Opinions divided on blueprint success

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 07:16 30/07/2014
Majestic Theatre demolition
Dean Kozanic/Fairfax NZ

DEMOLISHED: Labour’s earthquake recovery spokeswoman, Ruth Dyson, says decisions such as demolishing Majestic Theatre to widen Manchester St ‘‘did not have the community’s needs at heart.’’

Christchurch Central Recovery Plan
THE PLAN: The Christchurch Central Recovery Plan released two years ago.
Westende House
DAVID HALLETT/Fairfax NZ
UPS AND DOWNS: The $4 million Westende House, on the corner of Worcester and Manchester streets, will be knocked down to allow for the widening of Manchester St.

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Two years ago today the Christchurch Central Development Unit unveiled its recovery plan for the central city. Georgina Stylianou asks what the blueprint has achieved in 730 days.

On July 30, 2012, city leaders, politicians and entrepreneurs gathered at the city's civic offices as brochures of the new-look Christchurch were handed out and colourful images were displayed on a large screen.

Bold, vibrant and world-class were among the words used to describe the recovery plan, dubbed the blueprint.

The long-awaited plan was produced in 100 days. It was delivered 13 months after the first residential zoning decisions and 11 months before the CBD cordon was lifted. Land acquisitions were immediately contentious, anchor projects were showy, but the overall vision received overwhelming praise.

At the time of the release, Mayor Lianne Dalziel was still Christchurch East MP and Labour's earthquake recovery spokeswoman. She told The Press the blueprint was "exciting and inspirational" but the focus now needed to shift to the people.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee described it as the "start of a hugely exciting future for our city" while Prime Minister John Key reiterated the Crown's commitment to the country's second biggest city.

Two years on - and many squabbles later - the new city is starting to take shape, but opinions are divided about how effective the blueprint has been.

Earlier this year Brownlee called the retail precinct "the biggest mess on our plate".

The blueprint required developers to produce plans for 7500 square metres, meaning existing landowners needed to either buy into or sell out of projects. There were calls for the Government to intervene, and it seemed the stalemate would never end.

"But the vision for the retail precinct is turning out the way it was meant to," City Mall landowner Peter Guthrey said.

Developers Nick Hunt, Antony Gough, Tim Glasson and Philip Carter all have projects under way in the retail core, and Guthrey will soon follow suit.

"We're finally starting to see the blueprint working for us," he said. He had recently spoken with a potential anchor tenant for his planned development and had been able to "show them a map and tell them that this, this and this is happening".

Hunt said the blueprint had brought about "some good and some bad".

Compacting the inner-city was a "very sensible idea", he said.

"I would very much like to see the emphasis on terraced housing in the [eastern] frame."

Brownlee said he always had "quiet confidence [the blueprint] would fall into place". "I try not to react to every single little concern . . . Nobody is ever going to agree all the time, but I was keen that we just stuck to our guns."

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The CCDU was responsible for land acquisitions and its share of the anchor projects, but it was always going to be up to the private sector to rebuild most of the CBD, he said.

The blueprint and land acquisitions had "preserved the value of central city land" as well as containing the sprawling CBD.

"Local people had the opportunity to cash up and go but they haven't . . . and I have huge respect for the people who have committed tens of millions to Christchurch so far."

KPI Rothschild Property Group has experienced the ups and downs of the blueprint.

Westende House was the first new building in the CBD after the February 2011 earthquake, but when the blueprint was released the site was earmarked for the eastern frame. It was bought by the Crown and will be demolished to allow for the widening of Manchester St.

Three blocks down the road the company's $12 million triangular building stands on the corner of Lichfield and High streets, in the heart of the area designated for late-night activity.

Director Shaun Stockman said: "Land acquisitions were never going to be palatable, but with the plan they developed they had to happen."

He said the last few months had brought about tangible results and he felt positive about the future.

"If you look at the blueprint, then fast-forward to 2017, it will be a very different city indeed, and it will be vibrant."

Labour's earthquake recovery spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said the blueprint had not delivered value for money and had instead "caused some damage". Decisions such as demolishing Majestic Theatre to widen Manchester St and demolishing Centennial Pool to "make way for a $30m playground" did not have the community's needs at heart, she said.

City leaders needed to "have a cup of tea" and decide which projects were "genuinely important", she said.

Dalziel was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Deputy Mayor Vicki Buck said her personal preference was for cities to develop organically and not to a prescribed blueprint. "But reflecting on what has happened over the past two years is nowhere near as exciting as thinking about what will happen, because the key now is to make the city a place where all of us want to be."

The justice and emergency services precinct, the health precinct and hospital redevelopment and the bus interchange were among "the ticks so far".

"But I don't think the idea of a blueprint necessarily drives the most interesting outcome . . . and having less government involvement might have sped up the recovery."

- The Press

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