Call for affordable housing in new city village

OPEN LETTER: Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud.
OPEN LETTER: Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud.

Community advocates fear low-income people will be priced out of central Christchurch unless affordable housing is included in the planned urban village.

The city council and the Government announced yesterday that they were launching an international competition for the design and build of an urban village on a one-hectare site on the northeast corner of Latimer Square.

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Under the terms of the competition, designers must provide for at least 50 dwellings on the site of various sizes and prices, but there is no specific requirement to include affordable or social housing within the village.

That, says community advocate Brenda Lowe-Johnson, is a mistake.

She believes the council is missing out on a chance to provide alternative accommodation to low-income inner-city residents squeezed out of the area by the earthquakes.

Such residents added character to the city and contributed towards its vibrancy.

''If they don't go there, where are they going to go?'' she said. ''They are not going to be able to afford private rentals, so what happens to them?

''They've been squeezed further and further out because places like Addington, where they used to be able to find accommodation, are becoming very fashionable and are becoming too pricey.''

City councillor Glenn Livingstone said it was crucial the proposed urban village contained some affordable housing as the inner city should be home to a cross-section of the Christchurch community.

With privately developed accommodation within the central city likely to be out of the reach of low-income earners and beneficiaries, it was up to the authorities to ensure some affordable accommodation was on offer.

Council strategy and planning general manager Mike Theelen said that while there was no specific requirement for design entrants to include affordable housing within the urban village, it was not precluded.

''We've left it fairly open. It's about creating opportunities for a wide variety of people,'' he said.

''We didn't want it to become dominated by social housing or by upper-end market housing. We're expecting the different designers to come back and show us how they might address a whole range of housing options.'' 

The land is being acquired by the Government but the village, one of the anchor projects in the Christchurch Central Development Plan, will be developed privately.

Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson said it could become a blueprint for other inner-city residential developments.

"The competition is an opportunity to explore the potential for Christchurch to become an example of modern living and is open to any consortium that includes a professional designer and a property developer," he said.

"[It] is about setting a new standard, not just for Christchurch or even New Zealand but inspiring the world to achieve more beautiful and desirable inner cities."

Nearly 130 architects and designers from around the world have already registered their interest in taking part in the competition, which is being run by the Christchurch City Council, the Business Innovation and Employment Ministry, the Christchurch Central Development Unit and Ngai Tahu.

Competition entries will be judged by a panel whose members include British television presenter Kevin McCloud, who fronts Grand Designs.

Mayor Bob Parker said the idea behind the project was to inspire residents to live in the central city.

He said the eyes of the world were on Christchurch as it redeveloped.

The design of the new urban village was an opportunity for the city to demonstrate its commitment to providing a high-quality, sustainable living environment, he said.

The deadline for entries in the first stage of the competition is January 15. Three teams will then be shortlisted and given $20,000 to complete developed designs, from which a winner will be selected by next August.

Construction is scheduled to start in December next year.

Because the location is a designated site, it is exempt from the usual planning rules for residential areas of the the central city.

Economic viability will be taken into account when choosing the winning design as the Government wants to recoup at least the capital costs of the project.

Theelen said he expected high international interest in the competition, particularly from architects in Australia, the United States and Britain who were experienced in high-density developments.

He said it was crucial that designers entering the competition teamed up with a developer and worked through financing options as they would be expected to produce their designs if selected as the winner.

"We want something that actually gets delivered," Theelen said.

The launch of the competition comes as the council embarks on a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority-ordered review of the planning rules that apply in the living zones within the central city.

The review will investigate whether the current rules support the aspirations in the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan for a high-quality inner-city living environment that will complement the regenerated business areas.

The review is scheduled for completion by March.

The Press