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New Earthquake Act could allow massive land buys out at rock bottom prices under seismic shift in local power. Your view?

New Earthquake Act could allow massive land buys out at rock bottom prices under seismic shift in local power. Your view?

By Amanda Morrall in Christchurch

A radical redevelopment of earthquake ravaged Christchurch could see the Central Business District (CBD) permanently wiped from the map and replaced with a sustainable green village made possible by a mass buy-out of commercial land priced at current rock bottom values.

The idea is one of several scenarios that local authorities are exploring as a potential solution to the "NZ$30 billion problem" facing the city of Christchurch, caught in the throes of an on-going disaster that threatens irreversible capital flight and depopulation.

Business leader Peter Townsend told that sweeping powers granted to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission (CERA) would enable the authority to "walk in and buy up big blocks of land" that would normally be priced by pre-earthquake rates for current market value.

"To me that's the backstop,'' said Townsend, CEO of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce.

"If you want a big stick the Government could use, that's it.''

Pooled land ownership?

Another possible scenario, one that Townsend said he would prefer to see, is property owners relinquishing control over land in exchange for a pooled ownership arrangement where they could effectively be shareholders in reconstructed subdivisions.

He said a block-by-block redevelopment (similar to what was employed in Kobe, Japan after a 1995 earthquake) would potentially be more attractive to locals and businesses that wanted to remain viable in the area.

"I think there's an opportunity there for Christchurch. I think we could do that block by block or maybe the whole of the Red Zone which has been effectively destroyed. We need to look at this from a different perspective."

"It may be better for property owners to take a share in some sort of entity that will take the city forward rather than to have a 1/4 acre of land with a tilt-slab on it that doesn't fit into an overall plan that has little value.''

The realisation of such concepts remains at least two years away with the city, to a large extent, still in "survival'' mode.

As road crews work to repair crevasses, super-sized pot holes and long stretches of pavement that have sunk a metre in places due to liquefaction, waste water and sewage teams are struggling to restore the crucial infrastructure that makes modern living comfortable.

Pylons, police tape, and chain link fences are as commonplace as the portaloos and piles of felled brick buildings which have come to form a permanent part of the landscape here pending the big clean up operation.

Orion shells out NZ$30k a day on diesel

Orion Energy, the region's main distributor of electricity, has been dealing with 500 individual faults to its network and is spending NZ$30,000 a day on diesel used to fuel temporary generators.

CEO Roger Sutton said some underground cables were so badly damaged they were written off altogether with new overhead lines built in their place. A new substation is also in the process of being built in the eastern suburbs. 

Sutton said the company has absorbed the costs so far but admits there could be long-term repercussions with load supply in the CBD reduced by 80%. 

"There's almost nothing coming out of there,'' he said. 

 Townsend offers this bleak statistical snapshot:

  • 996 buildings in the Central Business District (comprising 70% of the CBD) are red-stickered and will likely need to be bulldozed.
  • More than 12,000 residential homes have been earmarked for demolition.
  • 61,000 people are on wage support or earthquake assistance.
  • 30% of all businesses are affected in some form.
  • Hotels are struggling with a 13% occupancy rate.
  • Tourism (the region's single biggest economic contributor) has ground to a halt.

Let's avoid having our grandchildren kick our graves

"There's two real fears I have for downtown Christchurch,'' said Townsend.

"The first one is capital flight. People take their money and run. Their building has dropped, they get their insurance pay-out and they go because it's just too hard to work in Christchurch.

The second one is that we have very patch redevelopment of the city. I'm not kidding when I say a tilt-slab goes up somewhere and someone else puts up a car park and then there's cheap retail and it just ends up a mess. 

"Our grandchildren will kick our graves if we let that happen. Whether you like it or not we have the opportunity to lay down the next 150 years. And if you were rebuilding Christchurch from scratch, it was just a clean sheet of paper, you wouldn't have a highly concentrated concrete jungle CBD, you would have your commercial, retail, and service activity integrated throughout the city.'' 

Townsend won't mask the enormity of the "problem" or the complexity of the recovery mission but remains hopeful and confident that the city down on its knees will get back up.

In newer outlying areas of the city, commerce has found a new home with selective pubs, restaurants and cafes reaping the benefits of satellite business hubs.

Those businesses that remain faithful to Christchurch are not likely to migrate back into the "Red Zone,'' a ghost-town patrolled by army personnel and reportedly over-run by vermin.

Townsend said the prospect of a Christchurch Central Business District revival is slim.

In its place, he envisages (four to six years from now) an innovative down-town core. 

"You're not talking about the future of the CBD, you're talking about a future of down-town Christchurch, which will look completely different to the CBD.

"It'll have high quality housing, high quality, low level accommodation, it'll face the river, it'll be green, it'll have high quality retail, a business and hospital sector, an educational sector, a Centre of Excellence for Medicine.''

