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 interest.co.nz 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:
- (a) the mayor of the Christchurch City Council; Bob Parker
- (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.