Christchurch: Our national disgrace…



Christchurch Minister Gerry Brownlee (TV3)

I think we live in the best place in the world. The climate, mountains, lakes and beaches mean that nature has served us well. The natural beauty of New Zealand is up there with the best on earth. We are a friendly, proud and aspirational people, and that’s good too. We are sports crazy, and we punch well above our weight on the international stage. Our love for the underdog and support for those less privileged are things that set us apart. I’m a big fan of our government too, although I think our local bodies let us down terribly.

However, despite all the good stuff, we have had a major and dramatic failing over the last five years. I refer to our collective response to Christchurch.

This week, Christchurch is back in the news for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is in regards to CERA, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, the government-established body set up to oversee the recovery of our so-called Garden City. After five years, CERA disbands this week as planned, and its work will be taken over by a combination of new and existing government and local government authorities.

Having spent plenty of time in Christchurch during the last five years, and having a broad understanding the property industry, I believe in the importance of a vibrant CBD to the well-being of a city and it’s people. I also believe that we need more debate about our response to Christchurch.

Five plus years on, the state of Christchurch’s CBD is a disgrace. Our disgrace. I was there a couple of weeks ago, and this is what I saw.

The Millennium Hotel sits abandoned in the square, across the road from the Anglican Cathedral, its ground floor doors and windows boarded up. Next door the old BNZ sits unaltered from almost three years ago when it was half demolished. The remaining four floors (out of the original eight) sit still, amongst visible piles of exposed concrete and rubble. I’m guessing that they are still waiting for the argument between owners, insurers, demolition crews and various red tape merchants, to be resolved before they can continue the work that stopped one thousand days ago.

Past the untouched ruins of the cathedral whose future is still being disputed, on the other side of the Square, Rydges Hotel sits boarded up, similar to The Millennium. The convention centre site waits for activity. The Avon River appears to be just getting started with its $90 million upgrade. I’m not sure why it has taken so long. A couple of glossy new buildings have popped up. Private development efforts. They look great. But it’s too little. Too late.

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