A Blueprint for Action - Central City Redevelopment
The next step in redevelopment of the Christchurch Central City
23 April 2012
On 18 April, the Government announced the establishment of the Central City Development Unit (CCDU) to drive the redevelopment of the Central City. The CCDU has been given 100 days to prepare a 'blueprint' for the Central City that provides clear direction for implementing the Central City Plan.
This article provides a short recap of the story so far, discusses the reasons behind this announcement, and provides some thoughts on what the new blueprint may contain. We also provide an outline of the roles of the different entities involved and conclude with some comments as to whether this latest development represents a positive step forward for the Central City.
The story so far
The Christchurch City Council was given the task of developing a plan for the redevelopment of the Central City. Following public engagement and an abbreviated submission and hearing process, the Draft Central City Plan (CCP) was provided to the Earthquake Recovery Minister, the Honourable Gerry Brownlee (the Minister), in December 2011 for final approval. Volume 1 of the Draft CCP sets out the vision for the Central City, with Volume 2 providing the detailed rules and changes to the existing Christchurch City Plan to give effect to this vision.
The latest announcement is the Government's response to the Draft CCP prepared by the Council. Volume 1 has been largely accepted by the Minister, with the main exceptions being the transport aspects of the Draft CCP, including one-way streets and light rail. These issues have been put on hold pending more detailed assessments. The Minister has also emphasised that no commitment has been made to funding all of the projects in the Plan, which will be determined through the Council's Annual Plan process.
In relation to Volume 2 of the Plan, the Minister has decided that this should be put on hold while the implementation blueprint is developed. However, it seems likely that Volume 2 will largely be superseded by the blueprint and that many of the detailed rules and regulations currently contained in Volume 2 will not see the light of day.
Why another plan?
The blueprint has been described as an implementation document to deliver the vision in Volume 1 of the Draft CCP. However, Volume 2 of the Draft CCP was intended to achieve this same purpose. The question must therefore be asked why a separate plan is now required to perform this function.
Our view is that the Minister's announcements reflects a lack of confidence that the rules and regulations in Volume 2 will be effective at getting the Central City up and running again. This does not necessarily translate to a lack of confidence in the Council itself or the work it put into the Draft CCP. The Council did what was asked of it under the relevant legislation and produced a plan that was within the scope of its regulatory powers. However, the Minister has effectively put this regulatory approach aside and established a new sub-unit within CERA with wider legislative powers available to overcome the practical challenges associated with redeveloping the Central City.
It was always likely that the actual redevelopment of the Central City would be actively managed by central Government. Under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011, it is only CERA and the Minister that have the powers available to streamline the usual processes and achieve the rapid recovery of the Central City. These powers are not available to the Council, and to leave the rebuild entirely in its hands under their usual powers and processes may not have adequately responded to the unprecedented needs of the current situation.
If there is any criticism is to be made, it could perhaps be that this distinction should have been made clear at the start of the process. The Council could then have focussed on Volume 1 of the CCP and establishing the vision for the Central City, with the implementation being left to a body that has the powers available to achieve a rapid and effective recovery. This may have avoided much of the debate that occurred on the prescriptive regulatory approach that was proposed through Volume 2.
What will the 'blueprint' contain?
In broad terms, the blueprint will provide a flexible master plan for redevelopment of the Central City. Although the final form of the blueprint is not yet known, a key feature will be the identification of 'anchors' throughout the Central City, being significant community facilities such as the convention centre, that provide a foundation for new development.
Throughout the process to date, a key concern that has been raised is the uncertainty around the location of these anchor facilities. Without this certainty, developers have been reluctant to commit to and invest in the Central City. The blueprint seeks to address this issue by identifying these anchor facilities to stimulate demand and increase investor confidence.
Taking the convention centres as an example, this could mean the creation of a new "Convention Centre Zone" which allows such a facility to be established as a permitted activity. This may extend to the surrounding land to enable complementary facilities such as hotels to be established quickly with minimal consenting requirements and regulatory hurdles. The need to streamline consent processes has already been signalled as a key function of the CCDU.
Other functions and powers of the CCDU include the ability to amalgamate land, undertake development and investment promotion, and schedule and co-ordinate construction. These powers extend far beyond those available to the Council, and the blueprint may provide some further information as to how these powers may be exercised to achieve implementation of the Draft CCP.
Who is involved?
As discussed above, the key entity now responsible for achieving redevelopment of the Central City is the CCDU. The CCDU is a new unit within CERA that is led by Warwick Isaacs. It will eventually consist of about 25 people, mostly Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury staff, including planners, urban designers, as well as some international experts. As an arm of CERA, it will be subject to the oversight of the Minister.
The CCDU will work collaboratively with the Christchurch City Council and in consultation with key landowners, banks, insurers, investors, and the Christchurch community. However there is currently no detailed information available as to how this collaborative approach will work in practice.
For example, there is uncertainty as to whether landowners, investors, and the Christchurch community will have any ability to comment on a draft blueprint before it is confirmed, or whether much of this work will be done behind closed doors. Those landowners that are favourably located in relation to the anchor facilities will undoubtedly have a significant advantage when it comes to the ease and speed of redevelopment of their land and the subsequent level of demand. It is therefore in their best interests to seek out opportunities to participate in the process rather than simply waiting for the decisions to be made.
Despite the prominent role of the CCDU, the Council remains the consenting authority for all new developments. Critics of this announcement have suggested that the establishment of the CCDU represents another layer of central government bureaucracy that further degrades the democratic functions of the elected Council. While this reaction may be understandable, it is important to note that this approach is consistent with what the legislation envisaged and that the CCDU is taking on a role that extends well beyond the usual functions and powers of the Council.
The establishment of the CCDU and the proposal for an implementation blueprint are significant announcements by Central Government that are hoped to reinvigorate the recovery efforts and provide certainty and confidence for investors. These developments could spell the end of the prescriptive regulatory approach in Volume 2 of the Draft CCP, and have been welcomed by developers as a more pragmatic way forward. In particular, the identification and establishment of anchor facilities seems a logical and necessary step to push the recovery forwards.
Although the Council remains involved, the CCDU will now become the dominant player in the redevelopment of the Central City. The powers of the CCDU are extensive and should enable it to take actions outside the scope of normal Council functions. It remains to be seen how the CCDU will engage with interested parties and whether any opportunities will be provided to landowners, investors, and the community to influence the final content of the blueprint.
It is important that those with interests in the Central City stay up to date and utilise any opportunities to participate in the process. It is likely that things will move rapidly with the 100 day deadline in place and that the blueprint will become the foundation document for redevelopment once approved. We will provide further updates as they become available to keep you informed.
Disclaimer: This is a brief summary for information purposes only and is not legal advice.
Posted on Monday 23rd April, 2012 at 04:19 pm