What makes Christchurch so lucky?

Decisions will be made on urban design resource consents in five working days


The government has created a major political risk for itself given the sheer brilliance of its new Christchurch plan.

I try to strictly avoid writing here about anything I am working on in my day job but, like everything else that has happened in Christchurch these last 21 months, this is a once-in-a-lifetime exception.

The Christchurch plan is the result of two madcap ideas by sometimes uneasy bedfellows, Christchurch mayor Bob Parker and earthquake czar Gerry Brownlee.

  Mr Parker led his council’s “Share an Idea” campaign where the people of Christchurch got to say what they wanted in their new city.  

It wasn’t the typically stifling local government “consultation” exercise.  Lawyers, formal submissions and correct spelling and grammar were not welcome.  People just got to scribble down in their own words what they wanted.

Over 100,000 Cantabrians responded, more than a quarter of Christchurch’s population. 

The campaign became the first community engagement programme outside Europe to win the international Co-Creation Association’s supreme award and it did so unanimously.

The lawyers and lobbyists who make it their business to get between the public and their elected officials were sidelined.

Brownlee’s dangerous idea
Mr Brownlee’s idea was even more dangerous to the status quo.

After the council released its concept for the new Christchurch, based on “Share an Idea,” Mr Brownlee ordered his bureaucrats to develop a final plan for the CBD within 100 days.

Such an ambitious timeline had never been attempted anywhere in the world and, to be picky about it, the bureaucrats actually failed because it took them 103 days to get the cabinet sign off.

The plan is radical and far more clean, green, politically-correct and urban-design-y than would be expected to be signed off by the sometimes gruff and usually conservative Mr Brownlee. 

There are all sorts of parks and art and culture hubs and so forth.  Christchurch will be the most beautiful city in the world.

But the plan is far more commercially astute than might be expected from the urban designers and creative types who prepared it. 

It halves the size of the CBD, making land scarce to improve returns per square metre, creating competition among investors and developers for the best spaces.  There is going to be a gold rush.

Perhaps inspired that their enormous 100-day gamble has paid off, Mr Brownlee, Mr Parker and the prime minister have again upped the ante.

John Key has ordered that the so-called “frame” of parks and other developments around the CBD be completed by the end of next year.  Any rational assessment based on New Zealand’s historic ability to get major projects off the ground would suggest that is impossible.

Mr Brownlee has ordered that any investor, businessperson or developer who contacts his new Invest Christchurch service will have an investment facilitator, drawn from the private sector, assigned to them within 24 hours to help them navigate through the bureaucracy.

Decisions will be made on urban design resource consents within five working days, by a three-person committee representing the government, the city council and Ngai Tahu and they will not then need to be notified under the Resource Management Act.

Proposals will of course need to be pretty, clean and green and fit the plan but the tradeoff is that developers get a final answer in a week.

Mr Parker’s city council has then resolved to make final decisions on all other aspects of building consent applications within a fortnight.

Not to be outdone, Mr Brownlee has indicated that, if necessary, and for bold and beautiful projects, he will use his powers under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act to force land amalgamations.

There is talk of cracking the whip on the Overseas Investment Office and the Immigration Service so that they give people answers, yes or no, far more quickly than current practice.

Rangitoto needs to erupt
The unspoken little truth about all this is that it should all have happened regardless of the earthquakes.  The People’s Republic of Christchurch was a dying city before September 2010. 

What Mr Parker, Mr Brownlee and Mr Key have achieved is nothing more than what they should have been doing anyway.

The political risk they have created is this: Why shouldn’t Aucklanders, Hamiltonians, Wellingtonians, Dunedinites and everyone else have the same opportunities as Cantabrians?

Do Aucklanders need to wait for Rangitoto to erupt before Len Brown will launch a community engagement programme about its spatial plan as good as Mr Parker’s “Share an Idea”?

Do Dunedites need to suffer some sort of biblical-type flood before their leaders will develop an innovative 100-day plan to deal with some of the same long-term economic challenges that were faced by Christchurch?

Do Wellingtonians need to suffer their major earthquake before they get access to 24-hour investment services, five-day resource consent decisions and two-week building consents?

Does the Waikato need to be devastated by mad cow disease before delays at the OIO and Immigration Service are sorted out?

For that matter, why on earth doesn’t the government roll out its bold, visionary Christchurch approach on a nationwide basis and just slash all the barriers to economic growth that still exist everywhere but Canterbury?

If he did so, Mr Key, in 100 days, would finally have established himself as the bold, visionary Lee Kuan Yew-type figure that so many of us so desperately want him to be, and still believe he could be.

Disclosure: Matthew Hooton is working on contract to the Christchurch Central Development Unit.

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27 Comments & Questions

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Actually, Matthew, the last thing 'we' classical liberals want is a strong leader. Save us from strong leaders. The forced land amalgamations are in fact an indictment on how far as a society we've lurched to a type of statism I might have thought you found repugnant. If you read the Press you'll see an increasing number of CBD landowners who aren't happy at all with how this has panned out, many of whom have spent a lot of money to redevelop their properties which are about to be appropriated from them: the more bold a plan is at destroying their property rights, then the more worrisome that plan becomes. What on earth are you thinking in this piece? No place with a cult of leadership is a place where free men will want to live. (Trying desperately to avoid the Godwin of North Korea here).

