This is part four in a five part series of guest posts on the Christchurch rebuild from reader Brendon Harre. It first appeared on the Making Christchurch blog.

You can read Part 1Part 2 and Part 3

Part 4: An alternative explanation?

An alternative to the exploitative explanation is that the governing ‘elite’ response to the Christchurch earthquakes has exhibited a cargo cult mentality (definition of cargo cult here). Eric Crampton a Canterbury University economist who has recently moved to Wellington to work for the NZ Initiative wrote about this thinking behind the desire for higher Central Christchurch property prices in government circles.

The Blueprint produced by the Christchurch Central Development Unit purpose was the following, as reported by The NZ Herald in 2012, “The frame, in tandem with zoning provisions, reduces the extent of the central city commercial area so that the oversupply of land is addressed,” says the Blueprint. “It will help to increase the value of properties generally across the central city in a way that regulations to contain the central core, or new zoning decisions, could not.” The document goes on to say a further purpose of the frame is to create a buffer zone for the core to expand in the future — “if there is demand for housing or commercial development”.

Eric described this thinking as;

Because successful cities have high downtown property prices, they thought they could make Christchurch successful by forcing prices to be high. Well, that doesn’t work: high prices in successful cities reflect that people get a lot of value from being located in great downtowns, not the other way around.

Eric Crampton’s analysis (articles here and here) indicate the Fletcher/Crown high property price business model is a risky strategy for redeveloping Christchurch. It is a big ‘all your eggs in the one basket’ project. The risk being that the fundamental amenity value of Central Christchurch has fallen, not risen. There are less businesses, shops, workers in Central Christchurch than previously. Long-term inner city Christchurch problems of transport and parking have been put in the ‘too hard’ basket and left for another generation to solve. Christchurch itself lost just over 2000 residents or nearly 1% of its population between the 2006 and 2013 censuses. Meanwhile the neighbouring Cantabrian councils of Waimakiriri grew by about 6500, or by close to 20%; Selwyn grew by 8700 — more than a third. Eric Crampton states these facts indicate prices and rents in downtown Christchurch, in particular the east side of the CBD should fall -not rise. A local property developer explains why.

Developer Ernest Duval, founder of the post-quake property owner’s group, City Owners Rebuild Entity (Core), says the whole dynamic of central Christchurch has lurched decisively west.

“If you look, all the people-focused amenities are on the west of the city. The new Metro Sports Centre, the museum, the Botanical Gardens, the Arts Centre — all of the things people want close by are on that side.”

Duval says Cathedral Square once told its own story. It was the city’s transport hub and cinema centre. It was the natural place of ceremony and assembly.

Yet under the Government’s blueprint plan, even the civic welcoming function of Cathedral Square is to be shifted over to Victoria Square. The idea is to make that the new bicultural front door to the city, a greeting place developed in partnership with Ngai Tahu.

Duval says because of the square’s threatened loss of post-quake identity, the surrounding blocks reaching down towards Manchester St have become problematic in turn.

The contagion now threatens the Government’s East Frame, its plan to sell off six expensively acquired blocks of land, stretching from the Avon River to Lichfield Street, for inner-city apartments.

Barnaby Bennett a designer and editor is a critic of the proposed convention centre.


His argument (same link) has similar themes to the cargo cult mentality argument for the Eastern Frame in that what is happening is a result of stress and the need for the governing elite to appear in control.

Bennett says after disasters, the popular view is that it is the communities that can’t cope. There is looting and dysfunction. But as Christchurch found out, the opposite is mostly the case.

… it is instead the elite who fear they have the most to lose economically. “In the quest to appear to be in control, they often make foolish large decisions,” says Bennett.

He says it is the only reason he can see for the convention centre being made so large and taking over such a prime spot.

The Government forced through a purchase of all the properties between the square and the bend of the Avon River. It even decided to build over Gloucester Street without public consultation, saying it might make a nice internal shopping arcade.

I think Eric, Earnest and Barnaby are right and the result will be inner city Christchurch, especially on the east side, will be a sterile, expensive and a slowly built place compared to similar sized cities. Unless a new direction is found, this is a massive missed opportunity. The Canterbury region is New Zealand’s second largest region. Its population is growing much faster than the similar sized Wellington region and is only second to Auckland for population growth in the country. An expensive inner city area will reinforce the Canterbury trend of extreme decentralisation whereby businesses leave the centre and residents leave the city for neighbouring satellite towns and lifestyle blocks.

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  1. The couple of minutes video on the above Barneby Bennett link is well worth watching. Barneby clearly explains the problems of the convention centre.

    In my eyes the problem is access. Convention centres need big loading docks so that exhibitors can quickly set up and pull down their exhibits. Which side of the convention centre will you sacrifice for this activity -Victoria square, Colombo Street, Cathedral square or the Avon river? One side will become a dead zone for this functional requirement.

    There hasn’t been enough community input so these sort of problems are not being iron out.

    Barneby has an excellent discussion in “ArchitectureNow” a few days ago about the media’s attention and how that has impacted on the Christchurch convention centre and rebuild in general.

    On that theme I would like to thank Transportblog for putting up these articles. Especially today’s on the 5th anniversary of Canterbury’s first earthquake.

  2. If anything, it would have made sense to put the convention centre on the east side of the Christchurch CBD where it could balance out the “westward” shift noted in the article. It just simply seems like the wrong size and the wrong site. If the convention centre had been built elsewhere the existing central library could probably have been repaired and perhaps expanded at a much cheaper cost than the brand new library going up in Cathedral Square. (You could also look at the repairable Centennial Pool being bulldozed to make way for Margaret Mahy playground). While the new library and playground may end up as fantastic additions to Christchurch, the whole rebuild does seem emblematic of the government’s desire to gold-plate the projects it favours, and penny-pinch on the ones it doesn’t.

    1. Yes or they could have just rebuilt on the old convention centre site. Chris O you are right there has been too much destroying perfectly repairable buildings just to fit into some arbitrary grand plan that has lost all reason. The Blueprint was designed to stimulate the rebuild but the process has done the opposite. Too many govt organisations saying no -in the CBD -CERA, CCDU, CCCC, so the private sector went elsewhere. The Crown over promised and under delivered fiscally. Five years on and we should just quietly put the Blueprint away and let the city develop organically. Check out how a $50 million building could be thrown away even though it would only take $20 million to repair.

    2. Of course one area the Crown is penny-pinching is on future proofing the CBD by planning for fast right of ways for public transport -heavy passenger rail, light passenger rail, dedicated bus-lanes these are swear words to the current administration that if uttered puts one on the ‘not to be trusted list’….. Bike-lanes are ok as long as the money ‘spent’ is a token amount in relation to the serious business of ‘investing’ in motorway developments (not that Canterbury gets much of those either).

  3. A convention centre… Sigh.

    Such a lack of imagination. If there was such a demand for such things, let the private sector provide them. Seems like another lemon e,g. Aotea centre.

  4. Thanks for doing these posts, Brendon. I’ve been enjoying them.

    One thing that’s always perplexed me about the Christchurch city centre blueprint is that it envisages locating a number of land-intensive, publicly-subsidised businesses in the city centre – convention centre, stadium, etc. This seems to be a bit at odds with the idea that city centre land should be expensive… if it really was, why put a stadium downtown?

    It’s all quite odd…

    1. Thanks Peter. I think you will like the part 5 it is my personal favourite.

      Good question regarding high land values for low value activities like stadiums.

      A lot of things down here don’t make a lot of sense. We need to ask a lot more questions…….

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