Blueprint 'land grab' under fire

LIZ MCDONALD AND SAM SACHDEVA
Last updated 05:00 16/08/2012
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The Government buy-up for the central Christchurch blueprint has been described as a "land grab" and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) as a "den of thieves".

Angry landowners say the Government will profit by selling their sites to someone else, in some cases leaving the original owners severely out of pocket.

The Government has said some of the 840 sites needed for the green frame and civic amenities will be "repackaged" and offered to private interests.

Original owners need not get first refusal, unlike leftover land from Public Works Act purchases for projects such as motorways.

Lisle Hood, co-owner of properties around Poplar St earmarked for the new innovation precinct, accused the Government of bullying tactics.

"It's a land grab. They are nationalising private property and stomping all over our property rights," he said.

"They are buying up all this land and they will flog it off to the big corporates and make a huge killing on it."

Owners investing in heritage restoration had improved the city "only to be treated like crap, and that's obscene".

"The Government should be looking after people, not ripping them off, and they've got a den of thieves [Cera] doing it on their behalf," Hood said.

Roland Logan, part-owner of the Ng building in the path of the proposed stadium, said owners would be "subject to a serious injustice" if their land was resold at a profit.

"Their property will be taken, their business destroyed, they'll receive what is as yet undetermined compensation, then [the Government] will on-sell it when the city has recovered."

He said Cera was "basically flouting the rule of law" by impinging on property rights.

"What they're doing is just mindboggling; it's appalling," Logan said.

All owners spoken to by The Press wanted first refusal to buy back Government land taken.

They expected land values to rise once the new projects got under way and believed the Government would profit.

Dean Marshall, a director of KPI Rothschild, which has several affected sites, said if compensation were not fair there would be "a lot of very upset property owners".

He supported the blueprint but said they wanted to develop their own sites and now feared being priced out of the market.

Harcourts Grenadier co-owner Rob McCormack said he was "overwhelmed" at the prospect of losing the premises on which the company had spent 18 months and more than $1 million trying to rebuild, and did not know what the compensation would cover.

"I know it's the right thing for the city, and some people are having to make sacrifices, but emotionally, mentally and psychologically, there's no compensation for this," he said.

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Property lawyer Hamish Grant, of Anthony Harper, said the blueprint had opened a "legal can of worms" and unhappy property owners could try to fight the buy-up.

He said the Government could take land only for earthquake recovery, not "willy-nilly" or to benefit the city or the economy, and could be challenged by judicial review.

"The courts have traditionally come down on governments because they are taking advantage of people's property rights," he said.

"But it could be hard to argue. Until someone who is unhappy takes them to task, we just won't know."

A spokesman for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said negotiations over the land compensation with owners were continuing, and the minister would not comment on that or the issue of future land resales.

Opposition MPs called on the Government to be more open about its motives for selling the land.

Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel said people's concerns reflected the lack of transparency in the recovery process.

"The thing is, it doesn't look good, and unless the Government is completely open with what it's doing and why it's doing it, then people will draw their own conclusions," she said.

Green MP Eugenie Sage had "significant concerns" about the lack of information from the Government.

"It's very easy on a map to fill in a space with green ... but we need a lot more of the detail," she said.

- The Press

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