Editorial: Reality of city plan sinking in

23:05, Aug 01 2012

The launch on Monday of the blueprint for the reconstruction of the central city in Christchurch generated excitement and even euphoria.

After 100 days, the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority produced a plan that got an overwhelmingly positive initial response.

Using the expertise of some of the most highly regarded city planners in the world, the blueprint was faithful to the substance of what the Christchurch City Council wanted for the city and also faithful to many of the ideas submitted to the council by Christchurch people themselves. The blueprint promises to make the city centre into one of the most desirable and livable in the country.

Now, a few days on, the cold reality of the scale of the undertaking and in particular of how much it will cost and who might pay for it is beginning to sink in. It is vital in working this out that all parties keep an open mind on the options available.

It is vital too that it does not get bogged down in the kind of fractious and dispiriting in-fighting that has dogged projects in Christchurch in the past. After more than a year and a half without a city centre, Christchurch needs work to start on the reconstruction as soon as possible.

The entire project is a long-term one and the scale of it is enormous - larger than anything that has ever been undertaken in the country before. The blueprint calls for a dozen major projects providing mostly public amenities.


Some, such as the health precinct and the justice and emergency services precinct, will largely be funded by the Government, as they always have been. The Government, however, has already said the finance for others must be sorted out by the city council. That will require some hard decisions.

Already there is a danger some councillors are getting stuck in entrenched positions. Although the Government has not directly called for the council to consider the sale or partial sale of some of the assets it holds, the Earthquake Recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee, has praised the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce for suggesting it must be an option.

A number of councillors have objected to the idea "in principle". At this stage it is the wrong position to take. That option, along with the strong involvement of the private sector in conjunction with the council and other options, must be open to proper financial scrutiny and careful consideration.

Among the projects proposed for the central city, for instance, are a new convention centre and a covered stadium. The council formerly owned both, but some see replacing them as a luxury the city cannot afford; particularly if it requires the sale or partial sale of income-producing assets.

The matter is not, however, as clear as that. Convention centres and stadiums do not generally pay their way by themselves, but may be justified by other benefits, not all of them tangible, that they may bring.

Both, along with the other projects, are important to whether Christchurch reverts to being just an oversized provincial town or once again becomes a proper city, the hub for the South Island. The CCDU has set out a bold and attractive vision for the latter.

It remains for all those involved - the Government, the city council and private enterprise - to make it happen, and to pay for it, with nothing being sacrosanct.

The Press