Accommodating growth

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Accommodating growth

How do we accommodate growth?


Our city and surrounding towns have changed a lot over the last 15 years. The 2010/11 earthquakes and the rebuild have transformed our central city, other parts of Christchurch, and townships within Selwyn and Waimakariri.

Our population has grown by 20% since 2006. Over the next 30 years, we expect our current Greater Christchurch population of around 530,000 people to grow by more than 30% to around 700,000 people with the potential for our population to double to over 1 million within the next 60 years, if not earlier.

We have done some work to look at how we best accommodate more people and businesses in a way which provides a high quality of life for our people, a thriving economy, and protects our environment for us and for future generations.

Our work suggests that to best achieve these outcomes, population and business growth should be focused:

  • In further intensification in the central city, key urban centres and town centres and along the proposed turn up and go public transport service corridor and in key urban centres.
  • In Christchurch through intensification along other high-frequency public transport corridors like Lincoln Road that link the key urban centres.
  • In the towns through further intensification around the town centre, and extending along public transport corridors within towns.

Examples of higher-density living and urban environments - click to enlarge

We have strong foundation of urban planning

We have had a coordinated approach to urban planning in Greater Christchurch since 2007. The Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy(external link) (UDS) in 2007 set a clear strategic direction towards consolidating growth within our urban existing area. Since then, we have seen more of our growth accommodated through growing ‘out’ – expanding our urban areas rather than growing ‘up’ and ‘in’ (intensification and redevelopment within our urban area).

We need to take a fresh look at how our urban area has developed and grown in recent years and decide how we manage both the challenges in front of us, as well as the opportunities. Our challenge continues to be how to provide for more people in a way which is sustainable, efficient and protects our productive land while providing people with choice.

With a population of over 500,000, Greater Christchurch is New Zealand’s second largest urban area by population. Our urban area experienced strong population and business growth in the period post the 2010/11 earthquakes and has benefited from significant private and public sector investment over the last decade, particularly through the rebuild of the central city.

Strong foundation

Greater Christchurch has a strong foundation to develop a sustainable and modern city and surrounding towns which provides high levels of wellbeing for our people and makes a greater contribution to national wellbeing and prosperity:

  • We are the primary economic, service and logistics hub for the South Island – home to New Zealand’s second largest airport and third largest seaport, four tertiaries, six Crown Research Institutes, and a strong and diverse economic base that is strongly inter-connected with the wider regional economy.
  • We currently have the most affordable housing of New Zealand’s major urban centres, with a lifestyle that is highly valued by our residents.
  • The significant investment in modern and resilient infrastructure, civic assets and urban redevelopment post-earthquakes means that Greater Christchurch has capacity to cater for greater economic and population growth.


This foundation gives us a strong base to address the following challenges through partnership of local government, mana whenua and central government:

  • Greater Christchurch continues to experience strong population growth. Statistics New Zealand projections suggest Greater Christchurch will need to accommodate more than 30% more people, 77,000 more households, over the next 30 years. If Greater Christchurch continues to grow at the rate of the previous 15 years, then the urban area could have a population of 700,000 within the next 25 years and achieve a population of one million people within the next 60 years.
  • Greater Christchurch’s employment and housing is relatively dispersed, with this becoming more acute following the 2010/11 earthquakes.
  • Our central city remains economically vulnerable with employment still below pre-quake levels.
  • Our urban form has amongst the highest dependency on private motor vehicles for transport of the main urban areas in New Zealand.
  • Housing affordability, while still relatively good in comparison to other major urban areas in New Zealand, has declined significantly over the past two years with low income households particularly impacted.
  • The performance of Greater Christchurch’s economy in terms of productivity is relatively poor given its economic strengths and assets, and economic role in the South Island.
  • Greater Christchurch is the most exposed urban area in New Zealand to coastal inundation and flooding due to climate change, and this will affect some of the most vulnerable communities more significantly. Many of our natural habitats have been lost and are vulnerable, with urban rivers impacted by pollution and low levels of indigenous biodiversity.
  • We need to accommodate growth in a way which meets these challenges and provides a high quality of life for our people.

Areas to avoid and protect from development

Planning for new urban development must take account of the risk of natural hazards, as well as areas to be protected from development such as sites and areas of significance to Māori, the natural environment, and strategic infrastructure.  

There are some areas where development should not occur, such as areas of natural hazards that we need to avoid, and areas we want to protect for current and future generations. There are also some areas that are subject to natural hazards, but where these hazards can be mitigated by building differently, such as a higher floor level in areas of flooding or geotechnical foundation solutions in areas prone to liquefaction.

Hazards we need to avoid include: Areas we want to protect are:
  • Areas vulnerable to flooding
  • Areas vulnerable to the risks of climate change, including coastal erosion, coastal inundation and tsunami inundation
  • Rock fall, cliff collapse and mass movement areas, and fault lines
  • Sites and areas of significance to Māori
  • The natural environment
  • Strategic infrastructure
  • Highly productive land
  • Water resource, waterways, springs and groundwater.

