual’ will be unavoidable for some time to come. A huge shift in approaches and attitudes is necessary for greater Christchurch councils to end up with a denser but better place to live, work and play. The Strategy will require:

  • acceptance of different forms of living

  • quality designed higher density urban development

  • designers with the skills to design new and denser building forms

  • builders/developers with the capacity to build comprehensive housing developments

  • further innovative forms of housing layout

  • an increased understanding of mixed use developments.

Some issues, however, were not able to be resolved, with the Strategy opting for a status quo position in respect of rural residential lots (between 5,000m² and 1.5 hectares). There was perceived to be a clear demand for allotments of this size and provision in existing district plans. However, continuing to offer this choice of lifestyle has the potential to undermine the consolidated approach to growth that was chosen by the community. The UDS Partners recognise that there is a need to develop a rural residential zoning policy and assessment criteria for use by all councils.

Value gained

It is anticipated that there will be positive outcomes from more integrated planning frameworks. Infrastructure providers, both local government and others (such as gas, energy and communication companies), will benefit from working to an agreed overall plan. A sequencing approach to greenfield development will lead to more efficient provision of infrastructure rather than the situation where infrastructure is underutilised because development proceeds slowly in several dispersed locations.

The health impact assessment trialled a new process, with people from the health sector and local government working together for the first time. The sectors spoke in different languages, ‘health inequalities’ on the one hand, ‘sustainability’ on the other, but gained new understanding and a different perspective. Discussion that occurred with workshop participants from a range of fields led to development of new concepts and networking opportunities.

The ‘Inquiry by Design’ process brought together a variety of experts and elected members, and required them to think spatially. While for some, such as transportation planners, this was their usual way of working, for others, such as social policy analysts, it was not. The individual discipline ‘interest’ groups reached their own preference on how the Strategy should be developed. These were then overlaid (or vertically integrated) and developed into a preferred spatial structure. This generated a cross-fertilisation of ideas and increased understanding of the relationship between social and physical issues. The workshops highlighted where there were conflicts and these were able to be addressed and design options developed.

A few months ago I hadn’t heard of ‘New Urbanism’ or ‘urban villages’ – and now I talk about them all day long. (Project working group member.)

Many of those who made submissions on the Strategy sought adherence to quality urban design principles, such as a desire to focus on the development of urban villages or neighbourhood activity centres designed around walking and cycling. The response from the public demonstrated clearly that a drive for quality urban design was not confined to urban design professionals.


The Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy is a sub-regional growth planning exercise. Its interest lies in the collaborative and holistic approach that was adopted, and the development of new governance and implementation arrangements. The Strategy is supported by the UDS Partners and, most importantly, the community. This will help in the next stage of plan changes within the UDS Partner council’s individual district plans.

While the Strategy is broad in its scope, urban design principles underpin and permeate it. The community has clearly stated its preference for a high-quality sustainable environment with an increased interventionist approach to planning.

It is too early to say whether the Strategy will deliver its vision. It has established a clear framework so that everyone knows what needs to be done. The challenge will be to allocate sufficient resources and keep it on track over the coming years.


Canterbury District Health Board 2006. Health Impact Assessment, Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy Options. Retrieved from (15 April 2008).

Christchurch City Council – Consultation document 2007. ‘Will the future be ‘all’s well’ for Hornby, Hoon Hay and Halswell?’

Environment Canterbury 2007. Proposed Change 1 to the Regional Policy Statement. Retrieved from (15 April 2008).

Ingles, C April 2007. Adoption of the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy: Report to Christchurch City Council. Retrieved from (17 April 2008).

Ingles C July 2007. Proposed Changes to the Regional Policy Statement: Report to Christchurch City Council.

The Press 9–15 April 2005. ‘Where will we grow?’ The Press, Christchurch.

Urban Development Strategy Partners February 2005. Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy: Introduction to Issues. Retrieved from (15 April 2008).

Urban Development Strategy Partners April 2005. Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy, So many options … Which will you choose? Retrieved from (15 April 2008).

Urban Development Strategy Partners Newsletter August 2005. Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy. Retrieved from (15 April 2008).

Urban Development Strategy Partners Newsletter December 2005. Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy. Retrieved from (15 April 2008).

Urban Development Strategy Partners January 2006. Report of Community Feedback on the Options Consultation. Retrieved from (17 April 2008).

Urban Development Strategy Partners March 2006. Community Charter Poster. Retrieved from (15 April 2008).

Urban Development Strategy Partners November 2006. Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy, Here’s the plan. Will it build you a Greater Christchurch? Retrieved from (17 April 2008)

Urban Development Strategy Partners June 2007. Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy and Action Plan 2007. Retrieved from (15 April 2008).

Urbanism Plus 2007. Technical Report Accompanying the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy: Delivering sustainable urban form.

3 A similar growth management strategy for the greater Auckland region has been accompanied by an enabling Act of Parliament.