Village camps set to house rebuild labour
OLIVIA CARVILLE AND ANNA TURNER
Business leaders support the idea of "working men's villages" in central Christchurch.
The proposed security-monitored, self-contained camps would house the thousands of overseas workers expected in the city for the rebuild.
Up to 10 camps could be built on vacant sites within the four avenues, each housing hundreds of workers.
The temporary housing will surround a central ablution block, recreational facilities and on-site food and drink venues, organisers say.
Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said he supported the villages as long as they were carefully managed.
''Provided that is done carefully and sensibly, and in support of the rest of the community, it makes good sense to me to have workers close to their building sites,'' he said.
''They would just have to make sure it remains temporary and doesn't become permanent.''
He thought the camps would attract more people to the central city and provide clientele for businesses reopening in the central city.
''I don't think it would put people off any more than having a hostel in the central city. In fact, it's a good way to temporarily populate the central city.''
Townsend thought the villages were one of many solutions to help the housing crisis in Christchurch.
"I think the answer to the accommodation problem is going to be made up of many different solutions, including this proposal, more construction of housing and homestays. This can only help the situation," he said.
Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale also backed the concept.
''Bringing life back into the city is always a good thing. Long term, we would probably like to see more families going back in, but as a temporary thing I think it's great,'' he said.
JGM Group director and project manager Jamie Thomas has been working on the proposal for more than a year and said it was "very close to coming to fruition".
"There are some major plans that are being worked on and they are well off the drawing board," he told The Press yesterday.
The workers' villages, each expected to cover 800 square metres, would have lockable gates, an on-site manager, 24-hour security and police presence. Public access is expected be restricted.
They would be erected to put the workers within walking distance of inner-city amenities and to encourage businesses back into the central business district.
Several of Christchurch's major construction, infrastructure and property investment companies are behind the project, which had focused on creating a feasible accommodation solution for the imminent arrival of an estimated 20,000 construction workers for the city rebuild.
Christchurch property investor Tony Brazier, who has worked in the industry for 22 years, would step into the role of property manager.
He said the plan was a win-win situation that would offer construction companies an accommodation solution and release pressure on a fragile rental market.
Tenants at the bottom end of the market were "screaming" for affordable rentals and thousands of workers entering the rental pool would overburden the bulging market, he said.
"As much as nothing looks to be happening out there, the public can be assured there are some good brains getting together and working on this."
The idea of "migrant workers' camps or working men's villages" was not new, and many similar projects were in place overseas, such as mining camps in Australia or the Midle East oil fields, he said.
"It's a no-brainer really as it is probably the only way things are going to move quickly,'' he said..
"We will need hundreds, if not thousands, of temporary accommodation [units] for these guys when they start coming in – and we will need it fast."
Feasibility studies were under way and proposals had been sent out inviting businesses to get involved, he said.
If the plan gets the go-ahead, Brazier believed it would take about six months to complete each village but there was "a lot of water to go under the bridge yet".
The safety of Christchurch's community and the occupants had been considered, and police would be involved in the final planning stages of the villages, he said.
The Department of Building and Housing and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority have been investigating accommodation options for workers but have not been directly involved in the planning of the villages.
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