And issues of political philosophy aside, speaking as a Christchurch ratepayer, still, I don't want a city planned around 'precincts'. That's how you plan schools, universities, and, I suspect, mental health agencies. The great cities have grown organically; they mix and match often seemingly chaotically, though with the spontaneous order of markets; they are quirky and will always surprise even those who live in them. This plan seems sterile to me. I mean just imagine the amount of arty types per square metre I'll have to wade through to get to a play anymore in the arts precinct (quite apart from the Court Theartre has a lovely new venue in the burbs). And the sheer concentration of suited types in the conference precinct will ... well, reading this 'revere the strong leader, nonsense you've written here, it fills me with dread.

... um, wait a minute. My funny antennae doesn't seem to work well lately: is this satire?


One like, four dislikes. Right, so the consensus is for planned cities, and lives planned by strong leaders. And the wholesale attack by the state on property rights is fine, it would seem.

Consistent, at least, for the West circa 2012. Freedom dies in the dislikes.


What a whiner.


Let's look at this rationally.

1) I posted under my name, meaning I'm prepared to be judged, or scoffed, on what I comment.

2) I gave two separately argued points against the central premises of Matthew's posted piece. I gave in the first the philosophic reason for my disagreement with him, and in the second, I gave the aesthetic reason as to why I disagree with him. Moreover, I held myself back, with remarkable restraint, and didn't even post a link to any type of related link on my own blog. (Did I say I had a blog? You could Google it if you like).

3) Ergo, I used the comments section that NBR provide to actually make a comment expressing my disagreement with an opinion piece published by them, not a whine, therefore, and from which a debate could ensue.

Now, your post, on the other hand ....


Anonymous... you got served!


to paraphrase William S - it is a plan designed " by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


also the plan REDUCES the CBD area from 160ha to 42ha. The 118ha will be purchased by the Govt prob at around $2000/m2 if the existing owners are to be believed. Thats $2.36B or $1000 for EVERY household in NZ - how is this good economics?

And this is BEFORE anything is built and before funding on-going losses.

This plan is dumb beyond belief!


I look forward always to Mr Hootons articles and this was no less a good one, but one that had me uneasy. Jolly hockey sticks for those involved with Cera's own Mr Blobby blundering around cracking a futile whip while the inexorable insurers drivel on doing what they do so well which is nought and the poor chch folk caught in their own nightmare of inertia, always wondering if the grass really can be all that greener beyond the city of jafas. Well my cynicism born of too many years dealing with govt both local and central here and overseas says that this plan is doomed to failure simply due as Mark Hubbard suggests that the day ownership rights get treated by "statism" then all that follows will be the planners nightmare. Look no further than the planned albeit excruciatingly new burbs of Auckland whereby a new block of houses has its obligatory park and wetland and cycleway and replanted native block and everyone uses none of them. A true city grows organically and some of the best are before the days any planners even existed. In a word, the moment Ngai Tahu became part of the trifecta for goodness sake, I'm outa here. Money & run is my motto. NZ's Brasilia nor Canberra is on my list of places to be especialy while it still rocks & rolls.


I've been thinking while walking the pooch, hated by town planners, to the post office and back.

Of course we got, from town planners, precincts. Ugly, and as I said sterile. But I obviously have misunderstood what I thought I knew of Matthew's political philosophy: I didn't think he was this much the statist - but then I've not read a lot of him.

... rambling. I'm still wondering if this piece is satire - Matthew?

That last section, surely, is pure farce. As it this bit, quote:

"It halves the size of the CBD, making land scarce to improve returns per square metre, creating competition among investors and developers for the best spaces. There is going to be a gold rush."

Do you realise, Matthew, that in this sentence, you've just described the creation of that phenomenon that kicked off the global financial crisis in August 2008, namely, as artificially created asset bubble? And your government's entire tax policy has been clumsily about trying to stop property speculation? (Which tax policy has been woeful for, incidentally, and could have been achieved by simply culling the price of land on getting rid of the bureaucracy, RMA, district plans, et al, that is making land so artificially high-priced?

No, this piece has to be satire. Has to.


"A true city grows organically", yes, I agree, but it is not only organically that a city does grow. Growing organically is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. In any case, in this unprecedented situation we cannot wait for it to all happen organically. I do think the central zone being planned is very small. It looks really squeezed. Yet it is probably best to start small to concentrate effort - the results will be more noticeable in say three years than the same effort spread wider.
As to the Frame, won't it tend to barricade the central area off, because you have to cross over non-city-like stretches?
Regarding the Stadium so close to it, where is the parking - or are we to all use other forms of transport?


I wish my old unplanned burb of Auckland had its "obligatory park and wetland and cycleway and replanted native block", because the "planned albeit excruciatingly new burb" 2km away has them and they are wll used. Maybe the migrants to other parts of Auckland have legs too weak to do more than push the accelerator pedal?

