red zone

It has been six years since the devastation of the Christchurch Earthquake. The rebuild is well underway and the city is bustling with life. The same can’t be said for the more than 8,000 sections condemned in the red zone. There has been an obvious focus on rebuilding the central city and infrastructure so that businesses can revive and a new beginning can be made.

Over the years, media have focused their attention on the developments that have been taking place in Christchurch; including the cathedral and issues with insurance payouts. The Christchurch Cathedral has been a controversial topic among many Cantabrians with differing views on whether to restore or rebuild the historic construction. What has not received a lot of attention, until now, is the deteriorating red zone that has become an inhabitable waste land. The empty space has left many concerned over the fate of Eastern Christchurch.

What has Happened?

The Christchurch’s residential red zone was acquired by the Government for around $1.5 billion. The value of this land has shrunk to around $21 million, that’s a 98.6% decrease in value. It’s safe to say the Government won’t ever see the money again. It was a necessary expense to support those who had lost their homes and livelihoods. It is the uncertain future of the land that makes the value considerably less.

Contract work has been awarded to construction workers. They have been tasked with removing the homes and clearing sites within the red zone. The sites were to be cleared of any remains, including fences and shrubs, so that the process of sowing grass could be made. Sowing grass allows the land to be easily maintained by mowing it. There have been increasing pressures from the community and Government to determine a plan for the land. There are financial and social motives for this. Financially, tax payers are having to fork out $130 million to manage the abandoned sites; this includes maintenance and security. Money that could otherwise be used for the future development of the site. The residents of Eastern Christchurch are worried that they are going to miss out on any cash injections provided by the government for the Christchurch rebuild. They want to see a use for the land that will attract people rather than its current state of abandonment.

What is Happening?

The properties in the red zone was deemed uneconomical to repair, this does not mean that there is no use for the land. The land is still viable for something, it is determining what this something is that has been this year’s hot topic. Doing nothing with over 500 hectares of land is out of the question. The election this year sparked an opportunity to win over Christchurch voters. No money had been designated to red zone projects, leaving Political parties to craft potential solutions on how to fund these projects. Labour announced that they were pledging $300 million to the cities rebuild, suggesting some could go towards the red zone projects. With no plans, it is hard to determine how much is needed, it is certain that a minimum of $300 million would be required for projects in the red zone itself. Evan Smith, co-chair of the Avon-Otakaro Network, was disappointed with Labours announcement and goes onto say there is no way Christchurch can be rebuilt with $300 million. Rather than focusing on budget, there is a need to focus on what the community values. This will help progress towards a vision for the space.

Regenerate Christchurch is at the heart of the red zone rebuild. They are a crown-led agency here to help shift Christchurch from recovery to regeneration; where we can grow connect and thrive. They are asking people of Christchurch what they think the city needs. They are using this to determine the best use for the red zone. It is difficult to implement a project that satisfies everyone. The earthquake has left many people feeling vulnerable. It is important to consider cultural and demographic implications that a project may have. Not having a budget adds to the limitations imposed on projects, making it difficult to identify what can become a reality.

Regenerate asked for community suggestions on what to do with the land. They received about 5000 ideas which were narrowed down to 10 options:

  • Visitor attraction and ecological restoration
  • Residential, visitor attractions and ecological restoration
  • Ecological restoration
  • Productive land uses, residential, visitor attractions and ecological restoration
  • Recreation (including 1.1km out-of-river flatwater facility), ecological restoration, residential and visitor attractions
  • Recreation (including 2.2km in-river flatwater facility), visitor attractions and ecological restoration
  • Recreation (including 2.2km out-of-river flatwater facility), visitor attractions and ecological restoration
  • Productive land uses, visitor attractions and ecological restoration
  • Ecological restoration and residential
  • Recreation (including 1.1km out-of-river flatwater facility), ecological restoration and residential.

It is clear that the community want some kind of ecological restoration in the area. Half of the options include building houses; a controversial option because it is deemed unfair on those who had to leave. There is no shortage of housing in Christchurch, if anything there is an oversupply which makes residential buildings unjustifiable. Once budget allocations are generated and the cost of each option is analysed, we will have some reassurance on the future of the red zone.