All cities have vacant sites – they are part of the process of change. But Christchurch has more than its fair share. Where neglected, vacant land can undermine investment and detracts from our aim to make Ōtautahi-Christchurch a great place to be.

What we do, and why

Vacant sites are areas of land that have been cleared and lie unused or are in temporary use as a stepping stone to permanent development.

In places where vacant land is concentrated and neglected, this influences perceptions and undermines the enjoyment of what our city offers.  

Presenting our city in a better way will attract more people, more often.  This will increase investor interest and development demand for vacant sites.

Our Vacant Sites Programme aims to:

  • Support owners to progress plans for permanent development.
  • Where permanent development is not expected straight away, we encourage owners to keep sites tidy, and can offer support to activate sites in prominent locations.  

Why we still have so many vacant sites

Following the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, thousands of buildings were demolished across Christchurch. This left our city with a significant legacy of vacant sites – especially in Central City.

New buildings now occupy many of these sites, but we know that cleared land will remain a feature of Ōtautahi-Christchurch for years to come. 

In Central City, this is particularly apparent because:

  • Changes in building size/efficiency and in business practices have resulted in the same amount of commercial space on smaller land footprints, or less space needed for workers or customer-facing services.
  • Many businesses have yet to move back to Central City.
  • Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we think about interaction with people, and how (and where) we work.

These factors, as well as the owner's own circumstances, influence decisions about new development.

Opportunity or problem?

Both. Vacant sites provide Christchurch with great opportunities for development to meet the city’s future growth needs. 

But while they remain undeveloped, particularly where they are unmanaged, they maintain visual reminders of the earthquake period, clouding perceptions of the new Ōtautahi-Christchurch and what it has to offer.      

For example:

  • Neglected and unkempt sites often harbour litter and weeds, are vulnerable to tagging, attract vermin, are dusty and have issues with stormwater run-off.
  • Visitor surveys and community feedback regularly highlight that people find vacant sites unattractive and can feel unsafe around them. Large gaps between buildings break up the continuity of street activity and influence perceptions of safety – especially after dark.

Vacant sites are a visual reminder of the earthquakes and reinforce misconceptions that our city remains broken. This can make people reluctant to visit, which in turn undermines investor confidence and deters commercial tenants and potential homebuyers.

Priority locations

Businesses, resident and visitor surveys consistently convey negative perceptions and effects of vacant land in the heart of the Central City.  

With its function as a key employment and business centre, and a destination for retail, entertainment, and cultural and tourism activities our programme is focused heavily on this area.

The below map (expanded version [PDF, 220 KB]) shows the areas we want to prioritise. The areas reflect the prominence of the sites, their proximity to public destinations and areas where new investment is in the pipeline. 

Across the wider Central City, Council has also prioritised and identified a number of significant large sites – the former Women's Hospital (885 Colombo Street.), Madras Square (235 Gloucester Street.) and the former Convention Centre (95 Kilmore Street.)

While most energy will be directed towards these areas, other sites which significantly detract from the city experience or prominent sites which offer really great opportunities for activation projects/uses will also be investigated. The willingness of site owners will also be an important consideration.

In the surrounding residential communities of the Central City, the Central City Residential Programme - Project 8011 will use its neighbourhood planning workstream and tools in this programme to support the development and prioritise any site improvement.

Outside of the Central City vacant land is less prevalent, but hotspots in some suburban centres exist including New Brighton, Lyttelton, Linwood Village and Sydenham.  The best advice is to get in touch.  Where sites are creating a nuisance and seriously impacting upon the adjacent property you may want to report this(external link) for action to be taken.

Progress is being made

After the earthquakes, there were more than 65 hectares of cleared land in Central City.

When the Vacant Sites programme was initiated in 2020 that figure was nearly 50 hectares. For context, Cranmer and Latimer Squares are each about 2 hectares.

Since 2020 the amount of vacant land has fallen to 36.9ha.

Construction of larger projects such as Te Kaha/Canterbury Arena (6.8ha) the Performing Arts Precinct and the Hospital Car Park helped reduce the total over the last two years. 

