What is about to happen to Christchurch's red zone?

Houses bordering the residential red zone in Avondale, Christchurch.

Houses bordering the residential red zone in Avondale, Christchurch.

Six years after the earthquakes, Christchurch can finally start to consider what should happen in the residential red zone. MICHAEL WRIGHT reports. ​

In May 2011, more than 10,000 people descended on what was then called the CBS Canterbury [now Horncastle] Arena in Addington for what must still count as Christchurch's largest-ever earthquake meeting.

It wasn't a meeting per se, but much discussion was had. The Share an Idea expo asked Cantabrians what they wanted to see in the rebuilt city centre.

More than 100,000 ideas were put forward with crayons, Post-it notes, videos and Lego. The campaign won several international awards, and was widely viewed as a model of successful public consultation.

A plan for what to do in the residential red zone in east Christchurch will take shape this year.

A plan for what to do in the residential red zone in east Christchurch will take shape this year.

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Now, something similar is brewing. Christchurch needs to decide what to do with the 535 hectares of the residential red zone.

"After the central city, this is without a doubt the next biggest, some will say bigger, opportunity for something quite remarkable to happen," Regenerate Christchurch residential red zone general manager Rob Kerr says.

"It has the potential to be transformational for the future of Christchurch."

Starting in March, Regenerate Christchurch will have six months to come up with a regeneration plan for the Otakaro/Avon River corridor – which is what it calls the largest tranche of the east Christchurch residential red zone now. It is aware of about 80 ideas for what to do in the area and, some duplication aside, will probably have to consider them all.

Regenerate Christchurch residential red zone general manager Rob Kerr: "It has the potential to be transformational for ...

Regenerate Christchurch residential red zone general manager Rob Kerr: "It has the potential to be transformational for the future of Christchurch."

And it must go to the public. Consultation will be different from the central city version; more extensive for one thing. Next month Regenerate will post land use ideas on a website and host a Share an Idea-type event. Sort of.

"It's a little bit like that," Kerr says.

"It'll be an event but it has to be more than just, 'You have to come there and it's your only opportunity' . . . Not everybody has had a voice yet. It's really important that we provide a process which allows a wide diversity of voice.

"Not only in terms of culture but in age, world view. It's easy to set up a process to allow some people to have a voice because they're engaged but this is more important than that."

Apart from the timeframe and multi-faceted consultation, the main difference is that this time people will be asked what they think Christchurch needs, rather than just what they want. This is the filter Regenerate Christchurch will apply when considering ideas as well. It will also do its own business case work for each one, and is asking submitters not to provide their own.

Community group Greening the Red Zone wants to turn the Avon River red zone into a native forest park.

Community group Greening the Red Zone wants to turn the Avon River red zone into a native forest park.

"This isn't a bidding process," Kerr says.

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"There are groups that are very articulate and well resourced and well connected. That's fine, that's normal, but there are others of equal value who are not and so we want to make sure there's equality of access and equality of voice."

Submitters – "project proponents" as Regenerate calls them – will get the chance for further input and advice on their own ideas, Kerr says, including on how they might be funded.

"This is the same case with all processes like this. You've got to make the case that it's worth public money being put into it."

Some projects are already in the public sphere – a native forest, a whitewater sports park, a New Zealand version of the UK Eden Project. At the request of the Crown and the Christchurch City Council, Regenerate is already considering a two-kilometre flat lake for rowing, swimming and racing.

"It has quite significant land area and cost," Kerr says.

"We need to get some clarity around that to what's feasible earlier rather than later because it has such a big knock-on impact to other concepts."

Regenerate Christchurch is already considering a flat lake in the red zone, at the Crown's request.

Regenerate Christchurch is already considering a flat lake in the red zone, at the Crown's request.

In the meantime, the residential red zone sits passive. On the flat land, through the river corridor, Southshore, South New Brighton and Brooklands, demolition, clearance and land treatment on Crown-owned properties is complete.

Land Information New Zealand (Linz), which oversees the asset for the Government, is essentially a property manager there. Keeping the lawns down, the fences up and running security.

On the Port Hills, things are busier. Two-hundred and fourteen of the 619 red-zoned properties owned by the Crown are still to be cleared, which could mean each one has anything from a three-storey house to a garden shed awaiting demolition.

A house is demolished on the cliff side above Redcliffs. Some red-zone demolitions in the Port Hills have cost $300,000.

A house is demolished on the cliff side above Redcliffs. Some red-zone demolitions in the Port Hills have cost $300,000.

Linz has $42 million to do the job – about $69,000 per property – but on the hills demolitions have ranged from $11,000 to $300,000, depending on complexity. A particularly thorny job on Whitewash Head is ongoing.

"When we were first looking at it, it was about an 80-20 ratio of heavy machinery to remote control machinery," Linz Port Hills group manager Brenden Winder says.

"Then the [2016] Valentine's Day quake went whooshing through there. We stepped back, had a look at it. It ended up being about 80-20 the other way around. The earthquake made that site more expensive."

About half of the flat land red-zone properties needing waste water service are in Brooklands.

About half of the flat land red-zone properties needing waste water service are in Brooklands.

Once cleared, the cost to maintain each Port Hills site averages out to just under $1800 a year, though this number is falling. About 60 per cent of the properties are cleared, but they equate to 75 per cent of the total work.

"We deliberately did the high risk stuff first," Winder said, "[After] we learnt a few things."

"Now we're on the downward slope."

On top, or underneath, Linz's work, the city council is rethinking how it provides waste water services to the red zone. There are 44 occupied properties on the flat land, currently served by suction tankers emptying manholes or tanks.

The process costs nearly $500,000 a year [the bill is split between the Crown and the council]. This is on top of water and storm water costs. Next month, councillors will consider a one-off cost of $538,000 to install a pressurised system. Money is an unavoidable reality, even in the red zone.

"Because we don't know what the future looks like we spend money that we shouldn't or don't spend money that we should that will benefit the future," Winder says.

"At some point in two or three years time people with 20/20 hindsight are going to come and unpick what [we] are doing now. We're doing our best to crystal ball gaze but we're going to get some of it wrong."

 - Stuff


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