Bob Jones floats Christchurch lake-side CBD rebuild plan

Leading property investor Sir Robert Jones says a new approach is needed to rebuild Christchurch because no one will invest in, or insure, a "rebuilt CBD".

He proposes turning the CBD into a lake, with mixed low-rise commercial, retail and residential clusters spread around its shore.

His company, Robert Jones Holdings, owns more than $1 billion of buildings in Auckland, Wellington and Sydney and is New Zealand’s largest private commercial property investor.

Sir Robert told NBR ONLINE there would be more committees and more reviews but nothing would actually happen if a conventional Christchurch rebuild approach was taken.

He says there was no demand for space in the CBD before the earthquakes and property owners had taken their payouts to Auckland.

Pre-earthquake Christchurch was deemed a poor office-building investment location by major professional investors. For sound reasons, its market lacked the potential for rental growth and thereforecapital growth.

Owners of “old dogs” had received “windfalls” and it was unrealistic to expect them to stay and invest in Christchurch, he says.

Indications from insurers were that they would not insure in Christchurch until there had been no earthquakes for five years.

Tenants and developers would not be forthcoming because of increased insurance costs and a significant investment-risk premium.

Sir Robert says central and local government are not going to rebuild the CBD and he is adamant the private sector will noteither.

Building a new high-rise CBD would require rentals at least four times those pre-earthquake.

In a recent Listener story, Sir Robert said the country's second largest city will comprise suburbs around a permanent large central bomb site and would become the third and and then fourth largest.

Detailing his Christchurch vision, he proposes the CBD becomes a lake, with mixed low-rise commercial, retail and residential clusters spread around its shore.

“The emergence of large suburban shopping centres killed off the CBD as a retail location, as has occurred in many cities throughout the western world.”

In his model, property owners would receive sections proportional to those they owned in the pre-earthquake CBD.

Sir Robert told NBR his idea has received a lot of positive feedback from valuers to academics, but whether or not it happened was another matter.

“We are not big on doing great ideas in New Zealand.”

He says Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra and the Clearwater development north of Christchurch were two successful examples of artificial lake developments.

Land values would increase “massively” and would make it easier for landowners to exit Christchurch, whether they developed the sites or not.

“Anything that’s got a harbour or lakefront view becomes a very sellable section,” he says.

The lake would be built with inlets and sailing and sculling would be encouraged but motorboats banned. Eventually, trout would be introduced.

There are specialist companies which build artificial lakes and there is no reason such a proposal should not proceed, Sir Robert says.

The full Listener story can be read here.

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22 Comments & Questions

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Love it !
What a story and thanks to O'Brien for conveying Sir Roberts incisive opinion telling it like it is. Strewth what a fantastic idea and certainly the first piece of common sense compared to all the politicial noddys so far.


As an Engineer, I favour the re-build of the CBD.


It took 100 years to build Christchurch during some of the most historically financially prosperous times in New Zealand. How is all this development going to be paid for?


Yes, I would rather listen to an engineer's opinion rather than that of a Jones backed by academics and valuers.


Didn't engineers build ChCh?
I'd back a billionaire who knows the MARKET and presumably more than a bit about about the rip-off insurance Mafia which ducked the leaky homes and the last bird-flu panic.
Despite it sounding off-the-wall, it is the most realistic solution yet.


“We are not big on doing great ideas in New Zealand.”

I disagree. Paying for great ideas is the challenge.

With a population of only 4.5 million we don't have the wealth to finance projects of this size (ie rebuild a city).

I think NZ needs to wake up and realise that rebuilding Chch is one of the largest financial issues facing NZ. Along with increased superannuation costs and then increased insurance.

What will be left for those people born after 2005. Massive country debt and massive tax bills.


What a commons see approach, fantastic idea. Is this idea proceeds the city will naturally evolve around this lake, what a place to be in. Demand will ensure an invester supply of lake front properties. What an opportunity!


