Plans to demolish the derelict Harley Chambers and build a luxury 150-room hotel on the site appear to have been scrapped because of “over-prescriptive bureaucracy”.
The developers behind the project say objections to the plan mean it is now too complicated, costly and time consuming, leading the investors to pull the pin.
Lee Pee Limited applied for consent to demolish earthquake-damaged Harley Chambers and the back of Worcester Chambers, and build the eight-storey hotel on the site on the corner of Cambridge Tce and Worcester Boulevard.
The hotel, which would have had restaurants, shops, a large atrium and a gym, was to wrap around Worcester Chambers’ facade and onto the empty site where York House once was.
Lee Pee Limited is owned by Hong Kong-based lawyer Gerard McCoy QC, who is from Christchurch, and his wife Siu-Wai McCoy.
Harley Chambers is a 1920s category two heritage building, so consultation was required for it to be demolished.
But more than half of the 42 submissions received were against the plan, including from Lane Neave, Christchurch Civic Trust, Canterbury Club and the Inner City West Neighbourhood Association.
Heritage New Zealand did not oppose the plan because of the work and $14 million cost required to repair Harley Chambers. Regenerate Christchurch and Lichfield Holdings, owned by developer Nick Hunt, were among those who supported it.
In a scathing advertisement printed over the weekend, Lee Pee Limited’s directors said the opposition to the plan and the consenting process has meant the buildings will remain “uninhabitable,” “unusable” and “unsightly”.
It said the project’s investors had decided the time frame to begin building was too uncertain and complicated, and would be time consuming and costly to proceed.
Due to the number, intensity and tone of the objectors, even if it did get the go ahead after a city council hearing, it would likely be subject to further appeals through the Environment Court and High Court, which could take years, it said.
“The buildings will become a metaphor for the decrepitude of the current planning system,” the full page advertisement said.
City council head of resource consents John Higgins said the consent was currently on hold, but the city council had not been formally told it would be withdrawn.
He said 42 submissions on the plan were received, 23 of which opposed it.
Mr Higgins said it was a statutory process under the Resource Management Act.
“The council is obliged to follow the prescribed process.”
A hearing would now be held where submissions and evidence would be presented, and a decision would be based on the assessment and resource management merits of the application, he said.
“Submissions are a factor in the decision making but there are many considerations for a decision maker to weigh up and balance.”
In 2016, Lee Pee Limited bought Worcester Chambers off city councillor Jamie Gough and his father Tracy.
Prof McCoy is an adjunct Canterbury University law professor, who has represented Kim Dotcom and is on retainer to the Hong Kong Government.
He was also chief prosecutor of George Speight’s treason case in the High Court of Fiji.
Cr Gough said although he was not aware of what the hold-ups were, he was disappointed because it looked like an “exciting” yet ambitious development.
He hoped it could still go ahead, perhaps through some tweaking of the design.
“I would hope they are given every chance to succeed,” he said.
“I think it’s demoralising the anti-brigade has managed to rear its ugly head.”
Cr Gough said when he owned Worcester Chambers it was difficult to lease because Harley Chambers was “harbouring vagrants and squatters” nextdoor.
It would stay that way until the owners could get the green light to develop, he said.
Harley Chambers is on the city council’s “dirty 30 list” and is covered in graffiti and vandalism, with squatters often staying inside. It has been subject to numerous police call outs.
“The public of Christchurch wonder why building owners do not progress with regenerating this city. The simple answer is we are hampered by over-prescriptive bureaucracy, and a consenting process which gives stronger rights to anyone who may like to place an objection to progress, than the rights of the building owners to get on with the rebuild,” the advertisement said.