Govt eyes red zone options to recoup money

Most of the red-zoned land has been cleared by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority but decisions about the ...
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Most of the red-zoned land has been cleared by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority but decisions about the future use will likely be years away.

The Government hopes to recoup money from Christchurch's red zone by leasing or selling land for private sector development including tourism businesses and small-scale farming.

A decision about the future use of empty tracts of land in the city's east is likely to be years away but in the meantime a community organisation wants to be able to use it.

Documents released under the Official Information Act showed the Government was considering options that offered a "financial return for the Crown" for the future use of the land.

The Crown has spent about $1.5 billion buying homes and land in the red zones and was expected to recoup about $344 million in insurance recoveries, mostly from the Earthquake Commission (EQC) for land damage claims. 

In March, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) sought approval from Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee to undertake feasibility studies of six ideas put forward for the future use.

The proposals were redacted but were believed to include widely publicised ideas, such as a lake for water sportsThe Eden Project, an urban farm and the Avon-Otakaro Network's plan to turn the riverside red zone into a reserve.

At the time Brownlee told Cera to hold off "pending other decisions" but it is understood that at least one feasibility study has been undertaken. Cera would not confirm this.

Officials outlined proposed objectives of the future of the red zone which included economic growth, delivering social and cultural wellbeing and "no negative financial legacies" for the Crown. 

Selling land to facilitate "private sector investment opportunities" including housing, small-scale farming, light commercial and tourism was among the options listed to help recoup money. 

The document also said rents in the residential red zone and land sales should offset the amount the Crown is paying in rates and maintenance of the red zone from 2017-18.

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Programme manager for community group Eastern Vision Evan Smith said people were frustrated that it was taking so long for future use decisions to be made.

He said Cera had not been open to many interim uses up until now - mainly because of health and safety reasons - but  hoped this would change as the management of the red zone passed from Cera to Land Information New Zealand.

"We need to do something to this no man's land that runs through the heart of the east and bring back the amenity value for these communities."

A temporary walking and biking trail from city to sea, children's sports grounds, and greening the riverbanks were among the initiatives Eastern Vision wanted the Government to approve.

Smith said the public were again being invited to submit their thoughts on red zone proposals on the Evo::Space website following a seven-part series called Eyes East which focused on the future of the red zone. 

Cera staff had been devising "an approach" to the public engagement process since early 2014 but so far, nothing had been announced.

Official documents suggested that Cera and Brownlee felt the Christchurch City Council was to blame for the delay because it had been slow to provide the Government with a plan outlining its infrastructure requirements for the red zone. Its plan was submitted in January 2015.

A quick scan of the council's infrastructure plans would leave much of the red zone prone to flooding, limiting the range of potential uses.

In September Brownlee announced he had instructed the Waimakariri District Council to develop a draft recovery plan for the future use of the district's red zones at Pines Beach, Kaiapoi and Kairaki. A Cera spokesman said "community engagement" was underway on future uses of the Waimakariri red zones.

But he could not confirm when recovery plans would be developed for the future use of Christchurch's red zones. He said there were still property owners considering whether to accept Crown offers, including new offers made made to owners of vacant, uninsured and insured commercial properties. 

The spokesman said any timeframe for public engagement on the future of Christchurch's red zones was still to be determined.

 - Stuff

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