Editorial: City Mall cannot become a drag

When it released its plan for the recovery of Christchurch more than a year ago, the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) declared that after a disaster, substantial redevelopment must start within three years if recovery is to be successful.

At the time, one year had passed since the February 22, 2011, earthquake destroyed the centre of the city. Speed, said the CCDU, was of the essence.

Another year on, with the three-year point not very far off, part of the retail precinct, a crucial element in the central city's recovery, is stuck in deadlock.

No fewer than six plans for the part of the precinct centred on City Mall have received resource consents for overlapping multimillion-dollar projects, but negotiations among individual landowners seem to be going nowhere. Frustrations are building and one developer has already pulled out.

The idea for the retail precinct is an attractive one. Designed like the other precincts to fit into a more compact central city, the retail precinct's avowed aim is to compete successfully with suburban retail by offering what the CCDU has called "a unique and distinctive shopping experience".

To do that, the CCDU decided that development proposals had to be master-planned and had to cover at least 7500 square metres. The difficulty for developers of the City Mall proposals is getting the agreement of landowners.

The Government wisely stood aside, expecting that reasonable people, knowing their own interests and also having some stake in ensuring the best result for the city as a whole, could arrive at a sensible solution without outside interference.

This, after all, has been the call with regard to so many other decisions in Christchurch.

However, as long ago as last November, the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee, warned that if agreement could not be reached quickly, the Government would have to intervene.

Long before the earthquakes, the central city's retailing was hollowed out by competition from the suburban malls, but if the centre of the city is to be revived, it must not be with some ghastly imitation of these soulless, homogenised, retail barns.

Malls may be popular for the basics, but surveys have repeatedly shown that most people would like the central city to recover with a rich mixture of varied and attractive retail, residential and commercial development, all on a welcoming human scale that everyone can enjoy.

The 7500sqm minimum for each development within the precinct was probably unavoidable for logistical reasons.

It was needed to help get recovery under way quickly.

It is vital that it be not allowed to become any more of a drag than it already has on either the speed of the recovery or an impediment to the kind of recovery Christchurch people want.

The time must now be close at which the Government will have to, as one participant put it, begin to "knock some heads together", both to get work started and also to achieve the development that Christchurch is looking for.

The Press