Government may act on City Mall impasse

LIZ MCDONALD
Last updated 05:00 20/06/2013

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The Government has stepped into the battle to build on a prime Christchurch shopping block and is threatening to use its emergency earthquake powers to break the development deadlock.

Developers have been competing since October to gain control of the City Mall block and build their vision for the retail precinct - part of Christchurch's central-city recovery blueprint.

But no winning bid has emerged and with a sixth plan for the area now in play, developers are despairing at the impasse.

The land has more than a dozen owners, and negotiation between them and the developers is the key stumbling block.

The Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) is now taking a hands-on approach to proceedings and says it will "become more involved" if developers cannot end the stalemate themselves.

One of its powers is compulsory acquisition of land.

CCDU director Warwick Isaacs said the unit was in "commercially sensitive discussions" and had reminded developers and landowners of its expectations.

The Crown would "become more involved to move the precinct forward" as a last resort, he said, although no deadline had been set.

"The CCDU has a range of tools available to it to ensure the desired progress is made," he said.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the Government wanted resolution as soon as possible.

"We've obviously got a great interest in making sure a good plan comes together and that it is complementary to the intention of that area in the CBD," he said.

The six developers all have resource consent for their overlapping multimillion-dollar projects, between the Bridge of Remembrance and the Ballantynes department store.

They and the landowners have been expressing their frustrations at the deadlock for several months. One suggested the Government "knock some heads together" to get progress.

A spokesman for Leighs Construction, which has one of the six consented plans, said the company was "working towards finding a positive solution" to the difficulties on the block.

Developer Goodman Group has already thrown in the towel.

Tim Howe, of Ocean Partners, which is behind the Commerce Square plan, doubted one dominant owner could take control.

"The chances of Leighs or ourselves doing a plan alone are probably remote now. People need to

work in together for the sake of the city,'' he said.

"We don't want anything heavy handed, but the CCDU wants to make sure capital committed will stay there."

Owners on the block held a meeting on Tuesday night to share concerns and information. It is understood neighbouring developers and Christchurch City Council staff spoke, but no-one from the CCDU attended.

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A retail strategist has been brought over from Melbourne to write a report on the precinct.

The latest design to secure resource consent for the block is the biggest yet, with 19 buildings over 1.5 hectares stretching from the Avon River to Ballantynes.

Named West End, it was designed by architects Warren and Mahoney for leasing agent and mall tenant Chase Commercial.

The plan has rooftop gardens, outdoor terraces, laneways and 900 car parks. It covers 20 addresses in the hands of 15 owners, including sites bought by other contenders.

Unlike some other plans, West End would see individual owners keep and develop their land within design rules.

Chase director Brendan Chase said the multiple ownership must be turned from an impediment to a strength.

"None of the developers has a clear way forward and they've struck difficulties. These landowners have got white knuckles hanging on to their land and don't want to go," he said.

Landowner Peter Guthrey is now part of two approved plans and but said he could do nothing yet.

"We need to know what is happening with our neighbours, and how the CCDU will sort out all these competing plans,'' he said.

''Everyone needs to understand what the end result is going to be. We can't do anything without some certainty."

AT A GLANCE

Development proposals for the central Christchurch's retail core, bordered by Lichfield, Hereford and High streets and Oxford Tce, must be master-planned and cover at least 7500 square metres.

Companies including Lichfield Holdings (Gough brothers), Hereford Holdings (Nick Hunt) and OLT Properties (Michael Ogilvy-Lee) can progress unchallenged with projects on their own land north of Cashel St.

However, there are six competing plans for the land opposite. They are:

- Ocean Partners-Apollo Projects: Commerce Square, a $200 million office and retail precinct and public square from the Avon River to Plymouth Ln.

- BCG Alliance (Ballantynes, Carter Group and Guthrey Holdings): $200m of shops and offices on their own land from High St to the Guthrey Centre.

- Goodman Property: Te Poutahi, $350m complex of offices, shops and hospitality. Now shelved.

- Leighs Construction: Precinct of five office and retail buildings, plus laneways, from the river to Plymouth Ln.

- Peter Guthrey, Dennis Sunderland and Paddy Cotter: Low-rise shops and offices on their own sites west of Ballantynes.

- Chase Commercial (Brendan Chase): West End, complex of 19 building over 1.5 ha from the river to Ballantynes.

- The Press

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