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Abley Apr 20244 min read

Developing for a carbon neutral future

On the 31st of January, the Climate Change Commission released their inaugural draft advice report to the media and public for consultation. The report provides a pathway for New Zealand to move towards being carbon neutral over the upcoming decades.

What was particularly interesting from a professional perspective was Action 2 under the transport sector-specific policies – which is fundamental to what we do as transport planners. Action 2 of the report encourages the reduction in private vehicle travel by developing an integrated national transport network to encourage active forms of commuting and low emission public and shared transport modes.  The report also presents targets to increase the share of distance travelled by walking, cycling and public transport to 25%, 95% and 120% respectively by 2030.

carbon neutral cycling

The Challenge

Transport Planners and Traffic Engineers assess the transport effects of new developments to ensure they meet the Resource Management Act (RMA) statutory requirements.  The NZ Government’s announcement on 10th February that the RMA will be replaced by three separate Acts, including one focusing on climate change, suggests that we should already be expanding our focus and considering the challenge that is necessary to support Action 2.  As professionals, how can we make carbon neutrality intrinsic within new developments and how can we be influential in this regard?  

The significant contribution of transport to carbon emissions is well-documented and thoroughly researched. It is safe to say that this fact is indisputable. We are encouraged to see the recent surge in uptake of hybrid and electric vehicle usage in New Zealand, although this is certainly not an overnight change.  Waiting for electric vehicle use to replace our current petroleum-dominated fleet does not excuse us from focusing on the many benefits of enabling more active travel and considering urban forms which would support the uptake of more sustainable modes.  We do however face challenges in this regard.

The affordable housing/accessibility conundrum

There is much reporting of a shortage of affordable housing throughout New Zealand. This creates a challenge for transport planners in giving effect to Action 2. Continued suburban development on the outskirts of existing built-up areas and the expansion of satellite towns throughout New Zealand may be more likely opportunities to provide affordable housing than intensification in more accessible areas. However, outlying developments may be less accessible by active and public transport modes and result in private vehicles being used almost exclusively as the preferred transportation mode for those living in such areas.  Prioritising intensification in accessible locations such that these provide affordable homes, and continued investment in public transport and active mode infrastructure will be key including a concentrated focus on transit-oriented development.  The Climate Change Commission report champions these themes.

The bulk retail challenge

A further challenge will be consideration of the development of establishments such as supermarkets and other bulky good retailers. When purchasing groceries or bulky goods, private vehicles are once again extensively used due to the impracticality of using public transport or walking and cycling which is limited when carrying armloads of groceries (or a fridge for that matter).  Supermarkets and many bulky goods retail activities are an absolute necessity, so the focus needs to shift to considering appropriate locations that are easily accessible and provide opportunities to link trips and integrate with other modes as far as practicable.  It is great to see that some retailers including supermarkets are providing electric vehicle charging infrastructure within their carparks.

Developments to influence behaviour change

Whilst developers can implement features in developments to encourage and dissuade reliance on private vehicle travel, the process of behaviour change is a slow one and may at first glance be largely outside of their control. The thrust of the Climate Change Commission report acknowledges that behaviour change occurs gradually with the 25%, 95%, and 120% targets not being sought overnight but looking to be delivered by 2030. Regardless, developers have an important role to support this gradual change through the planning and design of development. 

We need to have a greater focus on the integration of land-use planning with transport planning with a significant emphasis on alignment with investment in public transport services and active commuting infrastructure to reduce private vehicle use. Due diligence tasks such as considering site selection can be influential to achieving these ends.  Maintaining strong relationships with planners and developers as they prepare development applications will be important if we are to take this challenge head-on so that we can have an influential role in the strategic planning process.  We don’t want to be the proverbial ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.  A concentrated industry effort is required to rethink how we assess developments with limited opportunity for public transport and active mode uptake. 

The Resource Management Act reform process will be especially interesting and may provide answers, and we look forward to seeing a momentum shift in our industry that will give effect to the Climate Change targets but continue to enable rather than hinder development.