Land for anchor projects reduced

Property owners say Crown "bit off more than it could chew" with central city blueprint

The bold plan for Christchurch's rebuild has been slowly altered since its release, with more than a fifth of the land earmarked for Crown acquisition back in private landowners' hands.

Comparing the land designations from July 2012 with current designations shows many anchor projects have been scaled back, with a 23 per cent reduction in the land required by the Government.

The Christchurch Central Development Unit's (CCDU) land-purchase programme was the most controversial component of the blueprint. Landowners have criticised delays and a perceived lack of transparency, which left them unclear whether their land would be bought by the Crown or they would be allowed to retain sites.

The south frame, which includes the health precinct and innovation precinct, has experienced the biggest reduction in land sought for purchase. The Crown will now buy only the land needed for public spaces.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee recently said an increase in land prices was among the reasons the Crown had decided to not purchase most of the south frame.

The performing-arts precinct and area earmarked for the stadium have also been scaled back.

The majority of compulsory acquisitions have taken place in the east frame - the strip of central city land between Manchester and Madras streets. Several operating businesses were bought out, including Calendar Girls and the Bicycle Thief restaurant.

Some east-frame owners are pursuing court action over compensation they received for their sites.

Dean Marshall, co-director of KPI Rothschild Property Group, said there was "absolutely no need for the Government to acquire the entire east frame".

Existing buildings and businesses could have become part of a new mixed-use area, he said.

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KPI rebuilt Westende House, on the corner of Manchester and Worcester streets, after the February 2011 quake, only to lose it to the east frame when the blueprint was released. The $4 million building will be demolished this year.

"I think the [land acquisition programme] was done with the best intentions but I don't think they listened to local investors - the ones willing to put their money where their mouths were," Marshall said.

"I'd say about 99 per cent of what we said during meetings [with the CCDU] fell on deaf ears."

Richard Middleton, the owner of the former Bicycle Thief restaurant in Latimer Sq, said the blueprint was "ill-conceived and lacked feasibility".

Middleton was "yet to receive a cent from the Government" for the loss of his business. He said his first compensation claim was rejected and he now needs to lodge another.

A spokesman for Calendar Girls, which has until the end of the year to relocate from its Hereford St site, said the CCDU had "ruled with an iron fist".

"It was literally a case of 'give it to us or we'll come and take it'," he said.

South frame business owner

Angus Cockram, managing director of Cockram Motor Group, said the Crown had "bit off more than it could chew" with the land acquisition programme.

"We've been unable to grow, or change, or make business decisions for more than [two years] . . . and now they've changed their minds [about buying the south frame]," he said.

CCDU director Warwick Isaacs said the reduction in the amount of land earmarked for acquisition was because it had been able to "clarify what land is needed by the Crown for anchor projects".

"I think we have moved at an appropriate pace to make decisions about what land is required in the context of an unprecedented central city rebuild where multiple large projects are being developed at the same time."

Landowners had been "part of the discussion" throughout, he said.

The Crown needed to buy all the land in the east frame because it was being "transformed from a commercial area to a residential area".

Peter Townsend, chief executive of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce, said no landowner or business owner should be disadvantaged by the decision not to acquire sites. The decision not to buy the entire south frame was "not necessarily a failure or surrender".

 - The Press

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