Victoria St up, High St struggling

I've been in the process of setting up a new restaurant, which has moved my attention from Victoria to High St.

The two are interesting to compare. Diagonal streets that cut from the avenues into the centre, both oddities in an otherwise gridded city.

These streets traditionally served as commercial routes into the city and were both badly damaged in the earthquakes.

But one is thriving and the other only just surviving. Victoria St will have all its gaps filled in no short order, while in High St it will be some time before a critical mass of buildings emerges.

Before the quakes they were both struggling - as was the central city as a whole - but these two streets struggled a little less than others. They both had identities. Victoria St was upmarket retail, busy with office workers and defined by the residents, whose properties wrapped around the street; High St also had a strong retail presence and was Christchurch's home of fashion. It too had residents, but they tended to live above shops and were tenants.

In the aftermath of the quakes the streets have developed quite differently. Why is this?

Victoria St was lucky enough to find an ambitious developer who trusted his gut and started building while everybody else was standing around. A bit of momentum goes a long way and others followed. The street also managed to escape the ravages of overplanning that has decimated the rest of the city.

High St hasn't been so lucky. No developers have lined up to kick-start the area. I believe the main problem is High St being in the unfortunate position of lying within the South Frame/ Innovation Precinct.

Sure, Minister Gerry Brownlee has announced that Vodafone will move into the neighbourhood. Sure, we are expecting the announcement of a few more just as exciting businesses. Sure, other businesses deemed "innovative" enough will trumpet announcements of their arrival over the coming months and years. But that won't be enough to fill the gaps.

CCDU has released a document seeking feedback on the South Frame. As I read through it I was horrified by how many extra stupid rules they intend to saddle poor property owners with.

How's this for a case of marketing folk writing planning rules? In the policy dealing with the Innovation Precinct it is written into the rules that this precinct will enable innovative offices, commercial services and businesses to locate in the area "supported by a range of complementary activities, which will create an area where people and ideas can collide".

I can just see a bunch of planners sitting atop the C1 building and watching people walking into one another, saying: "Our work here is done."

In a town that has mountains of paperwork to climb before you even think about building, lumping a heap of extra rules into the mix is not the type of thing that excites developers or people wanting to build.

Ask anyone that has built anything substantial since the earthquakes what portion of their total cost was consumed by paperwork and you will be staggered. Add to that the expense of foundations and it doesn't leave much to throw at a building.

Then you get well-intentioned but ultimately idiotic planning in areas like the South Frame and it becomes clear that there is little incentive to build in the central city, let alone in any of the designated precincts.

I recommend you read the plan. It's available online. The minister is seeking written submissions and I recommend you all write in and tell him how you feel about his masterplan for a city. I think it stinks - and in years to come people will realise just how much those in charge hoodwinked the good people of this city.

The Press