Eight years ago the champions of Christchurch’s Avon River red zone had a humble but firm request of the Government – let the land that was once home to laughter and happy memories for thousands of people become a reserve and parkland.
On Tuesday, that request was finally answered with a promise. It may take 50 years to come to fruition but that dream will one day become a reality.
In a gesture full of great symbolism for the people of Christchurch, a copy of the petition and its 18,500 signatures was returned to members of the Avon-Ōtākaro Network (AvON) by mayor Lianne Dalziel, who as Christchurch East MP first received it on the steps of parliament in May 2012.
For Evan Smith, the driving force behind that initial campaign and who has fought for the 602 hectares of land to be saved from development, it was a moment of great hope.
* Wild flowers, new wetlands and fewer fences for Christchurch red zone
* $80m Govt cash could fund Christchurch’s green spine, revamp roads
* Do Christchurch local body candidates know about the red zone? A community group thinks not
“It is closing the circle,” he told Stuff. “I am pleased that things seem to be getting into place.”
It comes as the city council formally takes over management of the former residential red zone land in the river corridor, Southshore, South New Brighton and Brooklands from the Crown on Wednesday.
Ratepayers will have to pay an estimated $800 million over many years to develop the river corridor, but are expected to reap double that in economic benefits.
Around $450m has already been budgeted through long-term council planning, including $40m in seed funding from the Government and $17m in donations.
Ill-health prevented Smith from attending a ceremony on Tuesday that, in a near-mirror of the petition’s original journey, saw the petition and a copy of the select committee report that resulted from it carried up the Avon River by waka, kayak and school children to the city’s council chamber.
Peter Beck, who accepted the documents on behalf of AvON, said the vision for the park had grown from a desire among the river’s communities that a place of distress and desolation could become one of hope and beauty that honoured the story of those who had lived there.
“By bringing a copy of the petition back to the community as the council takes ownership of the former red zone land, it symbolises the beginning of this vision being realised.”
He also paid tribute to Smith’s unwavering leadership, saying he had given “blood, sweat and tears to bring us to this place”.
Dalziel also praised his efforts, saying he had given the city a great gift.
“The commitment we can make to you today Evan is that your dream will become a reality.”
Plans were approved last year to regenerate the area with a “green spine” enveloping the Avon River from the central city to New Brighton, with walking paths, nature trails, cycleways, playgrounds and vast swathes of ecological restoration and wetlands.
Work is in the early stages, the first step involving rezoning the 300 hectares that will form the green spine to allow for its future development.
Detailed planning and design is already under way, and construction on three new bridges at Snell Pl, Medway St and Avondale will begin early next year, along with a riverside landing at Dallington, all of which are out for public consultation.
A $40 million fund from the Government approved in March will go towards early ecological restoration and work on cycleways, stormwater remediation and stopbanks, while $2.7m a year has already been budgeted for ongoing maintenance.
Council staff briefed locals and campaigners on progress two weeks ago, with AvON spokeswoman Hayley Guglietta saying she was “pleased” to hear about the updates.
A new manager for the red zone will also soon be appointed by the council.
“The council are ready to engage with the community and get cracking and get things happening,” Guglietta said.
“Hopefully we will start to get some action. The bulk of the community wants to start planting and the ecological restoration, but to do that the council needs to understand the land and what infrastructure needs to take place first.”