Can redesigning Chch with a "cultural" precinct create as vibrant an area as have "organically" developed in the Westend, Broadway or Grenwich Village, when 150 years of market forces failed to create one in the old Chch (apart from the "old" Arts Centre)?


It's a good thing that Mark Hubbard and Annonymous aren't involved in creating the new Christchurch. their mindset is exactly the type that has been holding NZ back for about 40 years, and has seen the lopsided land wasting development of new subburbs around NZ.
Take a good look at what has happened in teh East Auckland area, from the pens of the town planners; acres of unused parkland in the wrong area; all because it was good theory. The proposed new town at Flat Bush is modelled on the English New towns of the1960's... abysmal failures.


Be very clear here: so you believe private property rights can be dismissed by government for this? For anything else?

History shows where that leads. Nothing trumps private property rights here: and it's not like the alternative is between a CBD or not: it'll be built regardless.


Um, in your post below you're arguing, wisely, against the RMA, as I would. And here against town planners, as I did.

So what's your first paragraph, above, about?


"holding NZ back" !
Boy do you have it a*se about, I;ve been fighting planners all my life and those limp wristed liberal socialist know it all everyone elses money but my own types. Had a gutsful. NZ has got and still gets what it deserves.


what have you done with Matthew...?


How Chch recovers will be entirely how they treat land zoning in the rest of the district. If they restrict development on the outskirts which is what the CCC wants there will be no recovery at all - but if they allow market driven development everywhere it will be fine.

The CBD plan is no real relevance to the recovery as there will be little private investment here either way - the cost of piling a building with a low height limit on it can't really work .It will just be very costly for the ratepayers and tax payer for the ammenties and pay out CBD landowners which has been the whole thrust anyway.

Shame the Govt doesn't feel the need to meet its obligation to the 28,000 homeowners before the CBD landowners that it has no obligation too. I guess thats the way the things go with the National Govt these days.


John Key as a visionary? Where does this come from? Does he tramp or ski in the high country? Does he fish or use the waters along the coast or inland? No. The only vision Mr Key has involves money, the manipulation of money and the resources of New Zealand as something to be profited from. In true neo-libera form he follows the underwhelming privitsation agenda that come from the pulpit of democracy. In so many ways, every idea the current political elite follow, will be the undoing of the citizens of New Zealand. We will be a third world nation ruled by first world elites.


You are talking absolute rubbish!!!!


I guess what most bloggers don't like about the Brownlie/Parker plan for Christchurch CBD, is that it is basically going to charge ahead without the obstructionisim of the RMAct.
The subsequent successful development will prove once and for all, that we don't need the present cumbersome RMA to provide liveable cities, or any other land use activity for that matter.


Restricted supply will only lead to increased prices, which the banks will love.This will be right up Jonkeys bankers alley.

Why not let the market decide? Catalysts for development will be convenience to amenities, rather than halving the CBD area. Precincts sound a good idea, however lets not forget its Christchurch not London or Paris.

In addition, inner city apartment developments should be encouraged; through development bonuses and reduced infrastructure fees for developers. A critical mass of people leads to increased commercial activity. Theres no better example than Wellington.


We probably need to wait a little before leaping to conclusions on this (the lawyer in me continues to like an evidence based approach to debate) but there are certainly things for legislators to consider post the Canterbury earthquake recovery act fast tracking (and remember its not just around the CBD plan). Are the outcomes worse for going quickly and avoiding lengthy public consultation? Has it/will it result in more investment if Timeframes are shorter? We need to consider these matters carefully outside of the heat of battle and then work out whether the RMA/LGA is really acheiving what we want.


What makes Christchurch so lucky?

8000+ earthquakes later and still standing


Friends have buried their children; other friends their parents.
My relatives have been locked out of their red-stickered Sumner house for 100 weeks, while the rest of us deal with the truly loathsome EQC buffoons.
10000 quakes and aftershocks and still shaking.
Gosh, I feel so lucky to be in Christchurch.
The rest of NZ just. Don't. Get. It.
Do you?


Lloyd - it may seem hard to believe but the rest of NZ 'do get it', but feel utterly useless in how best to help any more. NZ has a bureaucracy and systemic culture that feeds on itself. The delusions of competence is breathtaking. EQC is still riddled with old drones parading their gold frequent flyer status while avoiding all liability under any pretense or excuse. Saw some prat from some insurance council crying crocodile tears on telly other night when in fact we all know they as an industry are scum. Just as the news now is of poor travellers discovering they are not covered for certain accident events overseas, the truth is the insurance fraud that includes EQC was a rort that unfortunately so many in chch are suffering. Until we have a government willing to start putting a few of these fraudsters away then nothing changes. Insurance - all sizzle and no steak.


Really......what planet is Matthew Hooton on?

We have plenty to say on the Cantabrians unite www.cantabriansunite.co.nz facebook page,

The whole thing is a political and commercial joke Matthew - thats clearly heading for the trash can.


Hugh - always so negative, where are your solutions?


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