Those ambitions may seem lofty given the city continues to struggle with black-outs, water restrictions, looting and concerning levels of unemployment.

Townsend doesn't deny the recovery will be a long-time coming but remains optimistic the city's grave misfortune is a golden opportunity to create a urban design that future generations will be proud to call home.

Here's some highlights of the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill,  which can be viewed in full here.


  • The purpose of this Act is to—

    • (a) facilitate the response to the Canterbury earthquake:
    • (b) provide adequate statutory power to assist with the response to the Canterbury earthquake:
    • (c) enable the relaxation or suspension of provisions in enactments that—
      • (i) may divert resources away from the effort to—
        • (A) efficiently respond to the damage caused by the Canterbury earthquake:
        • (B) minimise further damage; or
      • (ii) may not be reasonably capable of being complied with, or complied with fully, owing to the circumstances resulting from the Canterbury earthquake:
    • (d) facilitate the gathering of information about any structure or any infrastructure affected by the Canterbury earthquake that is relevant to understanding how to minimise the damage caused by future earthquakes:
    • (e) provide protection from liability for certain acts or omissions.

The bill sets up a new commission which is called the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission (CERC), and consists of the following 7 commissioners:

  • (b) the mayor of the Selwyn District Council; Kelvin Coe
  • (c) the mayor of the Waimakariri District Council; Ron Keating
  • (d) 4 appointed persons with the relevant expertise or appropriate skills, 1 of whom must be an Environment Canterbury commissioner or, if there is no such commissioner, the chairperson of the Canterbury Regional Council. They are retiring Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry director-general Murray Sherwin, Canterbury regional council commissioner Dame Margaret Bazely, earthquake engineer David Hopkins, social expert Arihia Bennett,

CERC was set up by the government in the early days after 4 September and its functions include coordinating the Government and local body recovery effort. It is also supposed to be the chief means of communication between the three councils and the Government.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


I love the idea of a green city.

I hope it can work with good urban design in this seizmic prone area. Mixed use combined with densities of 30-60 people per acre. 

Can we keep successfully design up to three stories and introduce something generally foreign to NZ, congnitive console.

The land issue could also work if done correctly. Good publicly owned spaces.

If done correctly it could be the first modern city to give its city a 'village' feel, while keeping the benefits of a metropolis.

I could get involved in something like that.


Amanda, that's a "tilt slab" (precast concrete panel construction), not a "tool slab". 


Thanks Chris. 


Now can I say that this sort of talk is just outrageous.  What cities have been built by bureaucrats and central governments?

They need the property and business owners on board, and all they have done in seven weeks is tell us:

we can't see or access our properties,

we have no say in whether we can fix them,

now they are going to confiscate our land and build us buildings we don't want.

Well why don't they just seize all our bank accounts and lock us up in work-camps!

The direction and attitude is so misguided, dictatorial and completely shattering any confidence in ChCh and NZ.

This looks like pet projects being promoted by those with big ideas.  What is needed is collaboration with property owners.  What we've had is nothing.

At this rate government will need to redevelop 400ha of CBD on their own, and for who??

Does the rest of NZ not see this ridiculous?  Why aren't you telling John Key he's going to get the boot unless some sensible decisions get made.

After seven weeks we still have no access to our CBD properties, which are in completely undamaged areas, where neighbours are allowed to live in green stickered residential properties and freely access them, yet as a property owner we have to jump through hops to inspect the properties and can not undertake any repairs, meanwhile tenants food is rotting in the kitchens with power turned off and rodents have probably taken over.  Also we had turned the water off, however some bright spark reconnecting services turned them back on and in one largely ok property (yellow stickered because of a chimney only) we found water flowing from a toilet cistern that had cracked doing considerable damage to the bath room and the room below.

It's nearly TWO MONTHS, nothing has happened but talk and unwanted demolition and bullying.  Nearly seven and a half months from September nothing has happened for that recovery either.

Can the leaders not see that getting EVERYONE on board is the key, not justing having big ideas that will fail.  If private money is not put into ChCh there can be no recovery.


  "What cities have been built by bureaucrats and central governments?"......check out what happened after the fire of London!......


Should we check out the bit where several architects submitted grandiose schemes that would have been hugely expensive and required buying out wealthy property owners, or the bit where the city planners decided it was all too hard and rebuilt to pretty much the same layout as before?


"At this rate government will need to redevelop 400ha of CBD on their own, and for who??"

Maybe they've had inspiration from China's cities to nowhere.

Mate, I feel for ya! The level of frustration must be sky high!


Hi Chris_J, I have felt very sorry and outraged by the way you guys have been treated since the earthquake, its as though it was your fault! The way the Govt has handled the whole thing smacks of lack of experience and out of control stupidity. There appears to be some ineffectual people with too much power down there and the result is nothing is getting done. 


