Saturday 27 August 2016

The Town of the Future

When we moved to Christchurch, we'd always chuckle a little when driving south down the state highway. Rolleston, the first town south of Christchurch, advertised itself as the town of the the future.

They were prophetic. And Selwyn Council there helps show the advantages of not amalgamating every darned place. After the earthquake, Christchurch Council seemed unable to get its act together to zone more land for housing, or even to let people put a wall up in an existing dwelling as a secondary unit.

Fortunately, Selwyn was there and ready to grow - and hadn't been merged into some supercouncil that would have been hobbled by Christchurch. John McCrone's piece in the Christchurch Press is typically excellent:
At the offices of Selwyn District Council, Deputy Mayor Sarah Walters says Rolleston's pace of growth is indeed confounding all expectations.
It is hard for outsiders too appreciate just how fast the town is whizzing along, Walters says. "Which makes it a great success story on one level, but an interesting dynamic, an interesting challenge, on other levels," she adds, mixing a groan with the smile.
Walters says to get a grip on the numbers, Rolleston's population was scratching to get to 3000 just 15 years ago. The opening of a New World supermarket in 2002 was the first sign of something possibly starting to happen.

"Rolleston was beginning to develop a little bit. But the council at the time thought Rolleston was only going to get to about 4500 people. So to build a supermarket at that time was a big sign of commitment."

However, then came the Canterbury earthquakes and a flood of house-construction. Walters says under emergency government powers, greenfield land intended to be developed over many decades was released onto the market all at once.

By 2013, the population of Rolleston had breezed past 9000. Today it stands at 14,000. Predictions it will hit 19,000 within 10 years are beginning to look like an underestimate.

Walters says the mix of arrivals is cosmopolitan. "We seem to have a lot of English especially." And rather than being all quake refugees, it is more often the case that people have sold a home in Christchurch, allowing them to make the step further out.

But above all the demographic is youthful, says Walters. It is largely young families that are coming. And this is making Rolleston a 1960s baby boom story all over again. 
You see people pushing prams everywhere.Council figures show that a quarter of Rolleston is aged under 15, compared to a Canterbury average of 16 per cent. And just 8 per cent are over 65 – half the usual number.

So Walters says six years ago, Rolleston had a single primary school. Now that one is bursting at the seams, having become the largest in the South Island. And the ministry has had to build three new primaries, with a fifth, Lemonwood, about to open after Christmas.

And also opening after Christmas is a first secondary school, Rolleston College. With 250 Year 9 pupils as an initial intake, it will be the fastest growing secondary school seen anywhere for a long time.

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