Owners of vacant land in Christchurch CBD may face big rates hike as council pushes for faster development

Owners of vacant land in central Christchurch may be in for a big rates hike because the council wants to speed up development.

The city still has big swathes of empty land after the earthquakes, but critics say fast-forwarding development is the wrong approach.

Empty lots in Christchurch: potential gold mines, or visual reminders of the earthquakes and a broken city?

Christchurch City Council thinks the latter - and now they're planning to incentivise the rebuild.

"We're proposing to increase the rates on those that have vacant land and are simply collecting capital gains on that land going up," Christchurch City Councillor Jake McLellan said.

In this year's budget proposal, the council wants landowners of vacant commercial sites in the central city to pay more than twice their rates bill, which it hopes will force action.

But critics say it's the wrong way to solve a problem.

"The proposed differential rate, or what we would call 'a fine', is not going to achieve that - so we are opposed to this," said Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce CEO Leeann Watson.

"I question the legality and morality of using rates as a mechanism to change behaviour, I thought rates was to provide services, sewer, water, libraries parks and not a penalty mechanism," added investor Richard Peebles.

This map shows just how much vacant land there is still left in the central city more than a decade on, the red being all the vacant lots.

Owners of vacant land in Christchurch CBD may face big rates hike as council pushes for faster development
Photo credit: Newshub.

"This is a really small group of people that simply refuse to do anything with their property. That is hurting the city, it's costing the city and we're hoping to recoup some of those costs," McLellan said.

But investors say the council itself is often responsible for the hold-up.

"Trying to develop something in the CBD is hellishly difficult and there's a 50-day wait just for resource consents and they're going to develop 400 percent more for rates on undeveloped land," Peebles said.

Escalating building costs and battling businesses are further harming investor confidence.

"The current economic conditions are at an all-time low, we know that, we also know that supply chains are facing really tough times at the moment so now's just not the right time," Watson said.

Submissions for and against the proposal were heard this week.