Paris comes to mind. Ugly disaster that it is.


Sorry to hear no improvement in your situation Chris_J

I see there are now 1413 rentals available in Christchurch on Trademe, up from 1200 a couple of weeks ago and <900 a month ago.

So it looks like depopulation is steadily increasing rather than reversing.

How many people have moved into those unaffordable campervans so far?

Are the govt still going to waste hundreds of millions building 5000 temporary houses that aren't required?


I was beginning to feel cheerful until I read this story. What a bloody mess; Peter Townsend's bleak statistical snapshot rings true.

What's worse is that many of  we Christchurch residents are discovering that, on a day-to-day basis, we can get along quite well without the CBD (excepting Ballantynes of course). Our lives have become smaller, and we're spending much less through being wary of our individual futures and and not being near anywhere to spend much (though relatively near the centre of town all out local shops and supermarket are toast). ChrisJ has reason to be concerned.

As for Chris' anger; I would suggest that many of us are getting angry, if we are not already there. That's a well-documented part of the trauma process, and John Key and his advisers will be all too aware of the New Orleans post-Katrina kicking handed out to the Bush administration. They want to get the recovery  seen-to-be-underway before the November election, hence the rush on establishing CERA. Blowback (a quaint local dialect term meaning "shower of s**t")   would be fatal for National's chances.

So now until November is the time to exert any pressure on politicians; after November we will be forgotten. I have already heard of  Northerners announcing that  they are "so over the earthquake". I wish we were. Enough already.


@Wolly: One flaw: I know of very few who will go in a high-rise in this city again; let alone a roof garden.

Also a view of where the new fault lies: 


I'm with scarfie.  The days of CBD's were over - like drays, blacksmiths, windjammers.......

Skype can be done from anywhere, written comm likewise. Why build commercial infrastructure to house it?

Plus which, as mentioned above, it can't be high-rise.

What Townshend hints is correct, but I'd go further:  CHCH has the jump on the rest of us, we who have to wait for building attrition/devaluation to change our city-scape. They have the chance to start with a largely clean sheet. And before the energy becomes prohibitively either expensive, or hard to get.

Make the most of it, Cantabs. You won't get another chance to get organised before the 'need to be sustainable' wave breaks over us all.


THis is a great opportunity to build a city fit for the future: low impact, smart tech, attracting niche technology business and high end manufacturing, smart grid and waste systems, central district for foot and bike's all possible and affordable as well. 

We're putting on TEDxEQChCh on 21st May to discuss these sorts of issues and opportunities. If you can't come you can watch it live as it will be streamed.



Yes, it's a great opportunity, but we're likely to muck it up.  Why?  Because we have the wrong people in control.

Take a look at where greatness in city building has been achieved.  For example Curitiba in Brazil.  An amazing transport system, but so much more.  They achieved it all with very little money, but they had the right people designing the city.  Goodness, for a start the mayors have been engineers and architechts; where else in the world do you see that?  Real down to earth people who are realisitc, think things through, and who can make things happen when there is little money.

When I read about the local 'TED-flavoured' discussion in the local paper I went to the website to check it out.  Once more, the people running the show sound to me rather ill-chosed for designing anything, let alone a city.  Just look at their bios.

I suspect this will end up like many TED talks; dreamers with no practicality whatsoever, bashing on about how everything could be peachy if only we did this or that.  Of course a must visit for anyone who needs to feel good about themselves, but ulitimately a waste of time IMO.

I have heard that the council will be taking ideas for a re-design of the city and will be presenting alternatives at a show.  Does anyone know where I can find out more about this?




The people on the website are "not running the show'...they are organising a conference. I'm sorry it's not to your taste. However, perhaps you should wait until you see the final speaker list before writing it off. 

For example, we have someone talking on the successes and failures of cities like Curitiba, Copenhagen , Malmo and Seattle for example. 

This event is very much focused on the practicalities of the challenge ahead. The council has 6 months to come up with a coherent plan for the rebuilding of the city and we certainly hope to be a helpful part in that process. If you stay tuned you might find out more about that as things develop.





"The people on the website are "not running the show'...they are organising a conference."

Yes, and as such they have control at the highest level as to who speaks and therefore what ideas get presented.  You as an organiser have the ability to skew hugely the eventual outcome of the conference.

In a similar vein, reagarding the actual plans for the redevelopment of the CBD, I'm sure there are many brilliant and workable plans that could be implemented, but which will never see the light of day because that idea didn't coincide with the ideals of someone 'higher up' .

I do wish you well for the conference and that something positive does come from it.  I think the basic idea is great.

Whatever happens with the CBD I hope the ultimate chosen planners have really considered in depth what life will be like in the future and have constructed their design accordingly.  As a resident of Christchurch I have genine interest in how it turns out.



