Demolition of Torrens House 'hugely wasteful'

MIKE YARDLEY
Last updated 07:21 24/09/2013
Torrens House
LIZ MCDONALD/Fairfax NZ
DEMOLITION: Torrens House in Hereford St is being clear-felled for the Frame.

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Mike Yardley

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OPINION: The start of construction on Antony Gough's dazzling Oxford Tce development exemplifies the renaissance in confidence that is coursing through Christchurch.

In a city riddled with road cones and pot holes, exasperating detours and traffic delays, driving around Christchurch can be a one-way ticket to Gloomsville. (Not to mention the protracted delays, anguish and complexities besetting many homeowners).

But if you're feeling like a little gloomster, the latest hard-boiled data is resolutely mood-enhancing.

Canterbury enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in New Zealand at just 4.4 per cent.

Post-quake, there have been 17,000 new business registrations, including 1000 New Zealand companies that have migrated to the city. New workers are arriving into Christchurch at a rate of 25 a day.

Canterbury's economy is growing at 7 per cent, nearly three times the national economic growth rate.

Within the city centre, nearly 100 per cent of the designated retail precinct is now covered by investment commitments.

The hospitality sector's spectacular bounceback continues also. At last count, there were 543 bars and eateries open in Christchurch, a quarter located within the city centre.

Last week, Christchurch Central Development Unit director Warwick Isaacs and Sheila McBreen-Kerr, of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), hosted their latest business sector briefing.

Leading business figure Stephen Collins challenged Cera on a couple of salient points.

Much of the central city blueprint is depicted by way of computer-generated images and fancy computer-animated flyovers. Understandably, many residents are struggling to grasp a true sense of how the new city, and its layout, will look.

Collins has called for a physical model of the envisaged city to be built and put on public display. Something tactile and tangible, a la the Pegasus Town model.

Or, on a grander scale, Shanghai's magnificent city development model, permanently showcased in their Exhibition Hall. Cera has agreed to make it happen.

Collins also challenged Cera about how they will make it economically viable for investors to construct residential developments for 20,000 citizens, within the city centre, given the high land prices, following the acquisition of Frame sites.

In a remarkable concession, Cera officials revealed the Government will have to consider releasing land for residential development at subsidised or firesale prices, to make it financially feasible for investors.

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Meanwhile, perfectly repairable buildings which could easily be converted from commercial use to residential are being clear-felled for the Frame.

A classic specimen is Torrens House, formerly home to the Social Development Ministry and Natcoll. This sprawling multi-level complex in Hereford St, built like a Belarusian shot-putter, with expansive balconies and sun-soaked outside areas, was the ideal candidate for residential conversion.

Maybe I'm too much of a pragmatist, but the forced demolition of such buildings strikes me as a hugely wasteful missed opportunity.

- The Press

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