Compulsory acquisition could reconfigure Christchurch CBD

The threat of compulsory acquisition of private property in Christchurch's CBD is the elephant in the room no-one is talking about as the government moves to develop a new blueprint for the city's reconstruction.

The blueprint will focus on defining large civic projects to anchor the rebuilding of the city centre. But tender documents released last week indicate reconstruction will require the amalgamation of current property titles.

The top priority project is a new conference centre that will require 20,000m2 of land, but the Christchurch City Council doesn't own a parcel that size in a favoured location, said Ernest Duval, a spokesman for property owners group Core. The current convention centre, badly damaged in the February earthquake, occupies just 7000m2.

"There isn't a parcel of land in a suitable location under one ownership," Duval said. "It is highly likely there will need to be a level of amalgamation, but that doesn't necessarily mean compulsory acquisition."

Duval said he expects Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee's new Christchurch Central Development Unit, part of the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), will approach the issue sensibly and reasonably.

"If it's fair and reasonable, there's no issue," he said. "But at the end of the day, the power lies with Cera and the CCDU."

He said if a landowner is made an offer, it's "an offer they can't refuse" as the planned facilities are of national importance.

Last week the CCDU's newly appointed director of earthquake recovery, Warwick Isaacs, issued a tender seeking a consultant to develop the rebuild blueprint.

"The vision contained in Volume 1 of [Christchurch City Council's] draft Recovery Plan needs further refinement to provide certainty to the community and provide clearer direction for investors," the document said.

The document says the minister considers the council's proposed framework did not provide sufficient strategic direction in relation to the urban form and function of the CBD, or enough certainty regarding location and interaction of projects.

It also notes the CBD faces a number of challenges, including years of slow decline leading to inefficient use of real estate and ad hoc, poor quality development; low levels of residential use; competition from satellite centres; old office buildings that no longer meet the needs of businesses; insufficient demand to develop all of the available bare land left as a result of the earthquake; and 3000 different land titles covering a wide range of lot sizes.

"This means that it is difficult to undertake development at a variety of scales sought by the market, and in particular, larger- scale developments that could gain from efficiencies and support multiple tenancies. There is little evidence of landowners consolidating their land holdings to create larger-scale projects," the document said.

Hamish Doig, managing director of property company Colliers' Christchurch brokerage, said the Christchurch CBD is an unusual environment with many properties owned by a large number of well-insured private investors. Many have been able to extinguish any borrowings on their properties out of their insurance payouts and there is little drive to rebuild. "They're able to sit on their hands with cash in the bank," he said.

Meanwhile, the demolished city offers a blank slate for redevelopment. "There's an opportunity to get it right and build a vibrant, exciting environment," Doig said."A lot of small titles are an obstacle."

Doig said Cera has the power to acquire and if a landowner is an obstacle to redevelopment, that power will come to the fore.

"These things require big land masses," he said. "The convention centre is too small and in the wrong location."

Defining where the new convention centre will be will in turn help define where hotels will congregate and where retail districts will be located, he said.

The CCDU's tender includes a shopping list of a dozen anchor projects (see breakout on page 1), including a new convention centre, stadium, metro sports facility and transport interchange.

The blueprint will guide business development and investment decisions by the public and private sectors by "providing certainty on the location of anchor projects and on the form and function of related areas within the CBD", it said.

The blueprint must define their locations, footprint and "conceptual form", and ensure they are fit for purpose in a city, regional and national context.

The blueprint, which is to be developed within three months of the consultant's appointment, will also confirm the location of significant existing structures likely to remain.

The amended Recovery Plan may also include objectives, policies and methods that may later be incorporated within the Christchurch City Council's district plan, it said.

The CBD is defined as the area bounded by Bealey Ave, Fitzgerald Ave, Moorhouse Ave, and Deans Ave.

"Work will also be undertaken within the CCDU on investment options. This work will also need to be integrated with the [consultant's] services," the tender says.

"Drafting of an amended Recovery Plan for the CBD and seeking investment will occur in parallel with this work, and all work streams will need to work closely together to ensure consistency and cohesion," it says, adding that while some existing buildings and infrastructure remain, "these are not sacrosanct".

A consultant is expected to be appointed just five days after the tender closes in early May.

According to the document, of 820 commercial buildings within the CBD, around 600 will be demolished.

Sunday Star Times