This map shows the areas we should avoid and protect [PDF, 715 KB] from further development due to natural hazards or environmental values.  It is important to note that sites and areas of significance to Māori have not been included in this map.

The protection of sites and areas of significance to Māori is recognised as a matter for engagement with mana whenua.  Here is a map showing sites and areas of significance to Māori. [PDF, 1.3 MB]

Further detail on areas to protect and avoid can be found in the Areas to Protect and Avoid Report. [PDF, 2.5 MB]

Our capacity to accommodate more people and business


The good news is that we have a lot of housing choice and capacity within the Greater Christchurch area and have sufficient housing supply to meet projected demand over the next 30 years and beyond. Over the next 30 years we are projected to need 77,700 more households, but we actually have the capacity to build well over 150,000 houses.  We are enabling a range of housing types to be developed that meets the needs and demand of our future population, including accommodating a growing older population and 1-2 person households.

Demand will be met through further intensification (medium and high density) being enabled as directed under the Resource Management Act (Intensification Instruments) and the National Policy Statement for Urban Development and  additional new greenfield areas being considered for rezoning through both the Waimakariri and Selwyn District Plan Reviews and private plan changes.

Our greatest ongoing challenge is making sure we have the right types of affordable housing and the best locations to meet the varied needs of our community.  Our work has therefore focused more on how to encourage positive change in our urban form which addresses our challenges, rather than any need for major additional housing capacity.


We may need some new business land, but this may be addressed by changing where our businesses are located.

There are two types of business land:

  • Commercial land, which accommodates offices, shops and services often co-located with housing and other activities.
  • Industrial land which mainly accommodates manufacturing and warehousing activities, close to freight routes and usually separated from housing.

Again the good news is we have sufficient industrial land available in Greater Christchurch over the next 30 years, and especially in Christchurch city.  Industrial activity may move west as some areas in the city transition from industrial to commercial and residential use, especially near the central city.

We may not have sufficient land available in Greater Christchurch for commercial activity over the long term.  However the anticipated increase in commercial development density around centres, and the shift of industrial land near the central city to commercial should cover any shortfall.

How do we accommodate more people successfully?

We have done some work to understand how we might best accommodate future population and business growth to provide a high quality of life for our people, a thriving economy and to protect our environment and the things we value about our place and community for us and for future generations.

Proposed focus of growth as we grow to 700,000 people

We believe growth is best accommodated through greater intensification around centres and along public transport corridors.

The proposed focus of population and business growth as we grow towards 700,000 people is around the central city, along the proposed turn up and go public transport corridors and around the key urban centres of Riccarton, Papanui and Hornby and to a lesser extent Shirley, Linwood and in the major towns of Rolleston, Rangiora and to a lesser extent Woodend, Kaiapoi and Lincoln (see map at bottom of this section). This is through higher density housing and concentrating business activity which supports strong centres connected by high frequency public transport and the colocation of housing with employment, services and leisure.

The level of intensification (redevelopment) will vary as appropriate for the specific location.  Intensification around urban centres and along the proposed turn and go public transport corridors is expected to include apartments and higher density living.  Intensification in towns is likely to be focused around the commercial centre of the town.

Examples of higher density living and urban environments (you can click on the images to enlarge)


Focusing growth within our urban centres also means we are better able to protect food producing land and green spaces for future generations and provide space for ecological restoration.  Greenbelts are one potential option to achieve this.  Greenbelts would maintain the separation of towns and the city and better manage urban expansion into rural and open areas.

Proposed transport improvements to support our proposed focus of growth

Improvements to the public transport system would support this growth by making it more attractive for people and businesses to locate in centres and along public transport corridors which provide easy access to employment, leisure and services. 

Key opportunities for improving our public transport system over the next 30 years include:

  • Implementing the Public Transport Futures business case programme [PDF, 6.7 MB] – enhancing service frequency, reliability and quality, especially on existing core routes.
  • Implementing the turn up and go public transit public transport service route between Hornby – central city – Belfast.
  • Improved park ‘n’ ride facilities in key District townships and increased frequency of direct bus services that connect with the central city using the motorway corridors.
  • Investigating the potential for an ‘outer Orbiter’, which improves the connectivity around the west / north-west employment and residential areas.
  • Working with mana whenua to provide access to the public transport network from kāinga nohoanga developed within the original extents of the Māori Reserves.

Proposed focus of growth as we grow to 1 million people

As the Greater Christchurch population grows beyond 700,000 towards 1 million people, this growth will be accommodated through more intensive redevelopment (multi-storey townhouse and apartments) in the central city, urban centres and town centres which will extend along other high-frequency public transport corridors like Lincoln Road (see map at bottom of this section).  Development along public transport corridors would be supported by further improvements to the public transport system including additional and improved high frequency routes.


