After legal battles, delays, scaled back plans, more than eight years of work and at least $250 million in public money, the blueprint’s promised “green frame” encircling central Christchurch is complete.
The Government project, which cost at least $4000 per metre, was designed to spur redevelopment of the earthquake-ravaged city centre. It has split local business leaders, with one branding it a “walkway to nowhere” and another calling it “a really cool space”.
The 3km pedestrian and cycling loop is actually three projects that were first proposed in the Government’s 2012 rebuild blueprint drawn up after the Canterbury earthquakes.
The south frame walkway runs from east to west between Tuam and St Asaph streets for about 900m . The project, which runs from Manchester St to just short of Antigua St, cost $92.8m, including $31m in delivery costs and $61.8m in land purchases. That works out at a cost of over $100,000 a metre.
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This walkway connects at the western end with the Avon River Promenade, which runs along the riverbank from Christchurch Hospital to the Margaret Mahy Family Playground off Manchester St. The walkway cost $120m, but government agencies were unable to say how much was spent on land purchases.
The Avon River Promenade then connects to Rauora Park (in the east frame), a linear open space that runs through the new residential zone from Gloucester St in the north to Lichfield St in the south.
The park cost $30m to build and sits on a sliver of a large parcel of land purchased for the new residential zone by the Government for $195m. Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand (Linz) was unable to give a breakdown of how much the land cost just for the park.
The land prices do not include costs like professional fees or demolition to clear the sites, or any money recovered from the sale of land, Linz said.
Work on the loop started on The Terrace in early 2014 and finished this month at the west end of the south frame.
The south frame project was beset with problems. It was initially envisaged in the Government’s 2012 blueprint as a “low density campus-style urban development“ that would be completed by 2014.
But car dealers based in the south frame fought the proposal and refused to give up their land.
The proposal was eventually scaled down to just a walkway connecting Manchester St to the Christchurch Hospital. Surplus land was sold to developers for new housing.
Car dealer Bruce Miles took the Government to court over the project. His car dealerships are still clustered around the western end of the walkway.
He estimated just the stretch of walkway over his block cost him and the Government about $40m in legal fees, land costs and rebuild expenses.
“It is a walkway to nowhere,’’ he said.
“Putting that small strip through the middle of my property has probably cost me and the Government about $40m.
“Is that good value? I don’t think so. It was a total waste of money.”
But another car dealer on the walkway is more upbeat. The south frame stretch goes through a historic building where the Team Hutchinson Ford car dealership has been trading since the 1920s.
Dealer principal John Hutchison said the walkway created a new covered courtyard in their office with a cafe that opens onto the new space.
“It literally goes straight through our building.
“We left the heritage roof over the walkway just for interest really.
“The whole thing has worked out. It is a really cool space and there is a lot of pedestrian traffic.”
He said it had taken them five years to make a deal with the Government to sell them the land so the walkway could go through their premises.
“In the original plan, the theme was a campus style and buildings within a park. This whole strip we are sitting in was all green with buildings dotted through it. When we first saw that we were aghast.
“Early on there was talk about all the car dealers vacating the site, but that was pretty short lived.
“It would have been a disaster for the city centre. We don’t need any more empty parcels of land.”
The south frame stretch of the walkway has yet to achieve its aim of regenerating the city centre. A rough assessment of land use along the route counted 17 empty sites, alongside several car dealers and two housing developments under construction.
The walkway’s project manager for Crown-owned rebuild agency Ōtākaro, Cameron McLean, said the empty sites would be developed over time.
“That is a struggle in the city, but over time that will develop more,’’ he said.
“It is a long term investment. We are already seeing parts of it coming to fruition. It will probably be a slow burn.
“It is dictated by other things like markets and land values and the housing market.”
He said the laneways were designed to make city centre blocks more attractive for developers, with pedestrian links and green planting.
“It was to break up those big city blocks into a finer grain and provide routes through them to facilitate development.
“The laneways were a canvas for future private developments to open up on to and use.”
He said the walkway loop was a reflection of the rebuild proposals gathered from the public during the Share an Idea project in 2011.
“It is quite a unique project, but that is the change everyone wanted through the blueprint. They wanted a greener city that was more pedestrian friendly.”
Land: $61.8 million
Land: A share of $195m
Total: At least $30m
GRAND TOTAL: At least $242.8m