Just to be clear the conference is not specifically about designs and plans. It's about inspiring us to imagine what we could create. 

We have been on touch with some of the top architects and firms globally but the event has a wider brief than that. It's very much a public event and will look at issues around community, behaviour change, infrastructure both hard and soft, technology, business etc. 

There is no shortage of ideas around design but the process in which we move forward is going to be crucial. Participation is the key and there are many voices asking to be heard. There is also a public nomination form which closes today so if there is someone you think is worth hearing just put them forward. 

There is a long way to go and this is just the start of the journey. 


Read an article somewhere (sorry cant locate it) that the CBD should be relocated to Sydenham, which is a suburb just south of the central CBD.

I had read that the land was more steady there compared to the city and its access by train and two main arterial routes places it perfectly for access from more than one mode of transport. Higher petrol prices would make this more attractive to rail freight and public transport.

Took a drive through there the other day and couldnt believe how much sky I could see and how much sun I could feel where previously in winter it was cold, damp and dark due to building height. Obviously the whole area causes incredible shock and sadness for the loss on a personal humanist level.

Previous to the earthquakes the area really was in REAL need of local government assistance. Ironically the Council had announced a revitalisation programme just weeks before the February earthquake.

With the council already owning a large tract of land there (Sydenham Square - purchased for a "steal" from Uncle Dave Henderson :P) and the now massive empty lots since the February 22 earthquake, the cynic in me sees a strong push from the council to encourage CERA to develop the area into a revitalised 24 hour shared work and living high density village.

A little birdy whispered that a large tract of boutique retailers in the exclusive Victoria Street precinct were relocating to the only and largely empty mall space in Sydenham.

Are these high-end retailers the entreprenuers that are trying to establish a whole new reputation for Sydenham as the new place to be?

Sounds like something to watch.


I agree with those who see this as an opportunity to rebuild Christchurch in a way that is appropriate to new realities. Just as Napier in 1931 was redesigned to embrace the arrival of the automobile (wider streets, with a redesgned layout) Christchurch in 2011 could be rebuilt in a way that embraces a new vision of urban living in a more sustainable way.

The TEDxEQChCh   events sounds interesting - despite the absolutely horrible acronym. And while I'm at it could whoever designed the website spell out what TED stands for somewhere prominent? Telling me that "TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading" doesn't really help. Wikipedia tells me it stands for Technology Entertainment and Design but your site visitors shouldn't have to go there to find that out.


What a load of Tripe some people write on ChCh. I am tired of the constant whining which seems to start From Sideshow Bob and his nonsensical  vision of ChCh and filter down to just about every radical which is not going to happen because we (the rest of NZ ) cant afford it .
Gerry get those bulldozers and diggers on the job and tell Parker to just take a hike. This is the deconstruct and demolish phase .
A fine suggestion to the good folk of ChCh is if you have lost your job get on your bike and relocate. The city is not going anywhere for 10-20+ years so depopulation helps everyone including the taxpayer.
So some of you hardcore red and blacks might need to get your tin of Golden Syryp and head north or south your choice.
With respect to the cheap sale of land .... why not flog Timaru ... look what the good people of that dump have cost us so far.

Lets demolish all those rubbish buildings asap and tidy the place up


Yeah Gerry while you are at it could you accidentally push a digger bucket through that sh*thouse Birdcage hotel so it drops down in that dirty great bog hole theyve opened up.

Sounds like a completely normal waste of southerners tax payments.

What a load of tripe those ... oh hang on ... Im from Chrstchurch

Random ...... must have been my one eye


Well spoken Peter Townsend. Let's not underestimate the gravity of the situation, but look forward with optimism and open minds. A city centre with a mix of residential, cultural and retail. Let's get the University back in town. A much smaller business village in Sydenham sounds attractive.

So great to see so many good ideas coming forward, not least on this comment thread.

Have a great day everyone.


I am sure deveopers are licking their lips, especially with all the heritage buildings that are to be demolished. I am sure many are thinking that there are some quick bucks to be made . I think there should be an international urban and architectural design competition for the overall concept of rebuilding christchurch, and a typical new building design. Peroanlly I think a lot of  natural timber and plywood. We definatlely don't want to see new brick and tile  buildings.

Some of the concpets I have seen for a garden city , with rooftop gardens have been uninspiring, and we really need international help on this. Also in an earthqauke a roof top garden isn't good, as they are heavy, and you don't want heavy things on the roof of buildings, as that will require more lateral support.

Competitions are good, because you get lots of 'free' ideas being submitted.


I think a competition would be a great idea.  We're not working from a clean slate though (unlike cities like Almere in The Netherlands) - they would need to tell us what buildings are going to be demolished though in order that the design could take the remaining ones into account.