Greenfield development is where non-urban land, for example farmland, is rezoned into an urban use such as a new housing subdivision or a business park. 

Greater Christchurch has an abundance of flat land – this has enabled us to accommodate significant growth in population and respond to displacement of people following the 2010/11 earthquakes.

However, the ease and cost of greenfield development in Greater Christchurch relative to brownfield development (redeveloping our existing urban areas) has meant that a significant proportion of our population growth over the past 15 years has been accommodated in townships, rural areas, and in new suburbs in the west of Christchurch.

We believe greenfield development will remain a tool to provide lifestyle choice for our communities.  To support a well-functioning urban form we believe greenfield needs to:

  • Be well connected with employment, services and leisure through public transport, and integrated with existing urban areas.
  • Minimise the impact on highly productive land and not contribute to increased carbon emissions.
  • Not draw growth away from areas better able to make efficient and effective use of existing and planned infrastructure and services.

Proposed focus of growth maps (click on the maps to enlarge)


Further background information can be found in the Evaluation of Urban Form Scenarios Report [PDF, 4 MB] and in the resulting Urban Form Directions Briefing [PDF, 4.7 MB].

What could this mean for the future function of our centres and towns?

Greater Christchurch’s economic strengths and assets are distributed across its urban area.  Leveraging the opportunities that these assets create for high quality employment, business innovation, commercialisation and growth is an important opportunity for increasing quality employment opportunities for a growing population.


Economic Offering

Regional / National Assets

Central City


- Regional employment
- Leisure destination
- Research & education – health

Health Precinct

Ara (5,000+ students)

‘Destination’ assets – Te Pae, Te Kaha, Parakiore, Arts Precinct, Hagley Park


Logistics and future energy hub

International airport; Antarctic gateway

Riccarton / University of Canterbury

Research & education – engineering, film ++

University of Canterbury; new film studio; 20,000 students






Sea port 



Inland Port / i-zone


Research & education - agribus

Lincoln University + CRIs; 3,000 students

 When we consider where future business growth may go and how this intersects with where our current economic strengths and assets are, the function of our centres and towns may shift as follows:

  • Central city – will remain the primary centre for Greater Christchurch. Employment, particularly in the knowledge-intensive industries and residential density will significantly increase over time towards apartments and high-rise commercial buildings.  The south / south-east edge of the central city could transition from industrial to high-density residential / mixed use.
  • Turn Up and Go Public Transport Service Corridors – high density housing and commercial development along the south-western and northern corridors.  Along Riccarton Road, the potential to extend knowledge-intensive businesses and employment from the central city to better connect with the University of Canterbury.
  • Hornby – an opportunity to transform Hornby into a sub-regional service centre and transport hub with higher density housing.
  • Major towns (Rolleston & Rangiora) – develop a stronger commercial core in all towns with higher density residential living.
  • Corridors around other high-frequency routes – higher density housing
  • Office / retail business growth – primarily located in key centres to gain the benefits of economic concentration, centre vibrancy and co-location with residential.
  • Manufacturing / logistics business growth – managed release of industrial land to mixed-use/ residential, particularly within a walkable distance of the Central City and other key centres could shift manufacturing and logistics businesses west. There is an opportunity to strengthen the iZone and airport as key logistics hubs and the industrial spine towards the west.  Protecting freight corridors, the airport and seaport is critical to maintain Greater Christchurch’s role as a national logistics hub.

How do we protect and restore our natural environment as we grow?

We need to protect and enhance our natural environment – the foundation of our urban area - and we need to manage our risk from natural hazards and the effects of climate change.

There is an opportunity through the spatial plan to enhance our blue-green network. A blue-green network creates a connected network of waterways and parks, greenspaces and planting, integrated into the urban environment. An enhanced blue-green network provides opportunities to create and restore natural habitats and biodiversity, and improve climate resilience.

A map of our current blue-green network [PDF, 775 KB] demonstrates that we have many blue and green spaces in the sub-region. The spatial plan is a great opportunity to enhance this.

A healthy natural environment can help support ecosystems and communities to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Healthy ecosystems can also help capture and store more carbon, decreasing the future level of climate change impacts.

The natural environment of Greater Christchurch has been modified and degraded through land use development for food production, farming and urban development. There has been a significant loss of habitat and decline in indigenous biodiversity. Waterbodies have been physically altered and water is polluted.

We have an opportunity to plan and design our urban areas to ensure we protect and restore the natural environment, reduce and manage the risk from natural hazards, and build our climate resilience, through responding to climate risks, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and enhancing community resilience.

We are exploring opportunities to protect and restore our natural environment and enhance our blue-green network through the development of the spatial plan.  Ways that this could be achieved are illustrated in the diagram below.