Quake anniversary: Why is Christchurch still broken?

Ten years on from the devastating February 22, 2011 earthquake, which claimed 185 lives and caused widespread destruction, how far has the Christchurch rebuild come? Herald senior journalist Kurt Bayer highlights five central city sites that tell a dual tale of progress and a lack of progress.

The experts, as they are wont to do, weighed in quickly. With the aftershocks still rumbling with the relentless monotony of trucks on a motorway, they envisaged Christchurch’s rebuild would take 10, maybe 15, or even 20 years, to complete.

And a decade on, as a quick tour of the English-styled Garden City shows, they were probably about right.

Much has been done, and a lot of it superbly. But it is incomplete, ongoing, yet to be connected, with still gaping ugly lots scattered between shiny new developments.

More than 1300 buildings in the country’s second-biggest city were either fully, or partially, demolished.

A central-government driven rebuild “blueprint”, devised in just 100 days, was revealed in 2012, outlining 12 key sites for major facilities. It included a new convention centre at a “postcard location” by the Avon River, a huge aquatic and indoor sports facility, and revitalised square with a new central library, as well as shops, restaurants, bars and cafes around sports stadiums to make the revitalised city “very much like Melbourne”, according to then Prime Minister John Key.

'A mind-boggling loss'

Many of the big-ticket anchor projects have been hit by delays.

First, they were delayed by still-shaking ground, and the slow demolition works.

Structural engineer Dr Dmytro Dizhur says Christchurch lost 90 per cent of its vintage masonry buildings, a loss he described as “mind-boggling”.

“Every time I go to Christchurch now, I get lost and need to rely on my Google maps to get me around,” he says.

Striking, glass-dominant office and retail blocks have sprung up over the past few years, but as Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Leeann Watson says, much of the rebuild has been driven by private developers.

“During the initial rebuild period, there was a lot of talk around the risk of tilt slab buildings making the city look like a concrete jungle, however our city developers and investors have gone over and above to create a strong, iconic, interesting cityscape – they had a vision right from the start and followed through,” Watson says.

Although some of the delays are understandable, especially with the global Covid-19 pandemic, the slow progress has proved challenging for many businesses who committed early on to invest and rebuild on the basis of the blueprint and the timing of delivering the anchor projects.

'Already world-class'

But despite the delays, Watson is adamant that Christchurch’s central city is already world-class.

In the next few years, Watson cites new, leading-edge amenities including the largest sports and recreation venue in New Zealand, the Metro Sports Facility; new stadium; and convention centre in the CBD – all of which will “rival or surpass offerings in other cities”.

“It is important that we don’t measure success on what we had – we don’t want to be compared to Ōtautahi Christchurch 10 years ago, as that’s not progress – we need to be setting new aspirations for our city and region and striving to achieve those,” Watson says.

“We also don’t want to be compared to Melbourne or other cities, as the earthquake gave us great tragedy 10 years ago, but the rebuild gave us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-imagine, re-shape and revitalise the city, which I believe we are making the most of and well on our way to achieving.”


It’s not hard to find the biggest rebuild successes of the new-look city.

Multi-millionaire city property owner and developer Antony Gough was quick to commit to rebuilding the popular pre-quake series of bars and restaurants alongside Cambridge Terrace, overlooking the picturesque Avon River, known then as “The Strip”.

Gough began the $140 million hospitality and office precinct in 2013 and battled funding and leasing issues.

But for the past three-plus years, it’s helped inject life back into the central city.

It buzzes with shoppers and office dwellers and other inner-city workers during lunchtimes and is packed with partying youngsters at nights.

Next door, across Cashel St, which hosted the globally-acclaimed temporary Re:Start Container Mall for five years after the quakes, is perhaps the biggest success story of them all.

The $80m Riverside Market, which opened in September 2019, was an immediate hit.

Every day, 10,000 visitors visit the seven-day indoor farmers’ market featuring 30 independent food outlets selling local produce, meat, seafood, baked goods, coffee and takeaways.

Alongside the market is Riverside Lanes, a boutique shopping area with major fashion brands.

It scooped a big property award last year, where the judges called it a “world-class inner-city retail, hospitality, food and produce market”.


