Delay a threat to shopping precinct

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 11/09/2012
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DAVID HALLETT/Fairfax NZ
The Re:Start container development in City Mall.

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A planning holdup is threatening to derail efforts to provide a permanent shopping precinct in the heart of Christchurch.

Developers hoped to get work under way early next year on retail developments in the central business district to replace the Re:Start container shopping mall.

But with the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) still to release its master plan for the City Mall area, those developments are on hold.

Colliers national director of property management Evan Harris said yesterday that several developers had plans "drawn up and ready to go" but could not progress with them until the CCDU had completed its master plan for the retail area as it would dictate what size and form their developments could take.

"They are waiting in the wings and are keen to get going, but until they know what the rules and regulations are, they can't go any further," he said.

Among the waiting developers is Nick Hunt, who has plans to build a $70 million complex on the site of the former Shades and Whitcoulls buildings.

Hunt had hoped to start work on the multi-use complex in January, but with no set time frame for the release of the CCDU master plan he believes it will be next April at the earliest before work can begin.

As time drags on, Hunt fears it will become harder to find tenants and that opportunities will be lost.

"I am accepting of the delay but I am concerned that if it drags on too much more, tenants who are committed to coming back into the central city will be forced to commit themselves elsewhere. Time is of the essence," he said.

When the CCDU released its blueprint for the central city in late July, it signalled that over the next 100 days it would do more planning on the development of a retail precinct based on the City Mall, but it did not set a firm deadline for the release of its master plan.

A CCDU spokesman said yesterday that the plan was being drafted and a meeting would be organised in "the very near future" for property owners in the retail precinct to discuss the plan and how their development might fit within it.

"A successful retail sector in the central city is a vital part of the recovery. The planning has to be done right and not rushed," he said.

Central City Business Association deputy chairman Philip Richards said it was difficult for developers to make decisions on CBD projects when there was no information on how traffic or parking would be managed.

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"Accessibility is terribly important. We also have no idea what the plan is for managing the development, so there is an ongoing retail presence at the same time as a lot of [construction] work is going on," he said.

"There are some people who are hugely frustrated and others who are willing to co-operate and go along with the CCDU, but we all want things to happen sooner rather than later."

Re:Start manager Paul Lonsdale could not be reached for comment yesterday, but with a start on retail developments still some months away it is likely the temporary container shopping precinct will remain in place until at least next March.

When the Re:Start mall opened last October it was meant to remain in place for only six months.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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