Similarly, residential developments – delivering around 600 new homes have emerged on a wide variety of sites across the Four Avenues. 

More recently, office development has begun to pick up again, reflecting the dwindling availability of space. 

About four hectares of Commercial Core vacant land has been/is being developed over the last 2 years including numerous residential schemes along the South Frame.    

The links below provide maps of the extent of Central City Vacant Land in 2021 and 2023 for comparison:

The Vacant Sites Programme has focused much of its activity on working with owners of land where permanent development is not expected in the next year or two. 

Temporary car parks

Through communication, enforcement, consenting and compliance monitoring, the programme has guided the transition of gravel-pit car parks to facilities that better reflect the investment in or city’s buildings, streets and spaces. 

Some before and after examples of improved sites are shown below.


Construction support

A number of sites are being leased to support construction activity on adjacent land. 

Once the construction activity is completed owners often negotiate that the site is left in a tidy state enabling a temporary use.

Site improvement

A number of site owners have invested in simple improvement of their sites. 

Good quality surfacing, lighting and planting can help lift the quality of the city experience. 

The chart below highlights the fall in the amount of vacant land in the Central City, and the changing way in which it is being used. 

In the last two years, the amount of unmanaged vacant land has dropped by half. 

The amount of land in use for temporary car parking has fallen marginally but still provides space for over 8,000 vehicles. 

The amount of managed unused land has fallen with much of that change coming from the development of previously grassed sites in the One Central residential development.  

Land in other temporary uses includes construction support, and – in the mixed-use zone adjacent to Moorhouse Avenue - vehicle storage serving surrounding car dealerships.

Within the core area, over half of the vacant land is in use as temporary car parking.  This area is subject to the City Vacant Differential Rate. Remissions from that rating are available that reward owners for making improvements to vacant sites. 


Information for owners of vacant sites

We’re keen to connect with site owners, to understand where you’re at in developing your site.  We can put you in touch with people who can help you make progress, whether with permanent development or with improvements and/or temporary use.

You can update us on what you are doing via the Contact form below.

Getting ready to develop?

We provide a range of services and support to developers, including

  • Pre-application advice for resource consents (external link)and building consents. Early advice can help you understand the rules and requirements for development projects, reducing risk of running into issues further in the process.
  • Free Urban Design advice to promote attractive and good quality design. View our online guides (external link)for tips on best practice.
  • Case management support through our Partnership Approvals Team. A case manager is a single point of contact to guide you and your contractors through the development process, including getting approvals from various parts of the Council.
  • Incentives are offered for some development projects that will have wider community benefits.

Find out more information on how we can help you through the development process. 

Own a site, but still considering your development options?

If your site is unimproved and/or within the priority locations identified in the section above, we’ll be getting in touch. 

We want to understand what your development plans are or what is holding you back from developing your site.

If you are not in a position to start developing your land, it’s important that you take steps to improve the appearance and upkeep of your site.

A great starting point is to download our vacant site improvement guide [PDF, 16 MB] which sets out some expectations of basic standards we expect of a site. 

It includes information about how we can support you to bring your site to life through an activation project.  

Take a look at examples of previous activation projects we have supported.


Differential rating of Central City vacant sites

From 1 July 2022 the Council introduced a new differential rating category for vacant land in the Central City – it is called the City Vacant Differential rate

Why it was introduced

Vacant land in the Business and Central City Mixed Use South Frame Zones (shown on the adjacent map) benefits significantly from our general activities (being activities funded by the general rate).

Enhanced roads and footpaths, public spaces, parks and recreation and facilities, libraries, art galleries, events and promotion, etc. enhance the attractiveness of Central City land as a place for development.  

Our infrastructure has been planned to cope with potential developments on vacant land.

However, vacant land, by its nature, has a lower capital value, since no improvements have been made to the land. Consequently, the general rates set on vacant land are low.

We consider that the benefits that owners of vacant Central City land receive from our general activities are substantially above the rates currently being assessed on that land. 