Sports-mad Cantabs are still waiting.

Lancaster Park – the hallowed sporting arena with more than a century of red-and-black history – was destroyed in the violent, shallow shaking of February 22, 2011.

A new cricket ground at Hagley Park was quickly pushed through. Ever since the redeveloped and upgraded Hagley Oval hosted its first international in 2014, it’s been widely praised as one of the best cricket grounds in the world.

And tonight, it will host a sellout crowd for a T20 between the Blackcaps and arch-rivals Australia.

But where is the new rugby ground? A covered stadium was mooted early on, to deal with the cold Canterbury winters, and be able to host All Blacks fixtures, a rarity in the city since the quakes, along with a range of others sports, musical concerts and other big events.

A site was picked: central city, the old Turners & Growers site, between Madras, Barbadoes, Hereford and Tuam streets.

In the meantime, a “temporary” stadium cobbled out of scaffolding was erected in Addington on the old rugby league showgrounds.

Nine years later, AMI Stadium, now known as Orangetheory Stadium, is still in use but fans have become fed-up with its basic facilities, inadequate weather cover, and out-west location.

After much wrangling, it was agreed that a new 25,000-seater rectangular-turf Canterbury Multi-Use Arena would be most fit for purpose.

The pricetag? A total of $473m, with the Crown and Christchurch City Council having both approved the investment case for the state-of-the-art arena – with the Government putting aside a $220m contribution from the Christchurch Regeneration Acceleration Fund.

Early construction work on the cleared CBD site should begin sometime this year, the city council says.

Project director Kris Thomas says they are in the process of “evaluating the main contractor proposals” for the stadium’s design and construction and should be announced in April.

It should be finished by the end of 2024.


The Gothic-style Christ Church Cathedral was once the postcard face of the city.

Today, it remains so, but for all the wrong reasons.

The 140-year-old Anglican cathedral, which withstood violent earthquakes in 1881, 1888, 1922, 1901 and even September 4, 2010, was badly damaged on February 22.

Its spire snapped in half, towers wrecked, and stonework came crumbling down.

The building has lain in ruin ever since.

Debate has raged over whether it should have been torn down and replaced with a new build; replaced by a replica; or painstakingly put back together.

In 2017, the Anglican Synod finally made a decision: they would reinstate the building, at an estimated cost of $104m.

The project costs have already blown out to $154m.

Project director Keith Paterson says they are “about halfway” through stabilisation work which will take another 18 months or so before the main strengthening and reinstatement work can safely begin.

“The current programme is to complete the entire project including the main cathedral, tower, visitors’ centre, and cathedral centre by the middle of 2027.”

The cathedral and tower will “look much as it did before” but will be reinstated to modern standards, including seismic strengthening and base isolation, heating and electrical systems and refurbished pipe organ.

“This building will not only be a wonderful place to worship or gather, it will re-emerge as a positive symbol of our city commanding a dominant position in Cathedral Square,” Paterson says.


The city’s new convention centre has been rising like a concrete Phoenix for the past few years.

Every day, about 500 construction workers beaver away on the 28,000sq m building, aiming to have it finished by the middle of the year.

The first events for Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre should be held towards the end of the year.

The project has been beleaguered by delays, including the global Covid-19 pandemic.

But it is hoped that venue, which will have capacity to hold simultaneous events and host up to 2000 delegates for a single conference, will help bring back visitors in big numbersto the recovering region.


A generation of kids have grown up in the city without many things taken for granted in other centres.

Christchurch’s long-awaited Metro Sports Facility is expected to be open around the end of next year and will fill many of the gaps ripped apart by the quakes.

The $300m facility will be the largest aquatic and indoor recreation and leisure venue of its kind in New Zealand, catering for all ages and abilities, including high-performance sport.

It will be run by the city council but is being built by Ōtākaro, the Crown-owned company delivering the central city anchor projects that the Government committed to after the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes.

Plans also include five hydroslides, with the “Looping Rocket” sending riders hurtling down a slide at around 40km/h.

The vast construction site – within Moorhouse Ave, Stewart St, St Asaph St and Antigua St – is a hive of activity.

It is set to open next year.

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