Johnny Moore: People missing from the heart of Christchurch rebuild

Images of residential apartments Fletcher Residential will build on East Framer superlot 11, as seen from the corner of ...
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Images of residential apartments Fletcher Residential will build on East Framer superlot 11, as seen from the corner of Manchester and Hereford streets.

OPINION: It's been more than seven years since earthquakes showed up and smashed Christchurch city. Seven years is coincidentally the lifespan of a newt, possibly the only member of the salamander family to have a US politician named after it.

Whether newt or human, you'd hope that this far in we'd be seeing physical buildings and press releases using the verbs "is" and "are" as opposed to sloppy renderings and statements based around the future continuous "will be".

It's fast becoming apparent the rebuild will take much longer than the life-cycle of a newt. In reality it'll be somewhere between the expected lifespan of a heavy smoker and that of old Queen Liz.

A wider view of the recently announced East Frame housing.
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A wider view of the recently announced East Frame housing.

Governments will come and go. They'll be blue, they'll be red and hopefully they'll have a smattering of other colours, but they'll all play the same game: spending big dollars on smoke and mirrors and far less on bricks and mortar.

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And we, the people of Christchurch, the taxpayers of New Zealand will be left wondering how such eye-watering sums of money can be spent with so little accountability.

Take the Convention Centre. Almost a decade in, $34 million in a hole and what do we have to show? A barren patch of land that does nothing beyond damaging any hopes of life in the surrounding blocks. That $34 million folks, and of that more than $30 million has been spent on people whose job is described as "consultant" or "advisor".

But what really makes me sad is the lack of residential development in the city.

Artists impressions of the winner of the Breathe Urban Village concept for the Christchurch earthquake rebuild which was ...
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Artists impressions of the winner of the Breathe Urban Village concept for the Christchurch earthquake rebuild which was to be built on the corner of Madras and Gloucester St next to Latimer Square.

Those of you who aren't carpetbaggers may remember that before the earthquakes the central city was in decline. In the preceding years, and those following the quakes, we trotted expert after expert through the city and they all said one thing: Good cities need residents in the centre.

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Anyone remember the Breathe Urban Village competition for eco-friendly houses on a one-hectare site opposite Latimer Square? And how it got canned? How embarrassing that we invited the best and brightest in the world to pitch on something exciting in the city and instead of following through we decided to spend the money on more consultants and advisors.

Personally I think the reason we haven't seen any substantial residential development is because the numbers don't stack up. The rebuild has done such an excellent job of increasing property values in the centre that the only winners have been the landed gentry – those whose massive property holdings have increased in value while the little guys had their land confiscated in order to wipe it clean and leave it growing grass.

Interior impressions of the winner of the Breathe Urban Village concept for the Christchurch earthquake rebuild.
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Interior impressions of the winner of the Breathe Urban Village concept for the Christchurch earthquake rebuild.

The rich get richer and the city gets poorer.

Although I realise it's important that rich old men get richer off taxpayer money, I also wonder if this is the best result for the city.

That's sad. Sad for the people who would love to live in the city; sad for a city that would benefit from residents; sad for a country that has invested huge sums of money into a rebuild only to find they've been sold snake oil and not a miracle balm.

Now we're expected to believe that people will be lining up to pre-purchase apartments off a developer whose last project has just gone $100 million over budget.

Come on people. Let's grow up and rethink this rebuild before another couple of generations of newts come and go.

 - Stuff

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