Editorial: Some demolitions will be worth it

One of the boldest parts of the Central City Development Unit's blueprint for the reconstruction of the heart of Christchurch was the inspired creation of a green frame to surround the new central business district.

The frame is to be developed from designating two strips of land - one on the eastern edge of the new CBD and the other on the south - as open spaces, which, along with a widened and developed Avon River area, will ensure that all new central- ity building is concentrated within a tight geographic area.

When it was announced in July, the idea was widely hailed, as could have been expected. For it was a distillation of a notion taken from the Christchurch City Council's public Share an Idea campaign, as refined by the council's planners, and embodying the desire of many that the new central city should be a "city within a garden".

Attractive as it is, implementing the idea is not entirely straightforward. The principal difficulty, which emerged not very long after the blueprint was announced, concerned the compulsory acquisition of the land needed to be able to complete it and, more particularly, the correct valuation for those buildings that have to go. Property owners complained early about the prospect that the Government might use its powers to short-change them.

Now that the CCDU has sent out notices to property owners telling them their land is earmarked for projects in the blueprint and that it plans to acquire the land if negotiations fail, some continue to allege that they risk being left out of pocket by the process. A few have spoken of attempting to resist the CCDU's plans, by going to the courts if necessary.

The property owners' worry is understandable, but it should not be given too much weight. For one thing, complaints about not being dealt with fairly beg the question of just what the fair value of a property is in the almost unique circumstances of a city whose heart has been destroyed. Determining fair value will obviously be something over which opinions will vary.

Talk of litigation at this point, while perhaps tempting, is unhelpful. It is also, given the legislation under which the CCDU is working, very likely to fail. In any event, negotiations the CCDU is conducting are already producing some satisfactory results and there is no reason to believe it is not acting in good faith in the process.

Property owners obviously should not be left out of pocket. On the other hand, they also should not be able to make a windfall profit based on some insubstantial, speculative projection about what could possibly happen in the future.

Some property owners have described the negotiations as hard and aggressive. Since these are commercial negotiations being conducted with parties well able to take care of their own interests, that sounds like not much more than normal practice.

Both sides in these transactions should be able to work through their differences in a businesslike way. While it is true that the Government has the power in reserve to compulsorily acquire the properties, it is unlikely it will want to use it, except as a last resort.

More than 100 buildings will have to be cleared to make way for the frame, including a few that were almost new when the February 22, 2011, earthquake struck and were left largely undamaged by it.

Some of that destruction is unfortunate, but since the outcome will be the dynamic, vibrant, attractive city the blueprint envisages, it will be worth it.

The Press