I think Bob is making great commercial sense. Auckland is taking off property wise as the money is being reinvested up here.

Christchurch needs to come up with a better proposition to entice investors back.

Without investors, Christchurch will be completely reliant on a debt burdened government.

That's probably not a wise move.


Anon, you should consider that engineers and city beauracrats really have no idea in regard to economic and business realities. The property investors have taken the insurance money and gone. They will only return once a demand has been established. A lake what a great point of difference, this will surley creat a property demand


i don't agree with sir robert often,but this idea should be looked at enthusistically or else in 10 years chch will still be on the planning board


Let's face facts Christchurch is dead. All the insurance funds are being re invested in Auckland and Australia.

Christchurch should aim to be a better version of Timaru/Hamilton and aim for a population around 150k. Base itself around tourism, agricultural supply and the port.

The corporates are managing the South Island now from Auckland/Sydney and will never return with force to Christchurch. It does not make economic sense too.

Time to be honest NZ.

Spending mega amounts of dough of new infastructure which won't be used, building stadiums which won't be filled and looking after the Old Boys is not in then nations interest.


surely you don't mean that the crusaders won't fill a stadium
say it ain't so please say it ain't so


I like Bob's approach, Good examples exist of waterway developments in Perth WA,where I'm taking a break from the Ch'ch quakes.
In East Perth an area called Claisebrook was developed (from a former trotting training track) which is the pride of low rise City development. The trotting ground was dug out and is now a small inlet off the swan River. It has beautifull modern terraced developments, as has the Mandurah/Bouvard developments to the South of Perth.
Both are excellent water/cannal developments, as was mooted for parts of Northlands here in Ch'ch.
Such a set up could collect all stormwater whilst creating contained "shuttered" land with suitable pilling for new low rise (3 -4 storey) inner city housing, boutique shops Etc. Good on you Mr Jones.


I am with Sir Bob - and think, sad as it is, it is time to accept that the CBD in ChCh will take 20 years to come back.

I personally favour a lake, and think the Governament should grab the Russley Golf Course for offices (near the airport) and turn the CBD into a lake and a Golf course. No doubt this could be done quickly.


Lake / golf course / public park with running / cycle tracks around the lake... brilliant!

Cafe's & botique shops, trams circulating the lake, swimming, sailing, fishing...

Could be more romantic than Paris... without the rugby cheats...


Don't be silly, there will be too many nay-sayers who will kill this fantastic idea.
(Hopefully I'll be wrong this time)


this is hardly a new idea, it's been a joke around CHCH pubs for months, Jonesy has belatedly caught up with it, Of course he doesn't bother talking about the the technicalities - buying the land, millions to excavate etc. A good laugh for out of towners though...


A lake is a great idea - the reality is it will take years for investment to flow back into the CBD a lake would give chch back some of the heart it has lost to the quake.


Designers are required not Enginneers and town planners to decide on concept.
It will be all lost in committees and Politics
and be a disaster.
Go the lake and no power boats.It is logical.


I speculate that there is about a zero % chance of this ever happening, despite it being a bl**dy great idea.

Radical ideas are not the way of CERA, Local or Central Govt.

They will just laugh this off as another nutty idea from a guy who loves being in the headlines. Whether it is actually a good idea or not is irrelevant.


To snake in the grass. Why do you favour the cbd rebuild?

With respect, does the answer lie in the fact you are a engineer?

I think Sir Bob's suggestion is very much worthy of further investigation and promotion.

You certainly if you are a commercial property person can't in my view argue with his predictions on all matters relating to costs and tenants.

He talks so much commonsense and has the experience and knowledge to back up his proposal with facts and in an unemotional manner.

The rebuild of Christchurch is far too important to leave in the hands of the Council, politicians and self serving bodies/professions.


Does Jones' proposal have any connection to the watery aspects of Alasdair Cassels' current proposals for developments near the river (Heathcote, I suppose) around Wooston?


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