The Christchurch Central Recovery Plan

Implications of the new "Blueprint"

August 2012

On 30 July 2012, the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan (“the Plan”) was released. Commonly referred to as the Blueprint, the Plan provides the foundation for redevelopment of Christchurch’s central city and has significant implications for all of those with an interest in central city property and the wider community.

This article provides an overview of some of the key features of the Plan, including a summary of the acquisition and compensation process, and the new zoning and rules that have been introduced. We also provide some thoughts on the options available for those seeking to carry out activities that are contrary to the Plan.

Overview of the Plan

The Plan itself has immediate legal effect and is the end product of a lengthy process to prepare a recovery plan for the central city. In accordance with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act, the Christchurch City Council (“CCC”) commenced this process in mid 2011 with the Share an Idea campaign. This led to the creation of the draft Central City Plan (“the Draft Plan”), which has now been revised and updated by the Central City Development Unit (“CCDU”) to create the final Plan.

One of the key features of the Plan that was noticeably absent from the Draft Plan is the identification and designation of anchor facilities throughout the central city. The purpose of this approach is to provide certainty and confidence about the shape of the city and the location of key facilities to create a framework for development.

Many of these anchor facilities were clearly anticipated, such as the convention centre and the Avon River corridor. However the key unexpected feature was the identification of the Frame, a significant area of land that surrounds the core of the central city. The Frame has multiple purposes and functions, including the following:

  • Contains the central city and provides a focus for new development;

  • Provides a high amenity area that helps create a ‘green city’;

  • Creates an artificial shortage of land to prevent crashing property values; and

  • Frees up capital of landowners in the Frame for reinvestment.

The activities that will occur within the Frame remain somewhat uncertain, with only general descriptions provided in the Plan and no detailed controls specified. CERA has confirmed that some existing buildings will be retained and new building allowed where they are considered to be compatible with the purpose of the Frame. 

Acquisition and compensation

A key issue emerging from the Plan is the need for large areas of private land to be acquired by the Crown to give effect to the proposed anchor projects. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) has confirmed that the intention is for all designated sites to be acquired by the Crown as soon as possible.

There are two alternative methods for the Crown to acquire the land. The first is by voluntary agreement, which has now commenced with letters sent out to all affected landowners. The second is by way of compulsory acquisition, which is triggered by issuing a notice of intention to take the land. This process will occur contemporaneously with the voluntary process to avoid delays in the event that agreement cannot be reached.

If land is compulsorily acquired, compensation will be determined in accordance with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act (“the CER Act”) based on the market value of the land at the time it is acquired. The compulsory process allows only limited matters to be taken into account, whilst the voluntary process provides greater flexibility to agree on an outcome that meets with the needs of individual landowners.

The landowners rights in the process are limited, with no ability to object to the land being taken other than by way of judicial review. Regarding the amount of compensation, landowners must be given a reasonable opportunity to make representations to the Crown about value, with rights of appeal to the High Court available. In comparison to the usual process for acquiring private land under the Public Works Act, the process under the CER Act is generally faster and easier for the Crown, and more restrictive for affected landowners.    

New zoning and rules

In addition to the above, the Plan introduces a range of changes to the underlying zoning and rules that determine the activities that can be carried out on the land within the central city. The existing Christchurch City Plan has now been formally updated to incorporate the changes required by the Plan.

The central city was previously dominated by the Central City Zone, which covered approximately 90ha of land. The Plan significantly reduces this area and creates a new Central City Business Zone covering only 40ha, including the “Core” (contained by the Frame and the Avon River) and the “Gateway” (primarily extending along Victoria Street). The purpose of this reduction is to create a more condensed and vibrant central city with higher density of activities and key facilities.

Within the Central City Business Zone, the rules are largely permissive in order to minimise regulatory hurdles and stimulate growth. However, there are a few key rules that have been introduced, including the following:

  • A requirement that all development in the new “Retail Precinct” around Cashel mall must comply with an approved outline development plan (“ODP”) that covers a minimum area of 7,500m²;

  • Building height limits of 28m in the Core and 17m in the Gateway; and

  • A clear emphasis on urban design, with all new buildings in the Core that are “visible from a public place” requiring resource consent.

The requirement for ODPs encourages landowners to work together to develop a comprehensive plan that extends across multiple sites. However the process for approving an ODP does not directly require landowner approval and could potentially result in plans being approved without the knowledge or support of affected landowners. If difficulties are encountered with the approval or implementation of ODPs, CERA has the power to direct an owner to act “in the manner specified” for the benefit of adjoining or adjacent owners.

The other new zone established by the Plan is the Central City Mixed Use Zone, which contains the balance of the old Central City Zone, along with several other areas. The intention of this zone is to provide for activities that complement and do not compete with the Business Zone. This is principally achieved by restrictions on the nature and size of retailing, offices and commercial activities that can locate in this zone.  

Options for non-compliance

If the activity you are proposing complies with the Plan, then from a RMA perspective your life should be easy. However, if you do not comply with the Plan, there are still a number of options that may enable you to carry out your activity.  

The first and simplest option is applying for resource consent. The key point to note is that non-compliance with the Plan is not always fatal. Proposals that are generally consistent with the Plan and that do not cause significant adverse effects can still be approved by resource consent.

Resource consent applications will generally be considered by CCC in the usual way and subject to the normal RMA provisions. The key exception to this is applications relating to urban design matters, including new buildings in the Core and approval of ODPs. These applications will be considered and decided within 5 working days by a Joint Management Group comprising representatives from CCC, CERA and Ngai Tahu.

The prospects of being successful in any resource consent application is influenced by the status of the activity under the Plan. The Plan notes that discretionary and restricted discretionary activity are generally considered to be desirable, but require some assessment before consent can be granted. In contrast, non-complying activities are not generally considered appropriate and are discouraged in particular locations. There is only a limited number of non-complying activities under the Plan, including development in the Retail Precinct prior to approval of an ODP, and non-compliance with the size limits for retail, offices and commercial services in the Mixed Use Zone.

Another option for non-compliance that may be available in some circumstances is existing use rights. The issue of existing use rights is a complex area and there is some uncertainty about how the Council will interpret and apply the relevant provisions of the RMA in the unique circumstances following the earthquakes. However they may be of value where you are seeking to continue a lawfully established activity that now does not comply with the new rules in the Plan. A site specific assessment is required to determine whether these rights are available and can be relied on to continue an existing use. 

The final options that may provide a solution to disaffected landowners are lobbying the Minister to amend the Plan or seeking changes by way of judicial review. However both of these options present significant challenges given the Minister’s likely reluctance to alter the Plan and the wide powers available under the CER Act to support the changes to the Plan that have been made by the Minister.


The release of the Plan is the most significant step for the recovery of the central city since the earthquakes occurred. It has generally been positively received by the wider community, but will undoubtedly have significant impacts on some central city landowners if it does not fit with their intentions and aspirations for the land.

It is important to ensure that the implications of the Plan are carefully understood when making decisions about land use and to plan your strategy accordingly. In addition, it is inevitable that further changes will occur over the coming months as the focus shifts towards implementing the vision that the Plan has clearly established. We will keep you updated with further information as it comes to hand.




Disclaimer: This is a brief summary for information purposes only and is not legal advice.



Posted on Thursday 9th August, 2012 at 11:45 am