Plans to rebuild precinct ruined

DEVASTATED DREAMS: Lisle Hood, who has been forced to sell some of his Poplar Lane property due to insurance issues.
DEVASTATED DREAMS: Lisle Hood, who has been forced to sell some of his Poplar Lane property due to insurance issues.

The men who brought the laneways lifestyle to Christchurch are being forced to abandon their rebuild dream.

Lisle Hood and Jon Webb's award-winning Lichfield Lanes precinct fell victim first to the earthquakes and now to failed insurer Western Pacific.

They say that with no insurance cash, they must sell their damaged Lichfield St, Tuam St and Poplar Lane properties.

Queenstown-based Western Pacific Insurance collapsed in 2011 under the weight of $48 million of earthquake claims and other debts. Last week liquidators warned that processing claims would take two more years at least.

Hood and Webb's company, Business Building Systems, is the insurer's biggest claimant and the pair believe they may get only half of what they are owed.

They have had no loss of rent payments and no income from the properties. Meanwhile, rates bills have been arriving and mortgage interest mounting. Other claim ants are in similar situations.

"It's been nearly four years already, and it could be another two before we get any money. That's six years of people's lives and livelihoods suffering, and there's been no help in moving this process forward," Hood said.

The pair own or part-own "10 to a dozen" Lichfield Lanes properties worth about $12m through various ownership structures. They began developing the heritage area over a decade ago, remodelling old central city industrial buildings into an acclaimed precinct of bars, restaurants, shops, and apartments.

Hood estimates their losses, even if they can sell, will be several million dollars. Webb has already moved away from Christchurch.

"John Key said [after the quakes] nobody would be financially disadvantaged. The result is very, very different," Hood said.

If the Government had stepped in when the company collapsed as it did with failed insurer AMI, they and other claimants could have rebuilt and been back up and running, he said.

The land is designated for Government purchase as part of the innovation precinct but they have been told it can stay in private hands if returned to mixed use.

Some buildings remain and could be repaired, such as those previously housing the Twisted Hop bar and nearby Cotters Lane. Seven others have been demolished, some of which Hood believed could have been saved.

The pair have had rebuild concept plans drawn up but with debts mounting "we have a responsibility to the bank" and cannot afford to keep it the properties.

Some of their properties are now on the market, some are under offer, and others are ready to sell. Hood said they would like to see a sympathetic developer step in and salvage the precinct, or an angel investor rescue it.

The Press