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.”
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.