The Press this morning has some rather frightening but inevitable stories about people leaving Christchurch, and where to put the people who stay. First up, Big Gerry tells us there is the ‘real prospect’ of large-scale movements – whole suburbs. I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to this, as long as the question of where they will be housed is satisfactorily answered. Which brings me to page 3 of the paper, where there are two articles of interest. Firstly, ‘Developers tussle to house city displaced’, which brings the edifying spectacle of property developers rushing to the bottom to house our homeless. The two developers represent Christchurch satellite towns, Rolleston and Pegasus. Like the debate about the CBD, this is a problem that was killing Christchurch well before the quake, but now needs to be urgently addressed.

We have a number of satellite towns, some of which have been around a long time, like Kaiapoi and Rangiora, and some of which, like Pegasus, have been totally artificially created by developers in the last decade. People have been lured out with the promise of big sections, low rates and their chance to create their own tasteless architectural monstrosity. These towns are outside the Christchurch City Council boundaries, falling in either Selwyn or Waimakariri districts. The Christchurch City Council – worried about losing their rating base – has been increasingly happy to approve subdivision developments within the city boundaries, mainly around the new suburb of Northwood, and in the south-west around Westlake, Oaklands, Halswell and Aidenfield. The problem for the council has been whether to open up greenbelt land within the city boundaries, or let development continue on the outskirts of town, but having no control over how that development plays out.

As someone opposed to urban sprawl, I’d rather see more intensive residential development in the suburbs that border what used to be the CBD. However, I can’t see that happening anytime soon, and I suspect that this soon after the quake, there is probably little appetite for multi-storey apartment blocks. But I don’t want to see the CCC end up in a fight with the Selwyn and Waimak councils over who gets to house all the displaced. While I opposed the suspension of ECan elections, and I’m not sure whether the Supercity process in Auckland was handled that well, I think we might need to consider bringing in a unitary authority for the 3 districts. It is probably the only way that the growth of these outlying towns can be controlled in a way that benefits greater Christchurch, not just Rolleston and Pegasus.