Critics frustrated by slow progress to restore Christchurch’s red zone

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Agencies in charge of regenerating Christchurch’s red zone say good progress is being made but some are worried there’s still no clear plan of action for the space.

A $40 million investment case to Christchurch City Council proposes the creation of pathways and connections, basic public facilities, up to seven landing sites and the restoration of ecological areas along Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor.

Pathways, public facilities, landing sites and the restoration of ecological areas are proposed for the Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor. Photo: Supplied / Regenerate Christchurch

The Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor (OARC) red-zone is 600 hectares in size, about four times the size of Hagley Park or Auckland’s Cornwall Park.

The red zone housed 9000 people before the Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. If you walk through the area now it is mostly grass where houses once stood with their established gardens still intact.

In 2019 Regenerate Christchurch unveiled its 86-page plan to regenerate the red zone. It envisaged a green spine along the Avon River, new bridges, and eight landings along the river for people to enjoy the environment among other ideas.

Land Information New Zealand which manages the land on behalf of the Crown is still working to reconfigure 5500 titles before transferring it to the Christchurch City Council.

An investment case to Christchurch City Council proposes the allocation $40 million of the regeneration fund towards a green spine in the Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor.

An investment case to Christchurch City Council proposes the allocation $40 million of the regeneration fund towards a green spine in the Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor. Photo: Supplied / Regenerate Christchurch

The council’s head of parks Andrew Rutledge is hopeful it will all be handed over by the middle of next year.

“People may look at the red zone and say it’s 10 years since the earthquakes and nothing’s happening and I understand that but things are being done in the background.

“Regenerate Christchurch came up with the plan in 2019 and since then we’ve started to pull out components of the plan which we started working on so we can deliver them once we get the land,” he said.

“We have three new bridges going in across the river to replace those damaged in the earthquakes. We are doing some work around the City to Sea pathway and soon we will be putting in the first landing.”

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The landings will provide seating as well as picnic and barbecue areas to encourage people to meet up and enjoy time near the river.

Rutledge said it is a long-term plan with parts of the red zone being developed over the next 30 years.

The Christchurch City Council has signalled it will spend $316 million towards the OARC over the next 10 years.

“Within the next three months people will be able to see physical progress but we need to understand that we are not going to see the forest straight away.”

The council is working to upscale its nursery in order to have plants for the ecological restoration areas.

“The people who planted the big native trees that we now see in the botanical gardens did so without knowing what they would look like fully grown and that’s what we are dealing with in the red zone.”

Part of the global settlement agreement between the Crown and council was to start a co-governance group with mana whenua. Rutledge said that should be in place by the end of the year.

“Once the co-governance group is in place and council has control of the land we will be in a better place to make decisions around long-term leases of the land for businesses or projects.”

Rutledge said the regeneration plan clearly sets out the expectations for the land along the river.

“There are large pockets of land that are less defined but the co-governance group will decide what goes there when people or groups apply for the long-term leases.”

The quake damaged Medway footbridge over the Avon River.

The quake damaged Medway footbridge over the Avon River. (file pic) Photo: Martin Luff

Too many unknowns – consultation group

But chair of the Red Zones Transformative Land Use Consultative Group Chrissie Williams said there’s still no long-term plan for what will happen with the area.

“I don’t mind things happening slowly as long as there is a long-term plan. There are very large areas in the plan set aside for activities but we still don’t know what they will be.

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“There’s no guidance on certain aspects, for instance, if we grant a lease to a commercial operator and they need to install fences that could cut off public access and we don’t know if that can be done,” she said.

Williams is hopeful the new co-governance group which will be established will speed up progress.

“At the moment if people want to apply for a short-term lease for a transitional project they are not sure whether to come to our group, LINZ or the council so hopefully the new group will make decision making easier.”

She said the area is popular with walkers and bikers and holds some great transitional projects such as community gardens, disc gold and a flying drone race course.

“But again everything is pretty scattered and there is no great coherence in what’s being done.

“It’s great to see some groups already starting the ecological restoration which is talked about in the regeneration plan, there are some beautiful spots in the red zone.”

Two projects have been given the licence to occupy which means they can have access to land in the red zone to carry out site investigations and place temporary structures on the land. One is the Eden Project like the famous tourist attraction in the UK.

Eden Project visitors inside one of gaint domes Mediterranean Biome featuring plants from that region

The Eden project in Cornwall in the UK. Photo: 123RF

The second is the Waitakiri Eco Sanctuary which would be a 180-hectare fenced off area for native wildlife to live predator free.

Rob Kerr who was the head of Regenerate Christchurch came up with a $480 million plan for 28 projects which would have taken up 114 hectares of the red zone or about 19 percent.

It included a water park, indoor bike park, campgrounds, a culture centre and working farm.

Kerr had investors lined up and said it could have been done in seven years – but the plan didn’t garner much support from the council’s urban development agency Development Christchurch Limited which did a due diligence report on the plan.

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Kerr said he is still having discussions with the council about the plan.

“We’re patiently standing by till when the council is ready to make decisions – there is just a lack of leadership at the moment and not any one person or group making long-term plans for the red zone.

“I don’t think the council is the best placed to manage the land and am strongly in favour of an independent co-governance group with a skills based board,” Kerr said.

Rob Kerr

Rob Kerr wants an independent group to take charge of restoring the red zone. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

“The fact that the are setting up the co-governance group is great but that shouldn’t preclude progress happening now. If we have to wait for the group to be set up to make decisions it will be a few more years before we see shovels in the ground,” he said.

“We need more partnership so things can be done. For example, the council is working on the stormwater system in Waitaki Street which overlaps with two of the projects in our plan – it’s things like that where we could be having discussions together to see how they could co-exist.”

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