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The Press-News column Sep 24

Christchurch’s CBD recovery. Mike Yardley’s weekly column in The Press. Sept 24.

The commencement of construction on Antony Gough’s dazzling Oxford Terrace development exemplifies the renaissance in confidence that is coursing through Christchurch.  In a city riddled with road cones and pot holes, exasperating detours and  traffic delays, driving around Christchurch can be a one way ticket to Gloomsville.  ( Not to mention the protracted delays, anguish and complexities besetting many homeowners.) But if you’re feeling like a little gloomster, the latest hard boiled data is resolutely  mood-enhancing. Canterbury enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in New Zealand at just 4.4%.  Post-quake, there have been 17,000 new business registrations, including 1000 New Zealand companies that have migrated to the city. 25 new workers are arriving into Christchurch everyday.  Canterbury’s economy is growing at 7%, nearly three times the national economic growth rate. Within the city centre, nearly 100% of the designated retail precinct is now covered by investment commitments. And the hospitality sector’s spectacular bounceback continues. At last count, there are 543 bars and eateries open in Christchurch, a quarter located within the city centre.  Last week, CERA’s Warwick Issacs and Sheila McBreen-Kerr hosted their latest business sector briefing. Leading business figure, Stephen Collins, challenged CERA on a couple of salient points.  Much of the city centre blueprint is depicted by way of computer-generated images and fancy computer-animated flyovers. Understandably, many residents are struggling to grasp a true sense of how the new city, and its layout, will look. Collins has called for a physical model of the envisaged city to be built and put on public display. Something tactile and tangible, a la the Pegasus Town model. Or, on a grander scale, Shanghai’s magnificent  city development model, permanently showcased in their Exhibition Hall. CERA has agreed to make it happen.  Stephen Collins also challenged CERA about how they will make it economically viable for investors to construct residential developments for 20,000 citizens, within the city centre, given the high land prices, following the acquisition of Frame sites. In a remarkable concession, CERA officials revealed the government will have to consider releasing land for residential development at subsidised or fire-sale prices, to make it financially feasible for investors.  Meanwhile, perfectly repairable buildings, which could easily be converted from commercial use to residential , are being clear-felled for the Frame. A classic specimen is Torrens House, formerly home to the Social Development Ministry and Natcoll. This sprawling multi-level complex on Hereford St, built like a Belarusian shot-putter, with expansive balconies and sun-soaked outside areas, was the ideal candidate for residential conversion.  Maybe I’m too much of a pragmatist, but the forced demolition of such buildings strikes me as a hugely wasteful missed opportunity.

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