The Government is using special earthquake powers to redraw greater Christchurch's urban development area, potentially paving the way for more than 45,000 new houses.
Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said yesterday that he had pulled Christchurch's urban growth plan out of the Environment Court, where it could have stalled for two years, and put it into the region's planning documents.
A public notice, to appear in newspapers on Monday, will make the change official, rezoning large areas of previously rural land earmarked for development by 2041.
Brownlee said land already identified for growth in plan change one to the Canterbury Regional Policy Statement was needed now.
He was unwilling to see the matter bogged down in a protracted Environment Court battle.
"As of [today], there is no document for the Environment Court to consider."
He said that once district plan changes and consents had been obtained, and seismic tests carried out, the rezoned land could be developed to accommodate thousands of people displaced by the quakes.
It includes areas in Christchurch on which 25,000 houses could be built, as well as about 11,000 houses each in the Selwyn and Waimakariri districts.
"Clearly, the city is going to move around in a different way than what was planned," Brownlee said. "This was meant to be a plan out to 2041."
The new chapter of the regional policy statement also makes provision for businesses.
Brownlee said the changes would require more intensive use of land within existing urban areas and provide for greenfield developments.
"They will accommodate both the population relocation forced by the earthquakes and population growth as the pace of rebuilding and development quickens," Brownlee said.
Since February's massive earthquake, the Government has red-zoned more than 6000 properties in Christchurch and Waimakariri, meaning the land is too damaged to be built on without being remediated and will have to be abandoned.
Concerns have been raised by the owners of the damaged land, as well as Opposition politicians, about the dearth of sections available in and around the city and the premium prices demanded for sections and houses in undamaged suburbs.
The Government's announcement is good news for developers who have land within the urban development boundaries.
Environment Canterbury had already asked the Environment Court to redraw its housing development lines to include areas such as the 2700-section Prestons project and other peripheral sites.
Prestons Road chairman David Schwartfeger, who is also Ngai Tahu Property's development manager, said a plan-change decision on the subdivision was imminent and the Government's move was a positive step.
"We're keen to get going and put people back into homes," he said.
Redrawing the boundaries was supported by the Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri councils, ECan and some developers.
However, other landowners who went to court to have their land included within the urban growth limits are unhappy.
Russell McVeagh partner James Gardner-Hopkins said his client, supermarket giant Progressive, which owns land at Marshland, was reflecting on the implications of the decision.
Disgruntled developers might push to have their land rezoned when the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority considers the city's infrastructure recovery plan.
The Selwyn District Council said a plan change had been approved to rezone 822 hectares in Rolleston and Lincoln on which almost 9000 residential sections could be created.