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Being bold in the red zone is all very well but let's get a move on

Architectenbureau Art Zaaijer

A portable "floating houses" designed for The Netherlands. Is something similar a bold enough vision for the red zone?

OPINION: I was interested to read the article by Regenerate Christchurch CEO Ivan Iafeta. Dare to be bold! It was a warm, positive, optimistic article looking to a bright future for the red zone if only Christchurch residents could be bold.

There were ways put forward to achieve this utopia, a team of school boys were going to be encouraged to work on a plan.

There would be a lake and one could imagine a sun-drenched ecological area with majestic wildebeest roaming – OK, well maybe not the wildebeest – but it was a very optimistic progressive picture somewhat at odds with an earlier article where Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Gerry Brownlee was reported as being aware of concerns about lack of progress by Regenerate.

An artist's impression of floating houses planned for Auckland's Gulf Harbour in 2016.

Based on my personal experiences with Regenerate I have to put myself in the Brownlee camp.

I wrote to Regenerate Christchurch last year with a proposal to designate a small part of the red zone for floating houses. The proposal was to buy an area of the red zone and build a demonstration house to illustrate the concept.

International examples of floating house communities were included in the letter and the advantages of floating houses were identified. No problems with liquefaction prone sites, no expensive site remediation required, the water forms a base isolator in seismic events, they adapt to rising water levels and are easy to float away somewhere else if you don't like the neighbours or if Sea Level Rise effects dictate.

I wrote in three times to lukewarm response.

It is not as if I don't have some background in designing floating things. The engineering consultancy I lead has designed the tourist boat harbour at Milford Sound with its floating wharves, floating berths for tourist vessels at Pearl Harbour and Manapouri, floating passenger loading systems for the WhaleWatch Kaikoura harbour and the floating pontoons to take cruise ship tenders at Akaroa.

An award-winning architecture practice specialising in environmentally sensitive and sustainable buildings was part of the proposal.

My Singaporean brother-in-law and my wife were enthused by the concept and wanted to invest. The tepid response was surprising as our offer was to put money in, not to require the government to pay for a wish-list.

My brother-in-law thinks he has an insight into why Singapore's per capita GDP has passed New Zealand's.

However it is one thing to dismiss some crank writing in with a plan for floating houses in a wetland, quite another to park a community in limbo.

My second experience with Regenerate Christchurch came last week when a representative came to our office with a Christchurch City Council community board member to talk about a report I had written on the feasibility of building a berm to protect the residents on Brighton's Southshore from high water levels in the estuary.

The report was written at the request of the Southshore Residents Association (SSRA), which recognised they needed some technical support to counter the CCC's claim that the cost of a berm was prohibitive at $13,000/metre.

From my analysis it isn't, the cost is estimated at $3,000/m, much less than the cost for the Beachville Road seawall directly across the estuary from Southshore at $8,900/m. OCEL is familiar with the latter because we designed the temporary works for it. It is a more complex construction because it is in relatively deep fast flowing water however it protects far fewer houses than the Southshore one would. The berm could also function as a walkway/cycleway and have a variety of embankment faces on the Estuary side.

The Regenerate man was conversant with the OCEL report and it was to be included in a consultation with the residents, government agencies and others identified on an A4 sheet with coloured boxes and arrows illustrating the process. When I asked how long to get to the end of the page, the answer was 18 months, with no guarantee that anything would happen at the end of it.

The SSRA has already consulted the residents, with 95 per cent in favour. The area concerned is compact with an easily identifiable threat, so why does it take so long for Regenerate to come up with a plan?

Regenerate seems to operate in a parallel universe from mine. We are working on a resilience project for Wellington Water to find an alternative water supply for Wellington in the event of a major seismic event, involving drilling into an aquifer under the harbour off a jackup barge. Drilling will likely be in June – a year after the project was thought up, yet Regenerate need a year and a half just to come up with a plan.

From my perspective Regenerate appears like the classic definition of a committee, a dark alley way down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.

Gary Teear is a director of engineering consultancy OCEL, which specialises in marine-related work, off-shore and coastal engineering.

Regenerate responds: We welcome Mr Teear's passionate contribution to the community-wide discussion over how we might make the most of this unique opportunity for Christchurch and appreciate he wants his idea to come to fruition.

We have received and read Mr Teear's proposal and replied to emails from OCEL in August, October and November 2016.

We have received more than 80 proposals and thousands of ideas. We will consider proposals, ideas and design approaches in detail from June, once the current call for ideas finishes on 24 April and an overarching vision for the role this land will play in our city's future is agreed.

The Crown currently owns most red zone land, and will make any final decisions about its use and ownership.

We are working with the Council on the complex issues in Southshore, short-term solutions are on the table as well as long-term plans. – Regenerate Christchurch CEO Ivan Iafeta

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