A further problem is that vacant Central City land is often left in an untidy condition. Large gravel car parks and poorly maintained unused land can look uninviting to pedestrians and can be considered dark and unsafe at night time.

The visual appearance of vacant sites has a significant influence on negative perceptions of central Christchurch – and this perception is deterring people from the Central City and discouraging new investment in nearby sites. We would like to see vacant sites developed, or at least presented in a way that supports a vibrant, lively inner-city environment.

Over the last 3 years, we’ve reached out to owners through the Vacant Sites Programme which connects owners to sources of support for new development projects.  Not all owners are ready to commit to a project, so the programme also provides guidance and project support to owners to deliver interim, simple and cost-effective improvements. 

The City Vacant Differential

The Council consulted on the issue of vacant land as part of the Long Term Plan 2021–31.  Submissions made at that time indicated strong support for action to improve the visual appearance of vacant Central City land.  Following careful consideration the Council voted to introduce a new City Vacant Differential for the general rate from 1 July 2022.

The differential:  

  • Is set at a multiplier of 4.523 times the standard general rate. This differential is a fairer approach that recognises that vacant land in the Central City benefits significantly from the Council’s general activities.
  • Applies to vacant land in the Central City Business Zone and the Central City Mixed Use (South Frame) Zones. Its application in these areas reflects the concentration of vacant land in this well-serviced area of the city. Vacant land for the purposes of the City Vacant Differential is defined as land being with no active or consented use. The definition excludes sites:
    • that are permanently developed or under construction, or
    • in a temporary use that is a permitted activity under the District Plan (e.g. supporting adjacent construction) or has an approved and fully implemented resource consent. (e.g. temporary car parking).

The excluded uses – while not currently making the best use of land – contribute to the economic wellbeing and functioning of the surroundings.

Alongside the City Vacant Differential, the Council has also introduced a new rates remission – the amount of rates remitted would be the amount that restores the land to the same rating position it would have been in if the City Vacant Differential was not applied to the land – for vacant land that pays the new City Vacant Differential but which is being kept in an improved and maintained state, consistent with our Vacant Sites Improvement Guide [PDF, 16 MB].  

This remission seeks to incentivise site upkeep that adds to, rather than detracts from, the city experience. The remission will be discretionary, based on compliance with the guidelines.

Information about the City Vacant Differential and Remission can be found on pages 30 and 76 of the 2022/23 Annual Plan(external link).

How vacant sites are assessed?

For rating purposes, the state of a vacant site during final inspections held in June each year will determine its liability or exemption from the City Vacant Differential in the next financial year which commences on 1 July.

The assessment will also determine whether site improvements made qualify the site for the rates remission.

Each year, between February and April, all vacant sites are provisionally reviewed.  Reviews check on the current consented status of uses, and involve a visual inspection where the site is photographed. 

Specifically, the review will consider,

  • Whether any temporary site use has a current resource consent (or is a permitted activity).
  • Whether the current resource consent for the site use is fully implemented – particularly in relation to conditions that contribute to the site’s appearance (e.g. landscaping, access points, layout).
  • Whether the site’s general level of upkeep - litter, health of planting, graffiti, safe pedestrian access, etc. - is acceptable.
  • Whether unused sites have been improved in line with the Vacant Sites Improvement Guide. [PDF, 16 MB]

Where, after first inspection (normally completed in March) a site is deemed liable, owners will be written to, normally by 30 April, highlighting the current reason(s) for that assessment. This may allow time for remedial action to be taken by the owner. Note: remedial action does not include the process of securing/renewing a resource consent which may take longer).

Final surveys in June will take a final view on the site’s rating status and update photographic records. Council staff will track projects and consent applications in progress right up to 30 June as required.     


Contact us

If you have any questions or would like to discuss opportunities to improve or develop your site, contact us at or by using the form below. We will respond to all enquiries within five working days.

I would like to:
Would you like us to arrange an informal discussion with you? This is a free no-obligation meeting with one of our team to help put you in touch with the right people to get things moving.
Any information provided will remain confidential and be used to determine how we can best offer support.