Warning against land grab in city

LIZ MCDONALD
Last updated 05:00 20/07/2013

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The Government is being warned against "confiscating" land as it tries to break a development deadlock in Christchurch's City Mall.

Last night was the Government's deadline for landowners and developers fighting over a prime mall block to hand over confidential information about their plans.

Using special powers, the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) had last week sought details of development strategies, possible tenants, time frames and plans to buy or sell land. At the same time Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee warned compulsory acquisition could be used to hasten development.

The valuable land, from Ballantynes store to the Bridge of Remembrance between Cashel and Lichfield streets, is in the hands of around a dozen owners. It must be developed within a master plan to meet CCDU requirements.

CCDU head Warwick Isaacs said last night the unit would spend the week considering the information received "and what it means for progress".

"Any further steps to be taken beyond that will be considered once this analysis has been completed."

Issacs said all parties had been warned that the Government may "intervene" to speed development if there was no progress.

Leasing agent Brendan Chase, who commissioned a design for owners in the block to develop their own land, said any steps to "confiscate" land would be unjustified.

Chase believed big tenants and developers were pressuring the Government to step in and take land, confusing owners and preventing progress.

"The corporate development approach won't work without land being taken by force.

"If the Government takes private land to give to another private individual so corporates can have their offices there, that's trampling over property rights," Chase said.

He believed the landholders, some of whom had owned their sites for decades, should be encouraged to develop individually to an overall plan.

Mall landowner and prospective developer Tim Howe doubted the Government could legally take land from one private owner to sell to another.

"If the Government intervenes and acquires the land, we'll get a corporate solution. Christchurch needs private investors," Howe said.

"If there's a land grab, you send a strong message and that capital investment will go elsewhere."

Howe's company, Ocean Partners, has drawn up two plans to develop the mall using "significant" overseas investment.

Others with overlapping plans for the block include Goodman Property, Leighs Construction, landlords Peter Guthrey and Paddy Cotter, and the BCG Alliance (Ballantynes, Carter Group and Guthrey Holdings).

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