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The wheels of progress turn frustratingly slow in Christchurch’s Red Zone. Frank Film asks, is anything going to happen?
Hayley Guglietta is honest about her group’s activities on vacant land bordering Christchurch’s Avon River. She admits the groundwork was commenced without official permission.
“We took over half an acre of land up here,” Guglietta tells Frank Film. “We had a small garden at Avebury (House), we got too big for it and we wanted to expand. Downers were on the land and we thought rather than wait for them to get off we’ll just start working around them.”
The Richmond Community Garden now supplies produce to local residents, grown on land where homes and individual vegetable gardens once stood. That land is now known as the Otakaro Avon River Corridor – a vast 602 hectares, cleared of around 5000 homes after a devastating sequence of earthquakes, commencing almost a decade ago.
Since then, former city councillor Chrissie Williams says, “There’s massive amounts of money but more importantly masses amounts of time that we’ve wasted.”
Williams believes the first five years were “justified” in talking with affected parties and clearing the land but believes “it should have been handed over to the council in 2016, four years ago”.
Instead, the Crown handed joint agency Regenerate Christchurch the task of designing a regenerative plan for the Corridor. That work took over two years and cost up to $20 million. Now that the land has been resurveyed by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) it has been handed back to the Christchurch City Council to administer.
Williams has a new role, chair of the Christchurch Red Zones Transformative Land Use Consultative Group.
Suggestions for land use, documented by Frank Film, have included a forest park, a recreational lake, mahinga kai and an eco-sanctuary.
Council Head of Parks, Andrew Rutledge, says council will “be in a position to start thinking about long-term leases in the next 12 months”.
Smith, spokesperson for the Avon-Otakaro Network, has reservations about the council’s ability as new guardians of the space.
“We are having to trust council because the land’s been entrusted to them,” says Smith. “I’m not yet convinced they’re displaying all the characteristics to do a good job.”
Frank Film interviews Smith at the Nurse Maude Hospice in Merivale. The widely-respected community advocate, often referred to as “Mr Red Zone”, is battling liver cancer, which was first diagnosed around the time of the earthquakes.
Smith is still keeping a close watch over developments in the area he called home for 18 years, and he’s urging council to follow the plan laid out by Regenerate Christchurch.
“It comes from deep below and it’s got real sound roots,” says Smith, “so I think it needs to be followed and come to maturity otherwise we’re not doing justice to all that hard work”.
Hayley Guglietta says if it weren’t for Evan Smith, she “wouldn’t have the strength to keep fighting for what we’ve done here”.
Will we see a greater rate of progress in the coming decade? Chrissie Williams remains hopeful. “So many of us have invested so much, especially Evan Smith. In respect for all the work he’s done we’ve got to keep going and keep pushing and make sure things do happen.”
*Made with the support of NZ-on-Air*