April target to remove cordon

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 10/09/2011

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The central Christchurch cordon could be gone by April, allowing thousands of Cantabrians to return to their city's broken heart.

The draft recovery strategy for greater Christchurch is open to public submissions from today and includes new milestones to measure the city's earthquake recovery.

For the first time, the document shows Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) plans to complete all demolitions in central Christchurch and reopen the entire central business district by April 1.

By Christmas, Cera plans to halve the size of the red zone, which has excluded the public from most of the central city since the February 22 quake.

Cera chief executive Roger Sutton said the deadlines were "gutsy" but achievable.

"It is a stretch target, but we're going to work really hard to get there," he said.

Meeting the target will require pulling down hundreds of central-city buildings in the next seven months.

So far, 546 of 900 buildings that need to come down have been totally or partially demolished, with another 135 jobs under way.

The 10-month demolition of the Hotel Grand Chancellor began in late May but was delayed by about three weeks by snow, pushing the expected completion date to mid-April.

The demolition of other big quake-hit buildings, such as the Clarendon Tower, is being delayed by wrangling between authorities, building owners and insurers.

The Government has issued increasingly blunt threats to building owners perceived to be dragging the chain, and Sutton yesterday said the April target was a message for them.

"I think that is another reason for that target – so the property owners know we have that target and they are going to have to work within that target," he said.

The first red-zone area scheduled to be reopened is the City Mall on October 29, but Sutton would not provide details on when other areas would be released from the red zone.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said reopening the central city should be a priority and needed to happen before April 1.

"The longer we leave the central city dead, the harder it will be to breathe life into it," he said.

While safety was paramount, whenever possible, streets should be reopened.

"You can't fence it off and wait until all the cleaning up is done. We have to give priority to access," he said.

Central City Business Association manager Paul Lonsdale said it was important to set targets, even if they were "gutsy".

Some former central-city businesses were keen to return, but many had made permanent homes in suburban centres, he said.

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These businesses would have to be enticed back into the city, with cheap rent and plentiful parking, he said.

"The mass won't be there immediately, but the customers certainly want to come back. The city just needs to supply what businesses want to bring them back from the suburbs."

In addition to opening the central city, the draft strategy detailed other timelines for the recovery, including:

Completing all emergency works on the Port Hills by mid-October.

Completing all Earthquake Commission assessments by the end of the year.

Resolving all orange zones by mid-2012 (with most areas resolved by the end of the year).

Some recovery work is expected to take much longer, with remediation work on the Port Hills expected to continue until 2019 and beyond.

Sutton said the quakes had created 5000 potential rockfall hazards, which would need to be monitored for years.

"There are 9000 individual boulders and we are going to have to keep an eye on those."

Submissions on the strategy can be made from today.

- The Press

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