26 Feb 2022

Christchurch City Council confident of progress over barrier sites

6:35 pm on 26 February 2022

Four years ago, Christchurch City Council declared it was going to get tough on the owners of 30 central city buildings left derelict since the 2011 earthquake.

The building which formerly housed the restaurant Two Fat Indians is one of three which the council says there has been no progress on.

The building which formerly housed the restaurant Two Fat Indians is one of three which the council says there has been no progress on. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Graham

A wander through central Christchurch shows many of the buildings identified as the dirty 30 still look unchanged, with boarded up windows, tarps covering gapping holes, and containers offering protection for those passing by.

The council's list of barrier sites has been reduced to 19, and the city council says good progress is being made on all but three sites.

The former Hunters and Collectors building in High Street is one of the buildings which the council is happy with progress on.

It does not look much changed on the outside, with plastic sheeting covering part of the front and old advertising flapping in the wind, but the fencing has been removed, and inside a team of builders are hard at work.

The building was purchased by QB Studio Ltd about seven months ago with a plan to turn it into a flexible workspace.

One of the directors, Michael Fisher, said work was well underway.

"A lot of the demolition has started," Fisher said. "So the rear facade and the front that's all gone now, and all the internal demolition is underway.

"The front facade will be the next thing, just waiting for the consent to be approved and we'll be into it. So over the course of the next two to three months, subject to that council processing time, you'll see some real change."

Some of the buildings on the list have the added complication of being heritage sites.

Those include the Lawrie and Wilson Auctioneers building and its neighbour the Odeon Theatre, both purchased by Canterbury Regional council in August 2020.

The buildings have a tall stack of containers in front of them - a clear sign they are not considered safe just yet, but council director of finance and corporate services Giles Southwell said there had been progress.

"With the Lawrie and Wilson building that's a (Heritage New Zealand) Category Two building and we are currently strengthening that to 100 percent of code and also refurbishing it, and that work will be completed by the middle of this year. That will be office accommodation that we will make a decision on the use of.

"The Odeon Theatre is a Category One, more important and of more heritage value. There is less of the building in existence, mostly it's just a frontage. We're yet to make a decision on how we will approach that work."

Around the corner is another site barricaded with containers, Dave Henderson's Sargood building at 92 Lichfield Street.

Henderson said he was still working on options, and that the biggest issue was the lack of progress on the nearby anchor project sites intended to rejuvenate central Christchurch post-earthquake.

Ernest Duval is the property manager for one of the site's deemed as having no progress in the last four years, the former Two Fat Indians restaurant on Manchester Street.

He said council's labelling some sites as barrier sites was naive and unhelpful.

"It's shock tactics of trying to shame property owners into doing something about their building," Duval said.

"When they may for a variety of reasons not be capable of doing anything. The costs associated with upgrading, or renovating or redeveloping the site may be prohibitive. They may not be able to get long-term tenants. They may not be able to get funding. So I think a more conciliatory approach should be adopted."

Duval said if there was too much pressure, owners may be pushed into demolition when a building could be saved.

Despite the threat of enforcement action against stubborn property owners, the council has only taken action against one owner.

The council said enforcement action and intervention was used for 167-169 Hereford Street due to concerns about fall zones and propping on the building.

Christchurch City Council case manager Andrew Wheeley, who works with the owners of the barrier sites, said assisting the owners was more effective than threatening them.

Sixteen properties are deemed as having a commitment to action, which Wheeley said often meant they have lodged a building consent.

"We know that if they have enacted a building consent or have a building consent there will be activity on the site. And with a lot of them there is activity going on in the background. Like (the former council chambers) Our City, it has a big white cloth over top of it, but I can assure you they are busy strengthening that building."

Wheeley said he was confident that by the end of this year there would be big changes to the remaining buildings on the list.

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