From our chair: Environment Canterbury purchases neighbouring site

Jenny Hughey, Chair, Environment Canterbury

*Jenny Hughey, Chair, Environment Canterbury

Ten years after the first of the many damaging quakes that shook Christchurch, work is ongoing to rebuild the central city. While significant progress has been made, a small number of sites still appear as they did post-quake, fronted by containers, awaiting a future.

The Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury) recently bought such a site – the Lawrie and Wilson building and the adjacent Odeon Theatre – immediately next door to the Council’s Tuam Street building, for $2.95m. Effectively, we’ve exchanged cash held in reserves for an asset, so our balance sheet remains the same.

Protecting our heritage buildings

It is exciting that both sites are heritage listed, especially given the central city has lost so much of its heritage. We are proud to be able to protect the historic elements of both buildings for the future.

Those travelling along Tuam Street will know the Odeon is one of the few remaining CBD sites with containers fronting the building façade.

Council staff are currently working with engineers to confirm how to best secure the Odeon frontage allowing the containers to be safely removed, which will vastly improve the traffic and pedestrian experience in the area.

Investigations will also confirm what works are necessary to be able to use the Lawrie and Wilson building.

Completing a vision 

From a practical perspective, the purchase also completes consolidation of our current site. Before the quakes, the Council was based in Kilmore Street. To support the recovery, it was asked to rebuild on an oddly-shaped central city site on Tuam Street, brought together quickly in 2013 to enable that to occur.

The Council moved into a new purpose-built building in 2016 and has since sought to consolidate the site. It did that with a land purchase across the St Asaph Street boundary in 2018, and again with this latest purchase, which effectively fills in the Tuam-Manchester Street corner.

Building for the future

We think there’s a win-win in investing money in an asset and addressing an eyesore problem for the community. The buildings also provide options for the Council for the future. Those include office rental space, co-location of public sector organisations, and providing a space for community interaction with environmental issues and the work we do in the region.

Whatever option the Council determines, it will be mindful of the benefit to the ratepayer, and efficient use of public resources. We also acknowledge the responsibility we now have for improving the two sites for the benefit of the community and the appearance of the immediate area.

We will be keeping the community informed as we make those decisions.

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*Cr Jenny Hughey is the chair of Environment Canterbury. Find out more about our councillors.